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Portland, Ore.'s, eccentric uncle of a mayor

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 22, 1985

Portland, Ore.

MAYOR Bud Clark likes to whip a camera out of his breast pocket to record the passing parade: the crowd at his swearing-in, reporters interviewing him, his reflection in the mirror just before taking the stage as the b"urgermeister in a local production of the Nutcracker. It just may be the appropriate satiric response to the sudden focusing of attention on Clark as spectacle rather than Clark as city mayor.

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Clearly it is a spotlight not entirely undeserved, because there is something different about Bud Clark's style.

The national spotlight on him after his upset election had hardly faded when it again suddenly illuminated him. He had been in office less than a month, when in January he appointed the nation's first woman big-city police chief.

It was a popular decision here, though also considered a very bold political risk for a man who had never before held public office. Still, Chief of Police Penny Harrington is convinced it was a ``brave'' decision because she was one of four finalists for the job.

With the gift of conversational charm he's as comfortable joking with a blue-collar constituent as he is at the symphony where his wife, Sigrid, plays first violin. But he's prone to reeling off philosophical zingers, like the time during his campaign when he casually referred to himself as a ``born again pagan'' and promptly raised the ire of fundamentalists. ``It all got ironed out,'' he reports now, noting that the comment came during a whimsical discussion about Nordic mythology. He had said he'd like to be reincarnated as one of the crows on the shoulder of Odin, the god of intelligence. (The crows, representing memory and thought, flew around gathering knowledge for Odin.)

The ex-marine, ship chandler, mortuary worker, and father of four had never held public office, but he took a crash course in public administration after his landslide election.

Visible daily as he pedals to city hall on his ``stump-jumper'' bicycle, the mayor is owner of a popular Portland tavern. He also has a reputation for antic -- and, to some, tasteless -- behavior, as in a recent controversial poster promoting arts in Portland. Good will though perhaps not good taste prevailed here: The fund-raising poster was enormously popular and raised thousands of dollars for the local arts.

His is the image of a favorite eccentric uncle -- not that of a man pollsters ever imagined could steal away city hall from the political establishment.

The Clark campaign wasn't viewed seriously by incumbent Frank Ivancie until it was too late, and Clark was able to wrap up a 52 percent victory in the primary, effectively eliminating all but a write-in campaign against him in the fall general election.

Observers here are convinced he represents less a shift in political objectives than he does a shift in style.

His tavern, frequented by young professionals, has been an enormous financial success, and the mayor reflects the conservative fiscal tone of a businessman and the strong progressive social streak that is typically Oregonian.

Clark has been involved since the late 1960s in neighborhood projects -- starting a weekly newspaper, delivering ``meals-on-wheels'' to the elderly, working on a venereal disease prevention project, and raising money for the arts. He campaigned on the idea of bringing neighborhood involvement back to City Hall, waging a campaign whose style didn't differ that much from life before the election or after. He's a ``regular guy,'' who likes to get out and talk to people -- and they like talking to him.