Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

September 20, 2002

THE PORTLAND TRIBUNE'S continuing series of articles on the Rose City's underworld figures of the last century labeled a man named Al Winter as a "Portland crime boss" who later moved on to Las Vegas.

"Gambling boss" would have been a more appropriate sobriquet for Winter, a Portlander who started out to be a lawyer like his father, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge John P. Winter. But after passing the bar exam, Al followed other pursuits. By the end of the 1930s he and his cohorts controlled the racing wire in Oregon and Southwest Washington which provided instant results of races at horse tracks all over the United States. In addition to being a large-scale bookmaker, Winter and his associates ran gambling houses. After a reform mayor, Dorothy McCullough Lee, was elected in 1948. Winter & Company hit the highway to Las Vegas where they eventually built the Sahara casino.

However, Winter continued to maintain business and political interests in Portland along with chasing the long green in the neon mecca of Nevada's legal gambling empire.

IN 1959 WINTER aspired to establish a mobile home park in a Southwest Portland residential neighborhood near SW Capitol Highway and SW Barbur Boulevard. The Multnomah County Planning Commission voted against Winter's scheme. However, Winter appealed the planners' negative decision to the three county commissioners.

At the time, shortly before the start of the long and bitter newspaper strike, I was a reporter for the Oregonian assigned to cover the Multnomah County Courthouse at 1021 SW Fourth Ave., two blocks down from Portland City Hall. The Oregonian's news editors decided they wanted to run a big story on Winter's plans, the reaction of residents of the affected neighborhood, the views of county planners and the possibility of county commissioners overruling the planners.

As the Oregonian's county beat reporter - I and a reporter for the Oregon Journal covered the courthouse from a pressroom on the fourth floor - I felt that I should have been assigned the Winter trailer park story. Instead, the paper's editors gave the plum to one of their Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters. His story and accompanying photos took up a lot of space and ink in the Sunday Oregonian of Nov. 8, 1959. Over coffee at the kitchen table, I read the story twice, looking for something the Pulitzer winner had overlooked.

BINGO - I REALIZED that the star reporter had failed to check out political contributions to the three county commissioners. The next day, Monday, Nov. 9, I spent the morning gathering and writing up the news from the county beat and handing it to the copygirl who stopped by about noon. I made another run through the eight-story building in early afternoon to make sure there was no "breaking news," to use a term popular with today's TV newsies. Then I phoned the city editor to tell him I was leaving the building to check on something at the County Elections Department at 1040 SE Morrison St., where the department is still housed. At the elections office, to confuse the clerks about what I was looking for, I asked to see the contributions and expenditure reports for a number of different races in different years.

However, I focused my attention on county commissioner races in 1958. My hunch paid off when I found a sloppily-doctored report that said one Art Winters had contributed $750 to County Commissioner Al L. Brown's successful campaign for re-election in 1958. Before erasures and retyping, the contributor was none other than would-be trailer-park entrepreneur Al Winter.

Copying machines weren't ubiquitous in November 1959, so I went to a phone and called the city editor to ask that he send a photographer to shoot a photo of my discovery. As I was holding the doctored document against a wall for the photog to zero in on it, the phonily-genial County Commission Chairman Myron James (Mike) Gleason strolled by and smilingly asked, "What's up?" "Just taking a picture of a little ancient history," I replied casually.

Gleason proceeded on his way into the office of the county elections director. It was obvious to me that the elections director, who'd been appointed by Chairman Gleason, had phoned the courthouse to alert Mike that the Oregonian's county reporter was snooping around.

(Gleason and I had an arm's-length relationship. When I first showed up at the courthouse he approached me in the coffee shop and told me he could help me better understand the workings of county government by giving me off-the-record information. To which I replied: "The Oregonian doesn't pay me to become a repository of unpublishable information. I don't want to hear anything off the record because I can find out that information on my own and then I'd be free to print it.")

THE CITY EDITOR and I were to confer about the story the next morning after the photos of the doctored document were available for a look-see. But, alas, the next morning found hundreds of us union workers at the Newhouse-owned morning Oregonian and the locally-owned afternoon Oregon Journal on strike and picketing the Oregonian at 1320 SW Broadway St. and the Journal at 800 SW Front Ave. As we picketed, I asked the photographer where his roll of film was containing our Monday afternoon get-together at the elections office. He said he'd left it in the darkroom and that it probably would be tossed out by the photogs working there behind the picket line. A couple weeks later the county commissioners decided against overturning the county planning commissioners on Al Winter's attempt to install a mobile home park in Southwest Portland.


LABOR HISTORIAN Michael Munk of Portland spotlighted a greedy example of corporate welfare in a recent letter to the editor published in the Oregonian newspaper. Munk, who returned home a decade ago after retiring as a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, had this to say: "Multnomah County property owners ought to be skeptical of their elected leaders' desperate rush to grant another subsidy to that Gresham chip factory.

"Only a few years ago, they granted tax breaks to Fujitsu, which promptly reneged on its job creation promises and then dumped 670 workers out on the street. Fujitsu is even stiffing us on the subsidized $10 million tax bill it still owes.

"NOW THE SAME 'pro-growth' politicians are rushing to grant Microchip Technologies another $21 million that it demands as its price to provide only 60 jobs in the old plant until 'the economy spurs enough demand.'

"The Arizona outfit isn't satisfied that it is already getting a bargain - a billion-dollar manufacturing facility for only $185 million - so it is trying to blackmail our scared politicians by telling them it won't make the purchase without the additional subsidy.

"The proponents of this kind of corporate welfare argue that other states and communities compete with one another over who will provide the biggest subsidies. Let them.

"BUT TAXPAYERS who still believe in the 'free enterprise' system resent such manipulation of the market for private profit."

The national AFL-CIO is campaigning for corporate accountability. In line with that goal, corporations should be held accountable for paying their fair share of taxes instead of demanding tax breaks from impoverished local and state governments. With the revenue-starved State of Oregon and schools, cities and counties statewide slashing services, companies that don't want to pay their fair share of taxes should be ashamed of themselves. The 2003 Oregon Legislature should increase corporate income taxes to the same percentage level paid by private individuals.

Or even higher.


WILLIAM P. TROTTER'S FAMILY asked the NW Labor Press to publish a belated notice of his death. A 60-year member of the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters, he died at age 87 on Sept. 14, 2001 in Oregon. He worked out of Portland Plumbers Local 51 for many years and was on its Executive Board. After Local 51 and Steamfitters Local 235 were combined into UA Local 290, now based in Tualatin, his membership was transferred to the new local. His son, Bruce Trotter, who also belongs to Local 290, said his father had followed his own father, Clarence (Casey) B. Trotter, into the plumbing trade after the family moved from Mississippi to the Northwest where Casey helped in the construction of Longview, Washington.

William Trotter was instrumental as a Local 51 board member in establishing a health and welfare fund and in working for fair and safe working conditions, his son said. A major project William worked on was being the plumbing supervisor on the construction of the Lloyd Center on Portland's east side over four decades ago.


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