The day Mayor Bud Clark fired the chief of police over breakfast in Multnomah Village
April 7, 1987 is definitely not a date that will live in infamy.
But it's memorable if you're one of the thousands of diners who over the years has slid into the teal-colored booth across from the counter at Fat City Café on Southwest Capitol Highway in Multnomah Village.
There, above the salt and pepper shakers, hangs a framed copy of a newspaper front page from the day after April 7, 1987.
April 7 was the day Mayor Bud Clark met Portland Police Chief Jim Davis for an early breakfast at Fat City and ended up firing him. Jim Davis was the second police chief Mayor Clark had fired in the first 16 months of his term. The first firing was of Penny Harrington, the first woman to lead the police department of a major American city. So, it would have been pretty big news regardless. But it was the way Cark fired Davis — the words that were exchanged — which made it really big news.
Back at Fat City for only the second time since that fateful day, Clark, who's now 87, took a seat in the same booth to talk about what happened.
There's a lot of context, but let's cut to the chase.
"I always used to meet with the chief, whoever it was, once a week. Jim Davis had a friend here — a golf buddy — who owned Fat City. That's why we had breakfast here. It was right at this booth," Clark said.
He and Davis had been at odds over the Portland Police Bureau budget for the coming fiscal year. The mayor wanted to switch patrol officers to community policing duties and hold the line on new hires. The chief wasn't on board. There was a disagreement over the budget process.
"Jim Davis pushed the thing. It wasn't me. We talked about a lot of other things and then he came to that subject. He said, 'Mr. Mayor, read my lips, I want those files delivered to the Justice Center,'" Clark recalled.
"I said, 'Jim, read my lips, you're no longer the chief of police. So, I fired him right there," he said.
Breakfast was over. Clark remembers, "Jim Davis cancelled his golf game that day." The mayor was back at City Hall before 8 a.m.
"It must have been an early breakfast because by the time I got to city hall between 8 and 8:30. There were five or six reporters outside my office," said Chuck Duffy, the mayor's press secretary at the time.
"This was when reporters still covered city hall and the justice center and apparently Davis had told other officers he'd been fired. The word had spread quickly.
"They're all shouting at me, 'Did Bud just fire Chief Davis?' I had no idea, so I went to Bud's office. He was sitting there with Commissioner Dick Bogle and the man he'd already asked to take over as chief, Bogle's Chief of Staff Dick Walker," said Duffy.
"I asked Bud, 'What happened? I've got a bunch of reporters out front."
"I just fired Jim Davis. I think," Clark told Duffy.
To make sure that was the case, Duffy had to call Davis and ask him if he'd been fired. Davis confirmed he had been in what Duffy says was "a very short phone call."
Clark told the story of how the firing went down, including the "Read my lips" quote, to his press secretary, who then shared it with reporters.
"No one knew what had happened," said Duffy. "Bud wasn't talking publicly, and Davis wasn't either. What do I tell reporters? How is this going to look? I said to myself, 'Should I tell these reporters Bud really said, 'Read my lips, you're fired?'
"Then I said, 'Why not?' That's what Bud said, and I thought it made him look strong. The reporters loved it. That was the headline," Duffy said, even though what Clark really said was "You're no longer the chief of police."
Some hearing this story retold from 32 years ago may think the mayor and the chief were merely re-purposing Vice President's George W. Bush's unfortunate promise, "Read my lips. No new taxes." But that line, written by Peggy Noonan, wasn't spoken until the Republican National Convention in August of 1988.
As for "You're fired," that catch phrase wasn't made famous until January 2004 by President Donald Trump on the reality show "The Apprentice."
That Fat City breakfast, which Davis reportedly paid for, didn't end the dispute between Clark and Davis. The chief went back to being a captain with the Portland Police Bureau. The mayor hired Bogle's chief of staff, Walker, as his fifth chief of police and relative calm was restored between the Mayor's Office and the justice center. But Davis wasn't done. He ran against the man who fired him when Clark went for his second term in 1988. Clark not only defeated Davis, who polled just over 5,000 votes to the incumbent's 65,500 votes, he defeated Ron Still, whom he had replaced as chief of police when he first took office.
Back at Fat City recently, Clark said he didn't remember so many license plates and signs hanging on the walls the day he fired the chief. Before he left, he made sure to take a picture of the front page with his picture on it that will hang over that booth as long as there's a Fat City Café.
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