Thirty-five years ago, a vacancy opened up on the Multnomah County Commission when Don Clark, then a commissioner, was elected chairman of the commission. It was up to Mr. Clark and the other three commissioners to fill the vacancy.
The hot issue of the day was whether to build the Mt. Hood Freeway. It would have run from the stubby ramps on the east end of the Marquam Bridge southeast to a corridor more or less along Division Street, then then roughly parallel to and north of Powell Boulevard until it got to the place southeast of Gresham where Highway 26 turns into an expressway.
Two members of the commission supported the Mt. Hood Freeway and two opposed it. They ran through a great number of candidates for the fifth seat, in each case splitting on a two-to-two vote. Commissioners Don Clark and Mel Gordon voted against the pro-freeway candidates, and Commissioners Alice Corbett and Dan Mosee voted against the anti-freeway candidates.
One day someone suggested appointing Dennis Buchanan to the post. Mr. Buchanan had been a Portland newspaper and television journalist from 1962 to 1973. When his name came up for consideration, Commissioner Corbett invited him to lunch, presumably, he thought, to sound out his views on the controversial freeway. In some panic, because he opposed the freeway and knew that Mrs. Corbett would vote against him if she knew that, he asked a political friend to tell him something about Mrs. Corbett. "She's very much a lady, and will act that way," said the friend, pungently adding, "But don't be misled -- she knows the difference between chicken salad and chicken****."
They went to lunch. Mrs. Corbett didn't ask about the Mt. Hood Freeway. She agreed to support Mr. Buchanan, and he was in due course appointed to the vacant seat. The only hitch, Mr. Buchanan recalls, was when the waiter took their orders. He doesn't remember what he himself ordered, but he recalls to this day that Commissioner Corbett ordered the chicken salad. It was all he could do to keep a straight face through the meal.