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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

History and Honor: Fish and Gresham

One of my favorite books on American history is “The American Political Tradition,” by Richard Hofstadter. I was re-reading parts of it recently (I’m a big re-reader of books), including the chapter on the late 19th century “Gilded Age,” when politics (in both parties) was as corrupt as all get out. And I noticed something delightful.

If you like looking up name origins, you know that the cityofGreshamwas named after Walter Q. Gresham, a Civil War general and then Postmaster General. If you know Commissioner Nick Fish, you know that he is descended from a long line ofNew Yorkpoliticians, most of whom were named Hamilton Fish. Well, on page 221 of the book, here’s what Hofstadter had to say about Gresham:

Little wonder that an honest Republican of the old school like Walter Q. Gresham could describe his party as “an infernally corrupt machine.”

And here’s another line, from page 222:

There were, of course, untainted politicians, and they were esteemed. Grant was happy to have Hamilton Fish in his Cabinet, a man of conspicuous rectitude who adorned the group like a jewel in the head of a toad.

So there you have it. Our neighboring city and my colleague were named after / descended from two of the very few political figures in the late 19th century who weren’t part of the prevailing culture of graft and corruption. 

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