At-bat and ambitious
- Andy Giegerich
- Portland Tribune - News
Self-described NBA guy steers major league baseball drive David Kahn, chief of the Oregon Stadium Campaign, draws on law, journalism and NBA stints to propel big-league idea
David Kahn, in his last appearance as a newspaper columnist, talked of how forgiving baseball can be.
'Among all sports, baseball is the most redeeming,' he wrote in his Oct. 10, 1989, Oregonian piece. 'Football players have to wait a week to make amends. Not so with major leaguers. There is always tomorrow in baseball, always the next at-bat.'
Now batting for Portland, David Kahn.
Kahn, who's leading the Oregon Stadium Campaign's day-to-day efforts to bring big league ball to Portland, says the drive will mark his last turn at the baseball plate.
'I'm a basketball guy, and I've said that all along,' he maintained.
If Portland attracts a baseball team, it'll be because Kahn helped orchestrate the effort to sway state senators toward backing House Bill 3606. The bill, which would apply the state income tax portion of players' and executives' salaries toward $150 million in stadium-funding bonds, is, for the moment, languishing in the Senate's Rules Committee.
Kahn and other campaign members also persuaded nearly 600 businesses, many of which were initially skeptical, to endorse bringing a team to Portland. Most recently, the Fred Meyer division of Kroger Co. signed on as a stadium backer.
He's further melded several groups bent on luring the Montreal Expos to town.
'They needed coordination; they needed to be brought together into one cohesive effort,' said Corey Busch, who heads Major League Baseball's relocation committee. 'He's accomplished that, and that's an important feather in his cap.'
Legal work leads to Pacers
Those who have worked with Kahn say he's focused, smart and driven.
Those qualities also make him a challenging, yet entertaining, interview. Within the space of 30 seconds, he's alternately abrasive and condescending, engaging and charming.
Which isn't to suggest that Kahn is egotistical. On the contrary, he loathes talking about himself. And he assumes a doting tone when discussing his wife, Kerry McClenahan, who co-owns the public relations agency McClenahan Bruer Communications, or his kids, Marika, 12, and Kellen Juda, 20 months.
'He's an incredible dad,' McClenahan said. 'People who only know him in a professional setting are always struck by how different he is when the subject of our kids comes up. É He's a big softy: People would be shocked.'
Kahn followed baseball and football while growing up but played just one varsity sport, tennis, at Wilson High School. His favorite baseball team was the heavy-hitting Pittsburgh Pirates; his favorite player was Rod Carew.
'He converted to Judaism, which I thought was a cool thing,' said Kahn, who is Jewish.
Kahn earned an English degree from UCLA, then joined The Oregonian and spent six years as a sportswriter and columnist.
He left the daily, according to various sources, after allegedly being verbally abusive to a copy aide. He
doesn't discuss it, but he sued the paper and the matter ultimately was settled to his satisfaction, sources said.
He went on to the New York University School of Law and after graduation landed a job at Proskauer Rose, a New York law firm used extensively by the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.
Kahn hooked on with the Indiana Pacers in 1995 and became the
franchise's general manager in 1998. Among other duties, he oversaw construction of the team's Conseco Fieldhouse.
Conseco, he notes, was built with no taxpayer dollars.
'Our mission on baseball is to make certain that when this is all over, the average taxpayer who didn't want this can say, 'I didn't have to pay for that,' ' Kahn said. 'We managed to do that in Indiana; I know we can do it in Oregon.'
Politics also calls
Various leaders who have worked with Kahn credit his brainpower for advancing baseball's cause.
'David is very focused, very savvy,' Portland Mayor Vera Katz said. 'He gets the lay of the land very quickly, he has a high level of realism, and he has an enormous amount of contacts.'
Wally Van Valkenburg, the Stoel Rives attorney who heads the stadium campaign's steering committee, helped convince Kahn to assume his campaign leadership role.
'He sees this as an opportunity to put something into a city he grew up in,' Van Valkenburg said. 'The timing just worked well in terms of what he needed and what he's able to provide.'
Since returning to Portland, Kahn has assumed another role: political impresario. He and McClenahan hold key Oregon fund-raising roles in the presidential campaign of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C..
'I think he's enormously talented and enormously charismatic and, at the risk of being simplistic, I think a president should be both,' he said. 'I think he's the best guy for this country at the present time.'
Kahn says this is his last foray into politics. And, after being pressed again as to whether he wants a baseball job, he reiterates his stance about wanting to stay in basketball.
To that end, he's been mentioned as a candidate for the vacant Charlotte Bobcats general manager's job. He also told Indianapolis reporters years ago that his goal was to become NBA commissioner.
In that last column of his, Kahn wrote about the fading star of the Chicago Cubs' Andre Dawson: 'In sports, as in real life, all that matters is the present.'
At present, the general manager's post for the Portland Trail Blazers, in his hometown, in his chosen sport, is open.
'Running one campaign is plenty enough,' he said. 'And besides, I don't feel comfortable talking about it.'