Four Men; Two Sisters:
The Romance Begins

The Portland-Bologna Sister City Connection

By Jim Pasero

“This is a place (Portland, Ore.) where one person can still make a difference,” says George Passadore, Regional Chair Wells Fargo Oregon, with a confident passion. “In Portland you’re able to see the effect that you have here, in Los Angeles or San Francisco you can’t say that.”

Since George Passadore took over at Wells Fargo in 1996, after the California-based bank merged with First Interstate, this “Type-A Personality” has been a remarkable life force in the civic affairs of Portland. Passadore serves as a trustee of the Portland Art Museum and Oregon Health Sciences University, and is on the board of the Portland Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco as well as the Oregon Business Council. Passadore is president of the Board of Directors for the public transit agency Tri-Met, and most recently chair of the newly formed Portland Business Alliance.

Passadore has one motto for his involvement in Portland’s civic affairs, “If I can’t make a difference, I don’t become involved.” The difference Passadore is making right now for Portland is putting his considerable energy behind establishing new and close ties for Portland with Italy—specifically a sister city relationship with Bologna, located in the Italian province of Emilia Romagna.

Passadore the chairman of the Portland-Bologna Sister City Association hasn’t done it all by himself, he’s had help-help from a couple of pretty influential Italian Americans: City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, the head of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association (POVA) Joe D’Alessandro, plus one Italian transplant, Andrea Bartoloni, a downtown Portland lawyer and Italy's honorary Vice Consul to Oregon.

So why does a new sister city relationship with Bologna, Italy matter? Why is this anything more than a publicity stunt and couple of nice junkets to Europe for the people involved?

“When we talked to business leaders about Bologna as a new sister city, says POVA’s D’Alessandro, “the mayor and business leaders weren’t interested unless there were serious outcomes. It couldn’t just be Americans looking for a connection to their motherland.”

Adds Don Mazziotti, director of the Portland Development Commission (PDC), “Everyone around the table clearly understood that our ultimate objective is a beneficial economic relationship between Bologna and Portland. There just aren’t any negatives. The decision we put together to help decide which sister city was not done simply because of the cultural aspects. (That Italy is a fun place.) The potential we believe is enormous.”

That means economic potential.

Mazziotti ticks off the benefits of the new sister city relationship in concrete terms.

“There are 40,000 in the city of Portland with Italian ancestry. That’s a lot of people, with a lot of interest. Major aspects of the culture will be focused.” As for the business side of the new relationship, “We are going to line up specific Italian companies to make up a trade incubator in Portland…a virtual physical location for a connection of firms from Bologna to have an address in Portland. The incubator will provide common service support that businesses use.”

But perhaps the strongest reason to build a sister city relationship with Bologna, Italy is to help promote Portland’s new direct air service to Europe provided by the German carrier Lufthansa.

“I love hearing the sounds of German voices in downtown Portland,” says Bill Wyatt, Director of the Port of Portland. “The Lufthansa direct flight to Portland is working; it’s making a difference.”

Bill Wyatt remembers “the sting that people felt when we lost the direct Delta service to Japan.” Wyatt also remembers that sting occurred in the middle of some fairly tough economic times for Portland. “Our economy is not in the condition that New York City was in the 1970s, but it's tough with unemployment at eight percent and with us being a manufacturing based economy and manufacturing being down.” Adds Wyatt, “With a deregulated system of global transportation, I can see production moving away from us. InFocus just moved production from here to China.”

Oregon’s weak economy is one of the reasons that Wyatt along with NIKE, Freightliner and Tektronix last year established a $10 million travel fund that encouraged Lufthansa to fly directly to Portland. Still, getting a Lufthansa flight here for a trial period, and keeping it in Portland, are two different issues. And that's where Bologna and Italy figure into the Port's strategy.

“Tourism”that’s what will fill the seats,” says Mazziotti, of Lufthansa’s direct flight. “Tourism fills the economy class that keeps the service around. Without that direct flight to Frankfurt, (Frankfurt happens to be the third busiest airport in the world) the flight to Bologna is four or five hours longer.”

Wyatt says that company executives tell him, “that it feels like heaven to fly back and be in Portland directly from Europe and not have to go to San Francisco and spend four hours on the ground.”

Wyatt and Mazziotti make a convincing case for the excitement that is building around Portland’s new sister city, Bologna.

1) The Cultural Case: 40,000 in Portland with
Italian ancestry

2) The Free Trade Case: A Trade Incubator in Portland to assist Italian companies doing business both in the northwest and in Asia

3) The Business Case: expanding Italian tourism to ensure Lufthansa’ success.

Or as Commissioner Francesconi comments on the quick jump by air from Frankfurt to Bologna, “It’s a beautiful flight over the Alps, and Italy just shows better than Germany.”

Culture, Trade and Lufthansa: Three strong reasons for a new sister city relationship. It also doesn’t hurt that NIKE’s Italian headquarters are in Bologna.

Andrea Bartoloni, the Italian consul, remarks on what until now has been the typical sister city relationship for Portland. “With the exception of Guadalajara and Portland’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, most of the other sister city relationships you don’t hear much about. Our challenge for Bologna is to make the business connections and keep the interest high. We need to translate the initial intent into something real. But right now, we love the momentum.”

If Bologna and Italy earn a unique relationship in Portland and the Northwest it will have a lot to do with the unique relationship that the three Italians Americans and one Italian consul who put it together have for each other, and the energy they bring to that relationship.

Just how these four Portlanders put together a sister city relationship is a tale that varies depending on who is telling the story. After all, they’re Italians. But a composite of their four accounts goes roughly like this:

“Jim Francesconi and I talked about this at a neighborhood party. I lived five houses from him and he was running for office,” says D’Alessandro. Both families are from Luca in Tuscany, west of Florence, so we wanted Luca to be our sister city. Carlo Mannocci (the consul before Andrea Bartoloni) went to Luca, talked to their mayor, but they didn’t want us. They already had a sister city relationship. They thought it was funny.” This was hardly the way to treat two proud Italian Americans.

“Rick Petestio,” adds Francesconi said pick a new city. “We started to talk to Bologna. Rick swung the whole group. We fell in love with Bologna.”

Sander Cohan, in an article entitled “Towers and Tortellini,” in this summer’s issue of La Cucina Italiana describes why its easy to fall in love with Bologna and its beautiful porticoes:

“Bologna is a city with three names: La Rossa (the Red), La Dotta (the Learned) and La Grassa (the Fat). La Rossa denotes the city's penchant for leftist politics as well as its distinctinve clusters of of stucco apartments painted in a panoply of warm reds, oranges and yellows. La Dotta refers to the University of Bologna, founded in 1088, the dominant presence in the city and home to famous students such as Copernicus, Erasmus, and Dante Alighieri. La Grassa is a reminder of Bologna’s esteemed status as a standard-bearer for Italian cuisine.”

“We looked at Pisa, Genoa (Passadore’s family is from Genoa), Ancona and Bologna. We liked Bologna,” says D’Alessandro, “because it’s a progressive city and because nobody on the board had any family connections to Bologna.” At that time Passadore was pushing Genoa, and Francesconi and D’Alessandro had already surrendered on their Luca bid.

Commissioner Francesconi describes how momentum for Bologna built: “Fourteen months ago I went to George Passador’s office for lunch. I went to talk about schools and the business climate, but we spent the next hour talking about Bologna and drinking wine. George said, ‘I’ll give you $5,000’' … I hadn’t even asked. I appointed George chair and Joe president. It was launched in George’s office.”

And then came another turning point. Enter Gino Schettini and his place of residence, Piazza Italia, on 11th and Northwest Johnson in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District.

Schettini is a former referee for the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC). He came to America with his wife and four children with the Italian National Soccer team for the ’94 World Cup. After the World Cup was over, Gino and family settled in Portland. Three years ago he opened Piazza Italia, an authentic Italian trattoria (diner). From the moment Gino opened, as he says, “We started to be huge.”

Today, Gino is the “Toots Shor” of Portland, Ore. Who is Toots Shor, for those of you with short memories? Only New York’s legendary saloonkeeper of the 40s and 50s, the man who simultaneously entertained Joe DiMaggio and Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps even Francis Sinatra.

Move 3,000 miles west and 50 years later and meet the West Coast’s version of Toots Shor-Schettini, the football official from Roma. Anybody who’s anybody in Portland passes through Gino’s, whether its Maurice Cheeks after a Blazer game, former Gov. Kitzhaber, Hollywood movie director Gus Van Sant, movie star on-location Tommy Lee Jones, or CART race car driver Alex Tagliani filling up on pasta the night before the G.I. Joe’s 200 (he finished third). Says Bill Wyatt of his addiction to Gino’s: “Don Mazziotti and I go every month and split a bottle of wine.”

So why is it all happening around Gino’s? Because Gino is now famous in Portland.

But Gino is also famous in Rome, says Dr. Robert Gross,

owner of Cooper Mountain Vineyards in Beaverton. “When you go to downtown Rome, you’ll find that Gino knows everybody just like he does in Portland.” Gino is also weathering his second bout of cancer in three years, but cancer and chemotherapy haven’t slowed down Gino’s success, not for a second. Consul Bartoloni explains why Gino has such a touch with the town’s big shots: “Because Gino is fearless,” says Andrea. “Certain people are always approached in a certain way because of their status. People are afraid of important people, but Gino could care less. He relates to them on an equal basis. Whether your President of the United States or a garbage collector, it makes no difference to Gino. Gino has,” says Andrea, “Faccia Tosta.” Translated: “Nothing breaks his face.”

Gino responds, “I don’t care if I lose face.”

“He’s a natural,” says Andrea.

“Especially with the women,” adds Gino.

So naturally when it came time for the decisive meeting about whether or not Bologna would be Portland’s new sister city, where was it held? Gino’s, of course, where Commissioner Francesconi and Portland Mayor Vera Katz sat down for dinner. Says the Commissioner about the eventful dinner: “The mayor and I would get together for dinner every six months. That night we had a bottle of wine. I was thinking that if it was Europe, (our new sister city) then it ought to be Italy. She didn’t say no. I took that as a yes,” laughs Francesconi.

With the mayor on board, the next meeting of the sister city association took place in a garage. Well, not just any garage. For George Passadore’s garage is a spectacular place—a garage on the city’s eastside that happens to contain several antique automobiles and a full restaurant kitchen, a classic jukebox, and can seat dozens for dinner. The meeting at Passadore’s garage was attended by the Italian General Consul for San Francisco, Francesco Sciortino, and Mayor Katz. Says Bartoloni of that meeting, “the general consul was impressed with the work we’d done.” Adds Passadore, “The mayor was appalled that we would vote in the bylaws for the sister city association without reading them, but it was symbolic of the fun we were having.”

Last summer Portland’s former Vice Consul to Italy, Carlo Mannocci, told us that he’d be in Italy and he’d make inquiries as to whether city officials in Bologna were interested, says Bartoloni. They were. One of the reasons they were interested in Portland and in Oregon, says Bartoloni: “Because Italians are attracted to the idea of the West, of open spaces, friendliness, the directness, the geographic beauty.” Bologna had already said no to St. Louis.

In October, Portland’s Four Italian Horsemen, George Passadore, Jim Francesconi, Joe D’Alessandro, and Andrea Bartoloni decided to attend a global cities conference in Bologna to make arrangements for a formal relationship. That trip also cemented the relationship among the four Portland civic leaders.

Bartoloni, who grew up in Florence and who traveled to Bologna in ’67 to attend a Rolling Stones concert, remembers an incident that captured a typical image of the trip. “People eat so late in Italy that we found ourselves in the Piazza Maggiore (the town square) at one in the morning and the students were playing capture the flag with two teams and players assigned numbers. Jim Francesconi and I played these guys. It was fun.”

Some of the students that Francesconi and Bartoloni were playing in that late night game of capture the flag may soon be studying at PSU or OHSU. Says D’Alessandro, “A professor at OHSU is from Bologna. His brother runs a department at the medical school at the Bologna University and PSU is developing an urban studies program with a new program on Italy.”

Passadore remembers another light moment in the October trip when Commissioner Francesconi was attempting to address the global cities conference in Italian. “Jim tried to lay his Italian out and Andrea said to me, ‘It’s not very good,’ and later as Francesconi continued, Andrea said that it didn’t make any sense, he doesn’t understand what he is saying.”

Whether Francesconi knew what he was saying or not, what was understandable was the close relationship being forged between Portland’s civic leaders and Bologna city officials. Passadore remembers the atmosphere around a meeting with Bologna Mayor Giorgio Guazzaloca. “Pavarotti had just been to visit the mayor and his office was full of John Wayne memorabilia.”

Nine months later in June 03 the Bologna officials traveled to Portland during unusually warm 98-degree weather to sign the friendship agreement between the cities. Passadore, Francesconi, D’Alessandro and Bartoloni packed their two-day schedule as Brad Hutton of the Hilton, Tony Vecchio of the Oregon Zoo, Judi Johansen of Pacificorp, Paul Kelly of NIKE, Dr. Kohler of OHSU, restaurant owner Connie Laslow and Mayor Katz rolled out the red carpet. The two-day frantic trip ended with the Bolognese as featured guests aboard the Wells Fargo Stagecoach in the Rose Festival Parade.

Next month, September, Gov. Kulongoski, the PDC’s Don Mazziotti, the Port of Portland's Bill Wyatt, and the director of the Oregon Economic Development Commission, Marty Brantley, will lead a trade delegation to Frankfurt to further promote Lufthansa’s direct service to Portland. From Frankfurt, 100 members (or more-the group grows as word travels around the city) of the Portland-Bologna Sister City Association will go to Italy to further formalize ties between the two cities.

For the four Portland civic leaders involved it will be an achievement born out of a passion all have for the old country. And the passion lives on.

Although he is married to an American and has American-born children and has been a Portland resident for more than two decades, Italian consul and downtown Portland lawyer Andrea Bartoloni still remains an Italian citizen. Says the former Tuscan resident, whose parents still live in Florence, “My ties to Italy are still strong, but the U.S. has been great to me.”

In the opinion of city commissioner and mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi, whose family also hails from Tuscany (via Northern California), the only thing Portland needs—“More Italians, and I want them to be Portland citizens and registered by the May primary season.”

For Joe D’Alessandro, whose childhood was spent in family-owned Italian restaurants in Sacramento and whose ancestors, like the others, hail from Tuscany, a connection to Italy means sharing an appreciation of different business cultures. “Portland is a new part of the world; we are just establishing a business culture. They’ve been doing business the same way for hundreds of years. They can share that with us and we can share with them. Oregon has a strong entrepreneurial sense. We take a few more risks than other parts of the country. Americans use email, have cell phones, take two weeks off a year, while Italians take four weeks off and have three-hour lunches. But it’s not like they get less done. The marriage of business cultures for both sides is good.”

And finally for George Passadore, whose family came to America from Genoa three generations ago, it’s about family and loyalty, and giving back to a community that’s given so much to him. Passadore doesn’t take this mission lightly.

Passadore grew up in an Italian American community in Milwaukie, Oregon, but his great-grandfather and grandfather originally owned businesses in South Portland, the longtime Jewish and Italian neighborhood of Portland. “My grandfather had a sanitary company on Front Avenue called Passadore Garbage, but we moved to the east side to Milwaukie.” Just three years ago Passadore moved back to South Portland, into the KOIN Tower. “I wanted to live in the same neighborhood as my grandparents had.”

Passadore’s father worked for the railroad for 40 years and his mother for the phone company. The banker himself, although he holds an honorary degree from PSU, never finished college. Passadore started in the bank’s mailroom. And his memory is long. Very long. “My mother worked for the phone company at Montgomery Park, where they tinted the windows so that the workers wouldn't be distracted. When Wells Fargo needed a loan center I went to Montgomery Park and took the same floor my mother worked, the fifth floor, and I then I brought her down there.”

But besides the passion for the connection between America and Italy, Passadore emphasizes, “All of this has been done to
do something good for business in Portland, to have fun, but to make it economically viable.”

Mazziotti says not to worry—it will be. “When you’re talking about Italy,” says the PDC Director, “you’re not talking about a sleepy nation that makes canoli and has provincial cheeses. You’re talking about a nation that has the world’s best cutting edge design firms. A first-world industrial country with many businesses that are the world’s best, that’s the root of this, and the fun.”

And what does Port of Portland director Bill Wyatt think of the Italian American congregation from Portland that will be traveling Lufthansa to Bologna this September to cut the sister city deal?

“They’re quite a mob.”

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