As city commissioner (1967 - 1973) and later as mayor of Portland, Oregon (1973 - 1979), Goldschmidt led in the revitalization of the downtown section of that city, as well as in the creation of TriMet, and earning much good will from both the electorate and the business community by the time he left to become Secretary of Transportation under president Jimmy Carter in 1979.
Goldschmidt became the first Democratic governor of Oregon in nearly a decade in 1986. His policy for economic development gained him support in all parts of that state. Citing marital problems, he declined to run for re-election in 1990, despite the widely-held perception that he could have been easily re-elected.
In 1991 he founded a law and consulting firm, Neil Goldschmidt, Inc. in Portland. His clients include Schnitzer Investment, Nike, Inc, PacifiCorp, Paul Allen, and Betchel Enterprises (a subsidiary of Bechtel Corporation). He has worked for the State Accident Insurance Fund, which is engaged in an ongoing battle with a competing private insurance company, Liberty Mutual.
Goldschmidt has drawn criticism in recent years for his recent activities. In 2002, he lobbied business and political leaders to support Weyerhaeuser in its hostile takeover of Willamette Industries. More recently, he headed a purchase of Portland General Electric funded by Texas Pacific Group, which put on hold city and county studies to acquire by condemnation Portland General Electric.