Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The Jewish grandmother who could

Portland Mayor Vera Katz, 69, has announced she will not pursue a fourth term. She will be a septuagenarian when she leaves office. It will be the denouement of a remarkable life story that began in Germany in 1933. Her family fled the Nazis to France and then resettled in New York City. She studied dance and became a wife and mother. Then, after she relocated to Oregon in the mid-1960s, Katz' political activism, which began with protesting against purchasing grapes because of the way agricultural workers were exploited, bore fruit.

. . .Katz broke ground as the Oregon House's first woman speaker in the 1980s before bringing her hands-on style to the mayor's job. There, she has been equally likely to plunge into a raucous City Hall demonstration as shut out a City Council colleague who crosses her.

Katz, 69 and a breast cancer survivor, said Tuesday that she felt confident she was up to another strenuous campaign and could raise the $1 million she figures is needed for a run. But the key question, she said, was what she wants to do for another 51/2 years -- the remainder of her current term plus another four-year term if she won.

'Vera,' as most residents of Puddletown refer to her, has been mayor for much longer than I have lived here. It will seem strange not to hear her familiar New York accent in press conferences or have her dash to the front of the line at the grocery store.

Not everyone believes Katz' record is largely positive. Some conservatives consider her a socialist despite the pro-business positions she has often taken.

In "Winners and Losers" (July 25), you gave Portland Mayor Vera Katz a "thumbs up" and described her record as "mixed." The editors are most gracious.

Development fees are prohibitively high under her leadership ($30,000 to move a pizza parlor across the street). She continues to show her contempt for law enforcement officers, both local and federal, along with their efforts to make our community and nation a safe place to live. She has demonstrated, by speech and action, favoritism for minority groups, both racial and sexual. The mayor has solved traffic problems by having heavily traveled lanes of traffic removed and replaced by bike lanes.

. . .The only thing Vera Katz has done to earn a "thumbs up" is promise to leave, and then only if she doesn't come back.

There is even a fledgling movement to recall her.

I disagree with some of Katz' stances. Her sweetheart deal with investors in the rehabilitation of the former Civic Stadium has wasted tax dollars while further enriching folks who are already wealthy. She has not done enough to rein in the Portland police so that unnecessary shootings such as Kendra James' don't recur. Her plan to cap highway 405 is naive and imitative of a certain larger city in the region. However, in describing Katz' politics, I would use the term "moderate," not socialist or leftist.

Katz says she will devote the rest of her tenure to completing projects she is working on, including development of the River District. She is rightly concerned about Oregon's, and Portland's, record unemployment rates.

She said she would like to leave her mark on other major civic efforts: building a new stadium to lure major league baseball's Montreal Expos; improving education in low-achieving public schools; finding a new use for Memorial Coliseum; securing city acquisition of Portland General Electric from bankrupt Enron.

It is the River District plan that has really sparked her enthusiasm.

On July 10, in front of a packed City Hall, Mayor Vera Katz anointed real-estate developer Homer Williams as Portland's savior.

. . ."Homer is unique," Katz says. "He sees possibilities other people don't see."

Katz, who last week announced she will not seek a fourth term, is counting on Williams to provide a capstone to her 12 years as mayor. "This is the biggest, most complicated deal the city has ever done," she says.

. . .Williams' biggest champion at City Hall is the mayor. "Homer's got a holistic view of the universe," Katz says. "Our conversations are usually about bigger issues, demographics and how the city is changing."

Contrary to expectations, candidates are not rushing forward to replace Katz.

I don't blame political hopefuls for thinking twice. The Jewish grandma will be an hard act to follow.


To learn more about Portland visit this site. Curious about Katz? See her homepage.

This entry was originally published in Mac-a-ro-nies, a current events and public affairs web log.

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