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July 30th, 2003 The Nose | The Nose
 

Prima Vera in Autumn

     
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Mayor Vera Katz
IMAGE: Martin Thiel
When Vera Katz first became mayor of this fine city, Monica Lewinsky had not yet transferred to Lewis & Clark College. Sen. Bob Packwood had not yet begun his Shakespearean fall from grace. Keiko was still doing laps at an amusement park in Mexico City.

And Kurt Cobain had not yet splattered his brains across his Seattle digs.

It was a long, long time ago.

Last week, Vera announced that she would retire rather than seek a fourth term. The Nose could swear he heard the collective sigh of a relieved city.

The Nose is not being disrespectful. In many ways, Vera has been a good, sometimes great, mayor.

During her 11 years as Portland's top dog (or is it cat?), this city got light rail to the airport, streetcars downtown, and a lot of housing everywhere (yes, even the Pearl). Crime dropped, public education was saved, City Hall was renovated, support for the arts increased.

Plus, she threw a hell of a millennium party.

To be sure, Katz tripped more times than Ken Kesey. She lost Columbia Sportswear, failed to do anything about the cops' and firefighters' huge unfunded pension liability, and entered into a secret deal to rebuild Civic Stadium that has proven to be more disastrous than the Blazers' signing of Sean Kemp.

But Vera overcame those failings and swatted away those who would challenge her for reelection, with a Jewish mother's charm that was exceeded only by another Jewish mother trait: an annoying need to micromanage every single detail. This was a mayor whose idea of a fun evening was to sit at home and listen to a police scanner.

It is way past time for this grand woman to leave the political stage, because Portland is losing whatever it is that made it special and desperately needs someone to recapture the magic.

When Vera became mayor, this city enjoyed a national reputation. Santa Fe may own the slogan "The City Different," but Portland really was. We embraced bikes and mass transit while others built highways and tunnels. Other cities built skyscrapers; Portland built Pioneer Courthouse Square. Other cities chased major-league sports teams; we didn't.

Boy, have things changed.

Katz, 69, isn't completely out of gas. She has energy enough to try to develop the South Waterfront (see cover story, page 16), and she hasn't given up on her idea to cap I-405. But her frayed relations with the business community, her increasingly thin skin and her crippling management of Portland's police force are among the many signs that Katz is losing touch with a city that is far different today from the Portland of 1992.

The Nose asks just this--that she bequeath her successor her spine if his name is Francesconi or her passion if his name is Blumenauer. This city has changed a lot. Its need for bold leadership hasn't.

 
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