We've got to believe that when John Ashcroft sat down in front of his turkey last week (and we're not talking about a cabinet meeting, here) he was less than thankful for the little West Coast burg of Portland, where Mayor Vera Katz had just told the Attorney General that he could take his federal inquisition of legal residents and stuff it.

The Nose could have kissed her.

The Schnoz is as small-minded as they come, and those feelings of affection were prompted partly by a desire for revenge. Earlier this month, after all, Ashcroft had turned his deceptively sleepy eyes toward our fair state and its doctor-assisted-suicide law and raised a symbolic middle finger. So last week was payback time, and Vera, God love her, made us proud.

Over the past several weeks, Ashcroft has come up with a secret list of potential enemies of the nation (stop us if this sounds eerily familiar). He's got a roster of some 5,000 names of young men, here on student, tourist or work visas, whom he'd like to question as part of President Bush's whack on terror.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force, like similar panels across the nation, received a request to help the feds round up about 200 of these unnamed young men living in the Portland area.

The Portland cops had enough sense to run the idea by the city attorney's office, which is why last Wednesday, when Ashcroft was preparing to stuff his bird, Vera flipped one right back in his face.

At last Wednesday's press conference, Katz announced city officers wouldn't be participating, making Portland the only city in the nation to refuse to do Ashcroft's dirty work. Deputy City Attorney David Lesh referred to a 1981 state law banning local cops from collecting information about people unless the police have reason to believe they might be involved in criminal activity. As far as anybody can tell, the only crime committed by the men on Ashcroft's secret list is being born in some Middle Eastern country that, for the moment, our government doesn't like.

In addition, Lesh noted that the request seemed to make the Portland cops de facto federal immigration officers, which would violate a more recent state law.

Forget, for a moment, issues of civil liberties which, the last time the Nose checked, extend to foreign visitors legally on these shores. It's hard to imagine what good these proposed "interviews" would do. In addition to collecting information such as phone numbers used "by the individuals and his family or close associates," Ashcroft wanted cops to get the young men's reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks and their opinions about acts of terrorism.


The Nose isn't sure whether this is a blundering attempt by the feds to look like they're doing something important, or a sincere belief that a whole group of legal residents should be detained by police simply because of where they were born.

Either way, the mayor was right to say 'No.'

The city's action touched off a flurry of legal ping-pong. On Friday, the state legislative counsel largely agreed with the city. Monday, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk said he thought Lesh was wrong. State Attorney General Hardy Myers was poised to weigh in Tuesday. But it soon didn't matter.

Monday afternoon, the city got a new list of questions from Ashcroft's office that did not include some of the most objectionable queries.

Katz hasn't yet said whether she'll let the cops participate in Ashcroft's kinder, gentler inquisition, but either way, she can claim victory with honor. It seems clear that the little old mayor of Puddletown stopped the nation's top law-enforcement officer cold. Katz has already taken a lot of heat for her call, but she can handle it.

Since her press conference last week, the mayor has repeatedly said she's as committed as anyone to fighting terrorism. What she hasn't said is that as the child of Jewish parents who fled Nazi Germany, she knows a thing or two about the dangers of rounding up legal residents based solely on their surnames.