On Dec. 11, Portland lost its last great mayor: Vera Katz died at 84. Katz, who ran Portland with vision and willpower, was remembered today by a spectrum of state and city luminaries.
Jesse Katz, her son, in a statement:
“My mom was the embodiment of the American dream: coming with nothing and making a better life not just for herself but for the countless others she touched. While we miss her terribly, I know that her fearlessness, generosity and persistence will continue to shine light on our world.”
Elisa Dozono, former spokeswoman for Katz and now a partner at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP, tells WW:
“I think about the times I would be out with her. She would talk to anybody. She talked to the homeless all the time. We’d be out on the streets, and she would talk to them. She would look them in the eye and ask them questions and show that she cared—that extraordinary ability she had despite being such an introvert—just her ability to connect with people, to take their problems as her own and decide to do something about it.
“Most people don’t know what an introvert she was. She just really spent a lot of time on her own processing things on her own. She didn’t like to do the schmoozing and everything. That just wasn’t her.”
“Vera loved the city and loved being in charge of it. She was passionate and ready to fight for Portland. No one outworked her ever and no one did more homework. Her passion for detail and planning were great fits for a City that wants to get it right. As a new council member we often argued, but as I grew to know her on a personal level, I came to admire and respect her. It took time, and it wasn’t easy, but after working by her side and arguing with her for a decade, I came to realize there was no one better.
“She was Mayor for a long time and I think the city took her strengths for granted. Much of Portland’s current successes flow directly from her hard work. I don’t think we knew just how good she was when she was doing it, but she really set the standard for how a Mayor should act and react.
“She held power when necessary—taking all the bureaus, controlling PDC and reviewing virtually every line in the budget—but she also gave the right assignments to the right members. Once we agreed on a task or an assignment, I knew what to expect. She was consistent and always competent.”
Phyllis Oster, director of international relations and cultural affairs when Katz was mayor, tells WW:
“One thing that was very important was how open she was about her illness and how willing she was to talk to other people. People would come up to her at events or while she was walking down the streets, and she would be happy to stop and talk to them and maybe give them some comfort about what she was going through.
“She was an extremely compassionate person. She loved Portland very much, and she loved Oregon, and I considered her to be a true public servant. She really did care about providing Portland with the best she had to offer. And she was an extremely private person. She was really private, and very few people actually ever went into her house. But she was so willing to give of herself to people in public. That was interesting dichotomy.
“She absolutely was an introvert. She wasn’t a glad-hander. She liked being with people, but she would have much preferred to be at home reading planning documents. But when she was with you, she was with you a 100 percent. There was nothing phony about her. When she was there, she was on completely.
“You know, particularly now, with everything that’s going on in politics, she set such a high bar for honesty and humanity.”