Whatever you think of Katz, shes left her mark
Let's face the hard truth about Mayor Vera Katz. Her 'happy' political days were over long before she announced her now-sure political end.
It seems that for every pound of accolades she receives these days there is also a corresponding quantum of vilification. Most special groups that once were cozy with her now have an ax to grind with her. From labor unions to the business community, the scorn has been ceaseless.
The mayor's critics have been virulent when 'mistakes' have occurred under her watch, ranging from a police department impervious to change to the failed PGE Park business venture. And, of course, the media have pounced on every misstep or slip, of which there have been many.
Not surprisingly, then, I consider her recent announcement that she would not seek a fourth term as mayor a brilliant decision. By that singular action she has avoided being pounded into political submission by opponents. Plus, she gives Portland the opportunity for a fresh start and a new platform.
To be fair, Katz's time at City Hall has not always been so contentious. Early on, her strong, stoic and matter-of-fact public persona assured her of support from citizens, thanks in part to her popular political parlance.
With inimitable style, she often has brought innovative policy to life. During the mid-'90s I watched in awe as she spoke convincingly and with great fervor about a 'rebirth of North-Northeast Portland' after cutting the ribbon to open Walnut Park in Northeast Portland.
And over the years she has navigated the shifting tides of relations among her peers on the City Council. Few resented her frank stance, her trenchant approach to political opponents and her sometimes dogmatic views. Those were the good old days.
In her 1997 State of the City address tagged 'Portland's Promise' Katz shared a story from the biblical book of Genesis in which God handed the key of the promised land of Canaan to Abraham. She said Abraham was not impressed, because 'Canaan was full of hostile tribes who did not share Abraham's vision of peace, plenty and community policing.' That was vintage Vera.
Whatever you think of Katz now, the fact is that today's Portland bears her unmistakable signature, for which she is unapologetic. She's proud of the 'groundbreaking policies and initiatives' that have indelibly changed our city landscape for the better.
Her success stories include the extension of light-rail lines to the airport and the Expo Center, expansion of the Oregon Convention Center and the creation of new neighborhoods in the River District and and South Waterfront.
'I respect her commitment to public service over the years, and in that regard I think she has established herself as a force impossible to ignore,' says Portland attorney Nick Fish, who is '100 percent sure' he will run for City Council next year.
Broadly, Katz has been remarkable at articulating her updated economic development agenda. But the current downturn has made it essential that, during the last 17 months of her reign, she rethink her economic strategies and clarify her approaches.
I believe there is a lesson here for the politicians either jostling to take over her mantle or hoping to serve on the council. The city is in dire need of new ideas on how to push its current community-based economic development model in these austere times. Let's talk about it.