Former Mayor Vera Katz dies
Former Mayor Vera Katz, a former Speaker of the Oregon House who guided Portland for three terms during the 1990s and early 2000s, died Monday, Dec. 11. She was 84.
Katz was diagnosed in 2000 with breast cancer and battled the illness through surgery and treatment. Four years later, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
She led Portland as mayor from 1993 to 2005. Katz was elected to the Oregon House in 1972 and became the first female speaker of the house in 1985, a post she held until 1990.
Katz was born Aug. 3, 1933, in Germany. Her family fled Nazi Germany to Spain and eventually immigrated to the United States, where she grew up in New York City. In 1962, she and her husband, Mel, moved to Portland.
While in the Rose City, Katz worked to elect Democratic candidates and eventually jumped into politics in the early 1970s.
Oregon political leaders praised Katz's legacy and called her "a trailblazer" for women on many issues.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend Vera Katz," said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. "My memories of this indomitable woman stretch back more than 40 years to our work together during the 1975 state Legislature to reduce prescription drug costs. Vera recognized early on the importance of standing up for senior citizens and I fondly remember how older people gravitated to her house because she always picked up their spirits and made politics fun.
"Always a trailblazer, Vera will be remembered by Portlanders for the enduring legacy she leaves our city from her groundbreaking tenure as mayor, and by all Oregonians in every part of the state through her service as our state's first woman Speaker of the House and her lifetime of passionate advocacy for children, senior citizens and the LGBTQ community."
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat representing Oregon's 3rd Congressional District, called Katz "a remarkable person" and recounted their "spirited campaign for mayor against each other."
"Many times, we joked that her victory was one of the best things that happened to me, because while she was mayor, it led to me being elected to Congress," Blumenauer said. "Vera was bold, shrewd, determined, smart, and an amazing role model. Our city would not be what it is without her. I will miss her constructive criticism, counsel and friendship."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley tweeted that Katz was an Oregon icon and pioneer who "broke barriers."
"Her remarkable legacy will not be forgotten," Merkley wrote.
Mayor Ted Wheeler called Katz "larger than life" and said she "made an indelible impact on Oregon and Portland over four decades."
"All of us in public service can aspire to her boldness, her candor, and her humanity," Wheeler said Monday. "On a personal level, I attended school with her son, Jesse, and cannot separate Mayor Katz from Vera Katz the mother. My heart goes out to her family and friends during this difficult time. It's rare that someone as accomplished in public life makes a similar impact in their personal life. Vera did. Our community will miss her tremendously."
City Commissioner Dan Saltzman posted on his Facebook page a message praising Katz as "one of the strongest and most respected leaders our city has ever had."
"As mayor, she never took 'no' for an answer," Saltzman wrote. "She was incredibly visionary, thoughtful and tenacious on a wide range of civic issues, and I greatly enjoyed and respected her leadership all the years we overlapped on Portland City Council."
The Rev. Chuck Currie praised Katz's ability to overcome differences on local issues to find solutions.
"Mayor Vera Katz loved our city of Portland as much as anyone," Currie said Monday. "Her early work advocating on behalf of women means that there are opportunities available for my daughters that might never had been there without her advocacy. We often clashed during her tenure as mayor over affordable housing and efforts to end homelessness. Despite these differences, I never doubted her commitment to the common good of our city."
Senate Republican leader Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, said she was saddened by the news. "We knew each other before I was ever elected to the House, I could always count on Vera to order ribs from Jackie's Ribs. She was a truly pioneering leader, and was the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House in Oregon. She will be dearly missed."
Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith called Katz "an inspiration to those daring to take new paths."
"She helped to forge the path forward for women and people of color," Smith said. "Her storied civil rights record is likely the result of her family's own persecution. As a child her family fled the Nazis by crossing over the Pyrenees Mountains by foot. This legacy of strength in the face of adversity stayed with her throughout her career and has been a source of inspiration for me. She will be remembered for being tough and resilient, and for setting a high bar for women in elected office."
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat representing Oregon's 1st Congressional District, called Katz "a true leader, and a pioneer for women in politics."
"Portland and Oregon are better because of Vera's leadership and legacy," Bonamici said. "She will be missed."