Vera Katz

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Vera Katz
Vera Katz.jpg
49th Mayor of Portland, Oregon
In office
Preceded by Bud Clark
Succeeded by Tom Potter
57th Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives
In office
Preceded by Grattan Kerans
Succeeded by Larry Campbell
Constituency Multnomah County
Personal details
Born Vera Pistrak
(1933-08-03) August 3, 1933 (age 83)
Düsseldorf, Germany
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mel (?–1985; divorced)
Children Jesse
Profession Politician
Religion Judaism

Vera Katz (born August 3, 1933) is an American Democratic politician in the state of Oregon. She was the first woman to serve as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives and was the 49th mayor of Portland, Oregon's most populous city. Growing up in New York City, she moved to Portland in 1962 and was elected to the Oregon House in 1972. She served as mayor from 1993 to 2005. Since leaving office, she has continued to battle cancer.

Early life[edit]

Vera Katz was born on August 3, 1933 as Vera Pistrak in Düsseldorf, Germany.[1] Her parents fled Moscow, Russia, after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, settling in Germany.[1] As Jewish Mensheviks, the family fled for France when Vera was 2 months old as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power.[1] Once World War II began and Hitler invaded France, the family of four fled over the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain on foot.[1] After a time the family was able to immigrate to the United States and settled in New York City.[1] Vera's parents later divorced when she was 12 years old.[1]

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooklyn College in 1955 and a Master of Arts degree in 1957. Vera worked as a camp counselor in upstate New York where she met her future husband, Mel, a waiter.[1] They moved to Portland, Oregon in 1962 after selecting Portland from a list that included Seattle, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.[1][2] Vera and Mel, an artist, had decided to leave New York, with Vera's image of longtime U.S. Senator Wayne Morse helping to decide the matter.[2] After they moved, she gave birth to a son, Jesse.[1] Jesse went on to graduate from Lincoln High School in 1981 and became a journalist in Los Angeles; his memoir, The Opposite Field, was published in October 2009.[3]

Katz became involved in politics in the late 1960s while working on the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy.[2] Kennedy had antagonized many in Portland through his aggressive pursuit of local corruption as United States Attorney General.[citation needed] Katz moved on to support the nationwide grape boycott organized in the late 1960s by Cesar Chavez to support migrant agricultural workers.[2] She then protested and picketed the City Club of Portland over their male-only membership requirement in the early 1970s, leading to the end of the practice by the private club.[2]

Political career[edit]

In 1972, Vera Katz was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives as a Democrat representing Portland and Multnomah County for the 1973 session.[4] She won re-election to additional two-year terms through 1990.[5] In 1985, she became the first woman to serve as Speaker of the Oregon House, replacing Grattan Kerans.[6][7] While in the Oregon House, she sponsored the Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century, a landmark school reform bill. She also helped pass measures on gun control[1] as well as legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender in places of public accommodation and credit. Katz was the first person in Oregon history to hold the position of Speaker for three straight sessions.[1]

In 1992, Katz ran for mayor of Portland, promoting her candidacy by using public transportation to commute to her office. Running against then city commissioner Earl Blumenauer, she campaigned on a platform that included reducing crime rates.[8]

She won the election and served three terms, from January 1993 until January 2005, winning re-election in 1996 and 2000. During her first term, Mayor Katz endorsed the Yellow Bike Project, which drew national attention to Portland's artistic and bike-friendly civic engagement culture. In 2004, she did not stand for re-election and Tom Potter was elected as mayor in November 2004, assuming office in January 2005. During her administration, Katz pursued a policy of revitalization of the city's neighborhoods.[citation needed]

Katz fought off the early stages of breast cancer in early 2000, with surgery and radiation treatment. Katz was subsequently diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer called adenosarcoma in June 2004, following a routine hysterectomy.[9]

Later years and family[edit]

Plaque for the statue

In June 2003, a statue of Katz was unveiled on the Eastbank Esplanade.[10] In November 2004, the bicycle and pedestrian trail was officially renamed the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade in honor of the former mayor. In January 2005, the former mayor began an unpaid position as a Dean's Visiting Fellow in the College of Urban and Public Affairs' Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies at Portland State University.[6] As of 2008 she volunteers for the Start Making A Reader Today literacy program in the Portland area, and receives dialysis treatment.[11] Vera and Mel divorced in 1985; their son, Jesse, went on to a career in journalism.[1]

Preceded by
Bud Clark
Mayor of Portland, Oregon
Succeeded by
Tom Potter

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Ellis, Barnes (November 17, 1991). "Legislator seeks to build consensus". The Oregonian.
  2. ^ a b c d e Anderson, Jennifer (August 27, 2004). "Vera's Town". Portland Tribune. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  3. ^ Stanford, Phil (February 26, 2008). "On the town: Son steps out of mother's shadow". Portland Tribune. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  4. ^ Oregon Legislative Assembly (57th) 1973 Regular Session. Oregon State Archives. Retrieved on March 26, 2008.
  5. ^ Oregon Legislative Assembly (66th) 1991 Regular Session. Oregon State Archives. Retrieved on March 26, 2008.
  6. ^ a b Santen, David. News: Mayor Vera Katz to Join PSU. PSU Office of Marketing and Communications, December 10, 2004; retrieved on March 25, 2008
  7. ^ Oregon Legislative Assembly (62nd) 1984 Special Session. Oregon State Archives; retrieved on March 26, 2008.
  8. ^ Ellis, Barnes (November 20, 1991). "Katz offers ideas to reduce crime in Portland". The Oregonian.
  9. ^ Human Resources, Management and Finance (March 14, 2007). "Vera Katz". Womens History Month Blog 2007. City of Portland. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 
  10. ^ Yao, Stephanie (June 3, 2006). "Esplanade statue A look-alike for former mayor". The Oregonian. 
  11. ^ Stern, Henry (January 17, 2007). "Herding Katz". Willamette Week. Retrieved December 5, 2010. 

External links[edit]