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Vera got stuff done: Lessons in leadership for a changing Portlands

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

1972 campaign flyer for State Representative District 8, Vera Katz’s first elected position.
(Portland State University Library Special Collections)

Sarah Iannarone is the associate director of First Stop Portland and a former candidate for Portland Mayor. She lives in east Portland.

Former Portland Mayor Vera Katz died last week at age 84. Three time Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives who went on to serve three terms as Portland Mayor, Katz’s reach was extensive. Part legacy leaver, part urban legend, Katz’s persona looms as large in Portland’s civic imagination as her accomplishments.

As someone born the year Katz was first elected and somewhat removed from state and local politics during her tenure, I’m not suited to eulogize her. Rather, I offer a few lessons gleaned from her leadership and thoughts how we might apply them today.

When I arrived in Portland in 1998 — one of those twenty-somethings allegedly looking to retire — Katz was just beginning her second term as Portland mayor. I’d rented a one-bedroom basement apartment in the Historic Alphabet District for $500 (remember those?) and my living room windows looked directly onto the front stoop of Katz’s 1890 Victorian. At the crack of dawn on workdays (which included many Saturdays and even some Sundays), her distinctive voice would ring across the yard with a warm greeting to her driver followed by a quickly barked roadmap of the morning’s activities. She wouldn’t get home until usually well after dark. I didn’t know then why my neighbor with the New York accent had no time for small talk on that stoop; I knew only that she seemed important and powerful, a bit of workaholic even, and that she never drove herself anywhere.
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