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Oregon politicians remember Vera Katz: 'She was a force'

FILE -- Oregon House Speaker Vera Katz drops the gavel on the 1985 legislative session. (KATU File Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Vera Katz, a former 12-year mayor of Portland and the first woman to be Speaker of the Oregon House, died Monday at age 84, causing many of her fellow politicians to share their condolences and reflect on her incredible career.

READ MORE | Sources say former Portland Mayor Vera Katz, 84, has passed away

Statement by Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney:

“Vera Katz was more than a pioneer. She was a force. She escaped the Nazis. She battled cancer. She ran the House. She ran the city. She was a natural leader. Vera led and people followed. As Speaker, she had partnership with Denny Jones. She was from Brooklyn and Portland. He was Prineville and Ontario. They didn’t have an urban-rural divide. They worked together. They’re both gone now, but that’s a part of her legacy I will always remember. Oregon has lost great human being.”

Statement by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler:

“Vera Katz was larger than life. She made an indelible impact on Oregon and Portland over four decades, from the early 1970s to after the turn of the new millennium. All of us in public service can aspire to her boldness, her candor, and her humanity. 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.”

Statement by Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman:

“I’m truly saddened to hear of the passing of Mayor Vera Katz, one of the strongest and most respected leaders our City has ever had. As Mayor, she never took ‘no’ for an answer. 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.”

Statement by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden:

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of my friend Vera Katz. 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.”

Statement by Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici:

“Along with all Oregonians, I mourn the passing of Vera Katz. Vera was a true leader, and a pioneer for women in politics. Portland and Oregon are better because of Vera’s leadership and legacy. She will be missed.”

Statement by Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith:

"Today Portland mourns the loss of Vera Katz.

As the first woman to become Speaker of the House here in Oregon she was an inspiration to those daring to take new paths. As the three-time Mayor of Portland she helped to create the civic engagement culture that defines the Portland of today.

Her fight to transform this city is one of her legacies. From the Pearl District to the South Waterfront, her vision changed the face of this city. While we work to find a balance between development and the needs of all Portlanders, her efforts to change the City for the better shouldn’t be ignored.

She helped to forge the path forward for women and people of color. 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."

Statement by House Republican Leader Mike McLane:

"Holly and I were deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of Vera Katz, former Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives and Mayor of Portland. We were so fortunate to have the opportunity to have had a relationship with Vera, both personally and professionally. She was a tireless advocate for those who needed help, and we will never forget her kindness and sense of humor, which she kept in all situations. Oregon will miss Vera Katz dearly.”

Statement by Congressman Earl Blumenauer:

"Vera Katz was a remarkable person. I first started working with her when she was an advocate for farm workers’ rights as a leader of the Kennedy Action Corps. This led her to run for the legislature beating a long-serving incumbent Republican legislator.

“Vera and I served together during an exciting time and in one of the most significant periods of Oregon legislative history. Before she was Oregon’s first woman Speaker of the House, she mastered the budget process and the politics of state government, which contributed to her success.

“We ended up waging a 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.

“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.”

Statement by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown:

"We lost a true Oregon pioneer today with the passing of Vera Katz. As the first woman speaker of the Oregon House and a 3-time Portland mayor, she leaves a beautiful legacy here in Oregon."

Statement by House Speaker Tina Kotek:

“I am deeply saddened at the passing of Vera Katz. Her remarkable, trail-blazing legacy, and nearly 40 years of service, are an inspiration to so many of us who followed in her footsteps.

“She was among a generation of women who defied the circumstances of the time and led a revolution that allowed many other women, including me, to serve. As both a legislator and the first female Speaker of the Oregon House, she showed that women could be strong and effective leaders. It is not lost on me that my three sessions as Speaker are in no small part because of her.

“I will forever be grateful for Vera Katz. Portland and Oregon are better places because of her.”


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