WWL: Former Mayor Vera Katz immortalized on Willamette

Katz was the mayor from 1993-2005

Former Portland Mayor Vera Katz has been immortalized at the Eastbank Esplanade. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland is a city of runners, walkers and bikers.

The Eastbank Esplanade, located on the Willamette River, encompasses all of it. The Esplanade is named after former Portland mayor Vera Katz. It was a part of her vision and it’s a part of where we live.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s rain or shine: people will flock out to the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, a 1.5-mile path.

Greg Byes and Steve Puls are 2 of those people. They meet up once a week to run there.

Steve Puls, left, and Greg Byes meet at the Eastbank Esplanade to run. (KOIN)

“I think it’s great,” Byes said. “We love it, we really enjoy it and we use it.”

On the south end, near the Hawthorne Bridge, there’s a bronze statue of Katz. She was the mayor in 2001 when the Esplanade was built. Katz said she’s honored by her immortalized place in Portland. But that’s not what she enjoys the most.

“What I enjoy is that people dress me up when the weather is cold, or when they’ve had a little too much to drink,” Katz said, laughing.

Katz was born in Germany and raised in New York City, but she eventually became one of Oregon’s most powerful politicians. She was elected to legislature in the 1970s and became the first women speaker of the Oregon house from 1985-1990. Shen then served as Portland mayor for 3-terms, leading the city from 1993-2005 — a time that included the disastrous floods of 1996. After the floods, she made it a primary goal to bring attention to the mostly ignored east side of the river.

“And one way to do that was to build the Esplanade,” Katz said. “(And) bring citizens to the east side, and have them enjoy the view of the city from the east side of the river.”

Katz’s statue has been vandalized a couple of times over the years, but it has always persevered — just like the woman it was made for. Katz is in her mid-80s now and still living in Portland. She’s been a in a year-long battle with cancer.

Former Portland Mayor Vera Katz has been immortalized at the Eastbank Esplanade. (KOIN)