STATE OF THE CITY “You like me! I really think you like me!” Chris Hornbecker
On Friday, at the exclusive Multnomah Country Club, Mayor Vera Katz put on a jovial face and delivered her annual State of the City. She spoke optimistically and in cheery tones, barely pausing on the very real problems facing Portland-- the scuffles between police and protesters, a local economy in the shitter, and a deep-seated frustration over a city council that seems more beholden to big business interests than concerns of individual citizens.

Focusing on new international flights out of the Portland airport and praising the U.S. troops, Katz glossed over any real problems the city and its residents face. In fact, the real theme that emerged was how out of touch Katz' office is with the needs and pains of the city's residents.

Most alarming was Katz' steadfast denial of the prevalent anti-war sentiments in the city. Though protests have swelled to 35,000 people and have been the leading news story for the past three weeks, Katz barely mentioned them, as if the anti-war demonstrations and the frustration underscoring them were somehow beneath her notice.

Portland still stands out as one of the few major liberal cities in America whose city council failed to endorse an anti-war resolution. And yet Katz was able to obtain an easy consensus when it came time to sign a letter supporting U.S. troops. (Even council member Jim Francesconi, who has repeatedly cited his belief that city council should not meddle in national or international affairs, overlooked those concerns to add his signature to the pro-troops letter.)

Like our current Commander-In-Chief, Katz took elaborate pains throughout her speech to underscore her pro-troop sentiments. She singled out one local serviceman, Hank, a building inspector for the city whose wife was in the audience. "Thank you for all you do to keep us safe," she told Hank's wife--and told her to pass it along to the troops. "Our prayers are with them," she added and asked for a moment of silence for U.S. military members killed in Iraq. For anyone opposed to the military invasion, it was as awkward as an atheist schoolchild being forced to deliver a prayer.

But the well-heeled crowd that Katz has surrounded herself with seemed to show no discomfort with her sentiments and outlook for Portland. It was a disturbing vision of two very different cities--one that Katz seemingly inhabits, and another where tens of thousands of others, from the homeless to anti-war demonstrators, are struggling.

In her speech, Katz freely gave out her phone number to any business looking to expand or locate in Portland. Yet, two weeks ago, when one anti-war activist called the mayor's office and politely asked whether Katz would make a statement, she was hung up on, as if the constituent was some unwanted telemarketer.

During her speech, Katz talked about the police's success in ridding neighborhoods of gangs and prostitutes, but failed to adequately talk about the root causes for these social ills--about how Portland still leads the nation in hunger and unemployment rates, and about the troubled public school systems. Instead she talked about how cleaned-up neighborhoods would make way for "street festivals" and "parades," as if Portland is filled with starry-eyed five-year-olds and not adults with desperate problems.

One of the main points of Katz' speech was her praise for policing efforts. She pointed out that police have continued to fight the local drug trade, in spite of what she called "some unlucky recent court decisionswhich water[ed] down our drug free zones." Those "unlucky" court decisions addressed the city's controversial Drug Free Zone (DFZ); a section of downtown from which police may kick out anyone suspected of drug use--no judge, no jury. Even if the person lives or works in the area, they are not allowed for 30 to 90 days. But last February, the Oregon's Court of Appeals declared those laws unconstitutional and said that police must at least first give a warning before ticketing a suspected drug-user.

Calling court decisions that uphold basic liberties and constitutional protections "unlucky" is a disturbing choice of words for a city leader. But, on Friday, the audience at the MAC dutifully clapped for Mayor Katz and encouraged her to keep on keepin' on.