Danny Hellman
In 1977, Ford was forced to recall its compact Pinto. A design flaw created a four-wheel bomb; when rear-ended, the Pinto's gas tank would allegedly ignite. It was the first time the term "recall" was burned into the public consciousness. Since then, it has come to stand for a product that's too dangerous and needs to be taken away for the sake of public safety. For two groups in Portland, the recall point has been reached with Mayor Vera Katz.

In the past few weeks, not one, but two efforts to recall Vera Katz have emerged. Although each is coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, there are common denominators: Both recall efforts believe that Katz is ineffective, and both believe that the mayor is not listening to voters.

Recall efforts are extremely rare, and only begun when all other democratic efforts have failed. Even though the next mayoral election is November 2004, both groups have stated that waiting another year risks too much for the city, in terms of both public safety and the city's economy.

The decidedly more conservative of the two groups, the Better Portland Alliance, surfaced shortly after the massive anti-war demonstrations in March. That group was upset that Katz did not order the police to bust up protests and open the bridges more quickly. In interviews, one of the organizers, Jack Peek, has explained that Katz' lax policing wasted taxpayer money. (No one from BPA responded to the Mercury's requests for interviews.) The other tenet of the BPA's recall effort is that Katz has done nothing to foster business growth in the downtown area.

Since March, that group has been rattling their saber, announcing their planned assault on Katz. But on Tuesday, out of the blue, the "Recall Vera Katz Committee" beat them to the punch by filing a recall petition with the state election division. Recall Vera now has 90 days to gather nearly 30,000 signatures. If they are successful, the issue will be put to a city-wide vote in a special election as soon as September.

In response, the BPA announced they will suspend their own recall campaign and have offered to help the Recall Vera group gather enough signatures--even though BPA has a different political bent.

Angered by the recent police shooting of Kendra James, a 21-year-old black woman, Recall Vera believes "the mayor's defense of a pattern of police violence and killing is malfeasance that endangers the citizens of Portland," according to the group's first press release.

Organizer Marvin Moore says it's not only the needless shooting of Kendra James that motivated him, but a behavioral pattern over Katz' 11-year tenure. He ticks off incidents from police pepper-spraying babies at an anti-Bush rally last summer, all the way back to 1992, when Katz first took office. Moore alleges the police incited a riot at the former X-Ray Café at that time.

Moore says he is simply an "ordinary citizen that has been radicalized." In the past he has written a few letters to the mayor to comment on her policies, and has helped thwart the Oregon Christian Association, the right-wing group that sponsored two anti-gay ballot measures.

"The recall needs to be for the right reasons," Moore says, commenting on his rush to file his recall petition before BPA. "I wanted to get my foot in the door first," he adds. Because of the hastened effort to file his recall, Moore is scrambling to organize his group and build political coalition--while trying to gather the requisite 30,000 signatures. He has until August 25.

But Moore is confident there is sufficient discontent to de-seat Katz. Beyond police violence, he points to her efforts to plant a major league baseball team and stadium here in Portland. "It is a waste of tax dollars," he insists, echoing a complaint made by BPA.

According to a poll posted by the BPA and citing its source as the city's own website, there is widespread disconnect between residents and city hall. The survey announced that nearly 60 percent of residents believe that city hall's policies do not support "the goal of a livable community." Only one in five believe they do. Those results, however, do not directly implicate Katz.

From more information about the Recall Vera Katz Committee, call 972-8177 or email recallverakatz@yahoo.com.