Outgoing Portland Mayor Kate Snyder speaks with a reporter Tuesday at City Hall as she prepared to leave office after one term. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Kate Snyder never got around to decorating her office in Portland City Hall. She filled a shelf with books and hung a few sweaters from a coatrack. But just a few months into her term as mayor, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, then the city manager was accused of being a racist and calls were made for his resignation, an encampment popped up outside City Hall and an influx of asylum seekers overwhelmed the city.

There wasn’t a moment of downtime to hang up photos of her three grown kids or to rearrange the furniture. She was too busy managing what felt like a deluge of crises.

On a chilly Tuesday in late November as Snyder prepared to leave office after one four-year term, she had baked a Coca-Cola cake (a Southern tradition) and brought it into her office for city staff. She regularly brings things she bakes in to City Hall.

She is a big believer that people make time for what they really want to do. For her, that’s baking. She’ll wake up early or stay up well past midnight finishing a cake.

At one point, being mayor was something she really wanted to do, too. She thought she had the résumé for it. She had lived in Portland for a long time and served on the school board. She loved the city, and she thought she could bring – in her view – a much-needed moderate voice to City Hall. But when it came time for her to consider running again, she decided against it.

“I realized that in order to do this job successfully, I needed to bring so much energy. And I just didn’t think I had another four years of energy and great work in me. So I decided to focus on doing as good of a job as I could finishing out my term and then passing the role on to someone new,” Snyder said.


She will officially hand over the keys Monday night to Mayor-elect Mark Dion, who narrowly won a ranked-choice election last month. All three of the city’s elected mayors have only served one term.

Although her term has been full of surprises and massive challenges, Snyder says it’s the nature of the job.

“In the early days, people would say to me all the time, ‘Oh, this isn’t what you signed up for.’ And I kind of laughed along with them because who expected COVID? But the more I’ve thought about it, the truth is it’s exactly what I signed up for: whatever came my way.”

Even this – working through unexpected challenges wasn’t exactly new for Snyder.

Months before she was elected to the Portland school board in 2007, the school department had a $2 million deficit. Her term turned out to be all about getting the department out of a financial hole. She laughs thinking of the parallels between the starts of her terms on the school board and as mayor.

“I don’t know if I bring these crazy situations about somehow or if I’m like here to fix it, but either way in these roles, you just have to take what comes your way,” she said.



Snyder’s reflections on her term do not orbit around hefty policy agendas or even many specific votes. She feels most proud of building what she thinks is a healthier, more stable City Hall. She said she prioritized staffing – helping permanently fill all three council-appointed roles: city manager, corporation council and city clerk – and facilitated open communication among councilors and staff.

She saw her predecessors struggle with a lot of strife among city leaders. She was tired of seeing conflict between the mayor and city manager. She wanted to see a more functional, less dramatic city government.

“In my view, my job is not to be opinionless, but it’s to be respectful of all parties. So I’m going to tell you what I think and feel. I’ll give you rationale. I never want to be somebody who is hard to read. But my job is also to be approachable to councilors who don’t agree with me. And I hope that I have done that. I hope that I have always left the phone lines open and left colleagues feeling comfortable,” Snyder said.

Kate Snyder said her goal as mayor was to bring stability to City Hall. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

There are a few specific initiatives Snyder feels proud of, though.

One is the Racial Equity Steering Committee she put together after the murder of George Floyd shook the country.


She’s also proud of the work she did to review the citizen-initiated referendum process, though her proposed changes were indefinitely tabled by the City Council. She wanted to increase the number of signatures needed to put something on the ballot and be reviewed by corporation council. She hoped that process would make citizen policies easier to implement. But after two workshops, public comment and much debate, the council opted not to change the process. Nevertheless, Snyder said she is glad that the group conducted a thorough, transparent review.

That’s another thing to know about Snyder’s view of her role for the last four years.

“Ultimately, I own decisions that the council makes, even if I don’t agree with them,” she said. “If the council votes 7-2 on some issue and all I do is walk around talking about how I was one of the dissenting votes, it doesn’t really do anything positive. The healthiest thing you can do is just own the outcome of the vote and move on.”

Sometimes that means being unpopular, but Snyder understands that her role often makes her a lightning rod for public rage. She knows it’s not personal – even if it can be exhausting.


Snyder said she doesn’t have any specific plans yet for after she leaves office. Her three kids – all in their mid-20s – are coming home for a stretch over the holidays. One of her daughters is getting married in June.


“The truth is that I love being a mom and my kids are a priority for me. I love being with them,” she said. “It will be nice to put the phone down.”

She’s not sure if she will come back to politics in the future, but she thinks it’s possible. Her experience leading City Hall, she says, has been a good one overall.

“Over the years when I’ve thought, just on my own, like, ‘Why do I do this? Why does anybody do this?’ I think what I’ve come back to is that people are here for the right reasons,” Snyder said. “It’s hard when you disagree to keep that in the front of your mind. But I don’t think you get involved in local government, as a citizen, as a staff member or as a representative, if it’s not about the passion for the place that you live.”

And just like Snyder can see the good intentions in the staff who disagree with her, in the people who shout at her during meetings, in the colleagues who don’t support her ideas, she says she has always had the best of intentions as mayor.

“I have taken the job really seriously,” Snyder said. “I hope that there is some inkling that people can understand I did the job the best I could. I tried to keep a calm head, and I tried to work with others. I tried to do it in the spirit of public service because this place means a lot to me.”

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