APRIL 30, 1997
An anonymous donor announced that every household hurt by the recent floods will receive a $2,000 check. Fred De Sam Lazaro of KTCA-St. Paul-Minneapolis reports on the woman who has become the voice of Grand Forks, North Dakota.
JIM LEHRER: Fred De Sam Lazaro of KTCA-St. Paul-Minneapolis reports on the woman who has become the voice of Grand Forks, North Dakota.
MAYOR PAT OWENS, Grand Forks: There will be $2,000 for each household to use to get yourselves back on your feet. It is just absolutely the greatest news we have ever heard.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Yesterday was a good day for Mayor Pat Owns of Grand Forks, many of whose residents remain housed at this air force base a few miles away. For the first time in a week of flood and fires she had good news for her constituents: a multi-million dollar anonymous grant that would provide $2,000 checks for every head of the household in her city of 50,000.
MAYOR PAT OWENS; So we just are so grateful, and we said we kept the faith, and to me this is an indication that God is looking after all of us because now we are able to help all of you. And just our deepest, heartfelt thanks go out to this woman for caring so much about us, people who she has never met.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Signing the checks gave Mayor Owens a rare chance to sit down after a week in which she's barely had time to sleep.
MAYOR PAT OWENS: We do appreciate the great job that you are doing to get our message across the country on what a catastrophe we have suffered.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She's been the voice of Grand Forks for the national media, in press conferences and meetings, and she's been cheerleader and school principal, the one who ordered the utilities shut off, made everyone evacuate the city, then ordered the demolition of buildings burned during the flood.
MAYOR PAT OWENS: We will rebuild. We have the spirit and love in the community like you have never seen in your life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the same time she's played host to a string of Washington dignitaries.
MAYOR PAT OWENS: This morning when I got ready--I was getting ready to come here to meet the President--Mayor Strauss and I were talking--we didn't have water--and he still doesn't have water at this point. I thought what do I wear, what--
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Looks good. (laughter among group)
MAYOR PAT OWENS: What you hear when you come to this is you wear the heart and soul of our communities; you wear the integrity of our communities, and the strength of our communities, and you bring that forth.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: City hall reporter Liz Fedor thinks Mayor Owens' compassion is what has made her so successful in managing the crisis.
LIZ FEDOR, Grand Forks Herald: While she was strong in the face of a calamity, she also, in effect, the mother of the city of Grand Forks and very much has consoled people. In a crisis like this, being a mother, being nurturing is, in effect, what is needed because people need some kind of reassurance that people in power care about them and that we're all going to get through this together.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The 56-year-old mother of three became mayor just last summer, but she's long been a fixture at city hall, serving four mayors over thirty-two years, first as secretary, then administrative assistant. The job made her well versed in the operations of city government.
MAYOR PAT OWENS: I'm not a politician. I believe there is a need for people to realize that government is open, and that government is people and not politicians, and that's what I wanted to instill within our community.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In return, the community at virtually every corner has responded to the mayor with hugs and words of encouragement.
LIZ FEDOR: When Pat was running for mayor, she very much was a coalition builder. She had people who were Republicans, Democrats, working class people, professional people, people who had never worked in a campaign before, all getting together on her behalf. And I think her ability to be a coalition builder positions her perfectly now to be mayor in this rebuilding effort.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Restaurant owner Kim Holmes came to assure Owens he intends to rebuild the two restaurants he lost in the flood.
KIM HOLMES, Business Owner: Oh, what a mess.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Like many of his neighbors, Holmes isn't sure what his insurance covers and what he's entitled to from the various government disaster relief programs. He's counting on Pat Owens to help smooth out the process.
KIM HOLMES: She's been the mayor's assistant for thirty years, thirty-two years, and she's the one that's made everything run anyway, so now she's in a position to make it run, and so she knows who to call, when to call, and she has it down. As far as I'm concerned, anybody runs against her next election, I'll stone ‘em. (laughing) No, but she's got a job for life around here, as far as we're concerned.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her sudden high visibility has prompted talk of drafting Owens for statewide or federal office. Her response is a firm "no."
MAYOR PAT OWENS: I have encouraged our people not to leave Grand Forks, and I will not leave Grand Forks either. You, coming today, Mr. President, you bring us hope, and Mr. Witt, your announcement is the first time that I have become so emotionally involved that you wouldn't believe it because I looked at the city yesterday and today from a helicopter, and it's just unreal. So that will give us hope for the future, that we can rebuild, and we really appreciate that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Her concern, however, is that others who don't live in Grand Forks will forget what its residents have been through, or will get tired of helping.
MAYOR PAT OWENS: It's sort of like when you go to a funeral and everyone is all around you and there's a lot of activity and everybody's supportive, and all of a sudden, you've lost somebody that's close to you, and all of a sudden you're by yourself. And I think--I think our people, the majority of them, are strong enough to deal with that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You have to hope that, obviously.
MAYOR PAT OWENS: Right. And I think, like I said, we can't personally help 50,000 people, but you can put the agencies and so forth in place that can and make sure that they get what they need.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the moment, it appears most residents will continue to need temporary housing. Flood waters have receded from the streets but still soak many basements. Officials say it will likely be at least two weeks before electricity can be restored to all buildings and three weeks for water supply.