Why Sam Adams should not resign as mayor of Portland

Below is a copy of an email I sent to Sam Adams this afternoon:

I am the go-to person on local politics for Portland’s open source tech community.  I have lost track of how many times I have been asked today my thoughts on your current situation.  Given all of the pressure that is being placed on you to resign, I want to offer my counter-argument that I have shared with everyone who has asked for my opinion.

It is clear that you expressed poor judgment in lying about about your relationship with Beau.  And any time there is a sexual relationship between a mentor and a mentee, it raises appropriate concerns about the possible abuse of power.  However, what happened between you and Beau was between two consenting adults it is really none of my business.

Instead, I hold the media responsible for creating unecessary sensationalism over an act of poor judgment.  I normally appreciate Nigel Jaquiss’ in-depth reporting and without question, he demonstrated his skills as a reporter when he was the member of the press who asked the best questions about FPD&R reform.  That being said, I think both he and Willamette Week made the decision to sensationalize a relatively minor issue during a time of unprecendented change, both good (Obama’s inaguration) and bad (the ecoomy).  Nigel failed to make a case for his story to be broken with such great urgency. You have already been elected and sworn in and the only reason I can see for not waiting until after the inaguration is to maximize sensationalism.  That doesn’t even take into consideration the question of the numerous instances of unfounded speculation in his article.

The Oregonian further sensationalized the situation by placing your admission as the very first headline above the fold on inauguration day.  I can see no justification for placing the admission of a lie that was not made under oath above the news of an absolutely historic moment in our country’s racially checkered history.  That is nothing but irresponsible journalism.

I suspected, and you have since confirmed, that your rationale for your deceit being concern that as an openly gay man, being honest about your relationship with Beau would bring an innapropriate amount of focus to your sexual orientation.  I am saddened to have seen your concern come to pass.  When listening to OPB yesterday afternoon, the story made several references to how little attention was given during the mayoral race to the fact that you are an out gay man and how proud we were that it was a non-issue to the voters.  If that is the case, why did it need to be raised in this context at all?  Frankly, your sexual orientation and the attention paid to it during your mayoral campaign is completely irrelevant to the situation at hand. I am confident that there would have been no mention of how the people in question were straight if the situation had involved a man and a woman.

Furthermore, the question being raised is not whether you expressed poor judgment and exacerbated the situation by lying about it.  The question is whether or not you should remain mayor of Portland.  In this particular situation we have a clear answer.  You have been in City Hall as Vera’s Chief of Staff, as a City Commissioner, and were elected as mayor by an majority of voters, securing your electionin the May primary. My response to cries of “how do we know we can trust him?” is simply that we know because of your long record of public service.  Regardless of whether or not people agree with the political decisions you have made over the course of your career, the voters have repeatedly made it clear that your decisions are based on what is best for Portland.

Case in point is the work you and your staff have put into finding ways to help Portland through the current economic downturn.  You didn’t wait for the massive bank failures, the ongoing layoffs or the wringing of hands.  You presented a draft proposal of 10 things that the City government could do to buoy small businesses in Portland in April, 2008, even before you were elected mayor.  As a member of the SBAC, I have been witness to your ongoing and evolving efforts in this area, and that is what leads me to my final point.

We, as a city, cannot afford the time, effort and energy a new mayoral campaign would require.  I suspect much of the work you have put in towards economic recovery will be put aside because of its association with you, and City Council will end up reinventing the wheel.  We are in a time of crisis and we need to keep our focus if we are going to survive as the vibrant city that we know and love.  Given the choice between forgiving you for two acts of poor judgment for which you have repeatedly publicly apologized versus creating a major disruption in City goverment in the midst of yet another challenging budget process during an unprecedented economic crisis, the answer is a no brainer.

That is why I am asking you not to step down from your position as mayor.

I have also posted this email publicly on my blog 


  1. If wweek had run the story when Sam was being sworn in, then *THAT* would have been sensationalism. The national presidential inauguration has nothing to do with Sam Adams. So running the story now smacks of no ill will, other than typical ‘get the news out fast’, something that has been going on for centuries in journalism.

  2. I bid Mr. Adams no ill will for being an openly gay man. I have many good friends who are gay and lesbian. In my opinion, this is not about being gay (and no, I don’t think gay men are after children.)

    What this is about is that a considerably older man, who is respected, revered, and mentoring a boy of 17. It is an abuse of that reverence to have a relationship with that boy – even if he did turn 18 before said act occurred. The process began before he was 18. This is an abuse of position and power.

    This incident also shows considerable lack of judgment. If you think this will affect your opportunity to be mayor, than don’t get involved in the first place. Don’t blame the media or other people’s indignation for something you should have avoided in the first place. I dare say Mr. Adams’ fears are justified, this probably would have prevented him from getting elected – so don’t show poor judgment in the first place!

    This leads me to my third point, the lack of integrity. If you have to lie to get a position, you probably don’t deserve to have that position in the first place. Don’t blame me for not wanting you in a position, because you can’t tell the truth. Tell the truth and take the consequences. It is disingenuous to say that people can’t handle the truth.

    Live your life in such a way that if someone started a rumor about you, no one would believe it.

    If I had a relationship with an 18 year old girl, 30 years younger than me, you would think I were either a predator, a pervert, or a sadly maladjusted and emotionally immature person. I look at 18 year olds and can’t even begin to imagine having a relationship with them. We are worlds apart.

    When I attended the creative, Metro planning sessions last year, I was very impressed with Mr. Adams’ sensible answers, forthright opinions, and strong ideas for the future of Portland. I hate to lose this bright star, but he made his own choices. His resignation will be a loss to the region. Hopefully he can show some growth and come back and serve again in the future.

    Mark these words, if he doesn’t resign, it will pull this city down at just such a time when we need focused leadership. The sooner the better.

  3. Thanks for a thoughtful essay and letter to Sam. I agree very much with the compassion and thoughts in this many-layered situation.

  4. @2 => The idea that politicians, or any of us, are always 100% truthful with everyone else is ridiculous – life is not black and white, children! And that goes double for public life. Looking at the whole story, it’s easy to see that this is a personal issue that has nothing to do with Sam’s ability to do his job.

  5. I would be very curious if someone could find the statistics on the public opinion within the Portland city limits of the Bill Clinton impeachment trials while they were ongoing. Opposition to impeachment ran nationally between 60-70% throughout, so I imagine Portland was even higher.
    Simply put: There is no substantial difference from that case to this one other than the sexual identities of the players.
    We who are on the liberal end of the spectrum, and let’s admit that is what Portland is, stood aghast at those proceedings. We cried out that the sex lives of our officials are private, that no laws were broken, that everyone lies about sex, and most importantly, that it had no bearing on his ability to do the people’s business. Unless you clearly voiced your solidarity with the sexual mores and opinions of the republican conservatives then, how can you justify doing so now? If Portland overwhelmingly opposed the impeachment of Bill Clinton (who has sex with a young, but legal intern, and then denied it repeatedly) but calls for the resignation of Sam Adams, we should all crawl into a dark cave and die from the poisoned blood of own hypocrisy.

    When Sam Lied, No One Died

  6. Very well reasoned and presented position for why Sam should not resign. But wrong.

    President Obama is heralding in a new age of transparency and accountability. Why should we expect less from our Mayor? He went on the record denying any sexual relationship and then suborned lies from Breedlove and perhaps others who knew of the relationship. Throw in the appointment of the former Mercury reporter into a position she is patently unqualified for after she quit pursuing the story.

    Be honest, who isn’t creeped out by a 42 yo waiting for a teenager to come of age to boff him? I’m 39 and if I was in the position to sleep with a beautiful 18 yo my first thought would be SURE! My second thought would have been one of disgust at myself and the realization that the years of doing the right thing could be destroyed by a simple lustful urge. My family and friends would not have understood. Nor should they. It is wrong.

    Portland, the weird wonderfully liberal city that has stood fast during the past 8 years of the Bush Administration deserves an untarnished leader.

  7. I don’t think you should resign Sam, unless you actually did have sex with him before he was 18.
    Otherwise, hold firm to the fact that you should be allowed to your right to privacy regarding intimacies between consenting adults. And hold fast that you should even be allowed to lie about it, when its really nobody’s business anyways! Make clear that gay people get put under more scrutiny than heterosexuals and that this would be all but a minor blip, if it were about a man/woman thang. But that as a gay man, you knew what kind of insanity would ensue. Hold fast that gays are persecuted, prosecuted, and even murdered, with far more frequency and fervor, than are straights. By all means, stand up for all gays, (even the ones who now oppose you and that don’t realize that you must, to even defend them), and against all bigots, and headhunters, and people who can never themselves say, that maybe it wasn’t the best judgement, but it was still not illegal, and still not worth losing one’s job over, no matter if Mayor, or Janitor. I challenge anyone who is screaming foul, at this very moment, to say that they have never ever in their life,
    had a sexual relationship, that in hindsite would have maybe or even most definitely, not have done. And that they didn’t “lie” about it to somebody, afterwords. If so, kindly come forward; I know I can’t. Again, consenting sex and not wanting to tell anybody about it, even when “asked” – regardless your position, nobody’s business. You still have my trust.

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