Why Sam Adams Should Resign

As you may have heard, Portland Mayor Sam Adams has gotten himself into a little bit of trouble. Adams, the openly gay mayor of this openly gay city, has admitted to lying about having a sexual relationship with Beau Breedlove. For those of you living in a cave (or not Portland, which might be worse) the two met when Breedlove was only 17, although they both claim they didn’t start having sex until after he turned 18. The scandal initially made news in 2007, when rumors surfaced that Adams’ relationship with Breedlove had more to it than the claimed “mentorship.” Adams denied these rumors until he was confronted with a story that was recently published by the alternative weekly the Willamette Weekly.

There are a lot of interesting things this scandal suggests about Portland, sexual politics in the US and gender relations. However, those things are not my area of expertise (who knew I had one?!), so instead of offering thoughts along those lines, I’d like to try to answer the question: “Should Sam Adams stay on as Portland’s mayor?”I wanted to take a few days to get to answering this question in depth, because I don’t really know much about Adams and didn’t want to jump to conclusions before hearing the whole story.

After taking some time to think it through, I’ve decided Adams should step down. The sexual relationship that Adams had with Breedlove is ethically and legally dubious, but not ultimately a political crime worth losing office for. In the course of covering up the affair, Adams allegedly committed three political crimes, all of which rise to the level of being penalized by a removal from office. Each of these allegations is worthy of investigation by the Attorney General. Although I don’t believe politicians sexual lives should be subject to public scrutiny, I believe Adams has lost the credibiilty necessary to effectively stay on as major. As tends to be the case in politics, the cover-up was much worse than the original crime.

Didnt Anyone Learn from This Guy?

Didn't Anyone Learn from This Guy?

The Willamette Week article outlining the history of the reporting on the affair, that eventually caused Adams to confess, makes three substantially sourced allegations. First, the article outlines how Adams used the rumors of the relationship to undermine a political opponent who presented a legitimate challenge to his mayor race. Bob Ball, who is also gay, and was considering his own mayor run made news in 2007 for bringing up the allegations to other Portland political players. Adams and his supporters used Ball’s mention of the allegations as a cudgel to accuse Ball of peddling smears and playing into anti-gay stereotypes. Ball was forced out of the race – although the current reporting has vindicated his initial reaction.

At the time, Adams said he was mentoring Breedlove, and both men said their relationship was just platonic. And Adams claimed Ball was engaged in a dirty tricks campaign.

“I have been the target of a nasty smear by a would-be political opponent,” wrote Adams in a Sept. 18, 2007, email released to the public. “I didn’t get into public life to allow my instinct to help others to be snuffed out by fear of sleazy misrepresentations or political manipulation.”

Would Adams have won a race against Ball if he had been honest about his indiscretions? Portland voters never had a chance to decide.

Second, the article alleges that a reporter covering the story for the Portland Mercury was hired by Adams to hush up a continuing investigation after he was elected.

Adams hired Portland Mercury City Hall reporter Amy Ruiz to be his adviser on sustainability and strategic planning. Ruiz, 28, acknowledged in a Jan. 15 interview that she has no experience in sustainability, planning or government. “This town has a million and a half urban planners, and I’m not one of them,” she says.

Ruiz’s new salary—$55,000—is substantially more than she made at The Mercury.

Mayors and city commissioners frequently hire people whose enthusiasm exceeds their experience. But it was what Ruiz had done as a reporter—or more specifically, what she had not done—that brought into question Adams’ decision to hire her.

Ruiz continued to work on the story after the rumors died down, and was rewarded with an important city job that was beyond her experience. This is perhaps the most serious allegation contained in the story: it involves bribery and cronyism. If Adams misused public funds, and gave discresion over public planning, in exchange for Ruiz’s silence he deserves to be prosecuted. An investigation should be launched into whether Amy Ruiz was improperly hired, that should look at whether other, more experienced candidates were interviewed and, if they were, why they weren’t hired.

Last, the article alleges that Adams was trying to place his associate and colleague on the City Council Randy Leonard as the Police Chief. Leonard is now calling for an investigation into the Breedlove scandal, and must see his own political future in serious jeopardy. The article alleges that Leonard spoke out in favor of Adams during the campaign and in the course of doing so, became aware of the truth of the allegations. Apparently, Leonard was willing to trade his silence for future political considerations. Perhaps, for this reason, the police union is calling for Adams resignation.

Again, neither Adams’ sexual preferences or history with Breedlove are reasons for him to step down. But if L’affaire Breedlove was unimportant enough that Portlander’s should be cool with it, Adams should have leveled with us before we elected him. And he certainly should have done so before using city funds to quiet investigations, or defamed a potential political opponent. I know little of Adams’ politics, which I think actually makes me more inclined to judge the matter fairly. That said, I find it hard to believe that Portland can’t find a similarly progressive and capable individual to fulfill our mayoral functions.

UPDATE: The story has moved a lot over the past few days. Check out The Oregonian and Willamette for ongoing updates.

UPDATE: Some more reporting on the Ruiz aspect here, here and here. Ruiz seems much better about dealing with the issue transparently than Adams has been. That said, I think there is still cause for an investigation.

Couldn’t We Ask The Supreme Court What They Think Of The Rules?

Max, allow me to say that I am wholly in support of our executive branch upholding the law and I am disappointed if I came off otherwise. And I don’t think that sentiment is in conflict with my original argument that our leadership has handled a few Senate scandals, including the Blagojevich-Burris situation, poorly. In regard to Powell v. McCormack there are definitely those who believe the Senate’s hands are tied but there also seems to be an argument on the other side that because Burris was not elected by the people of Illinois it may be possible to refuse to seat him. Given that there appear to be reasonable arguments behind both interpretations of the law, it is a fair bet that any challenge to Burris’ appointment would eventually go to the Supreme Court. I suspect (and hope) that before Harry Reid’s initial comments that the Senate would refuse to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich that Reid actually investigated whether contesting a Blagojevich appointment was legally tenable.

Reid also (allegedly) made the catastrophic mistake of privately pressuring Blagojevich to select either Lisa Madigan or Tammy Duckworth for the seat over Jesse Jackson Jr., Danny Davis and Emil Jones. Not only was Reid making a mistake to publicly state the Senate would not seat any Blagojevich appointee while privately pushing for particular appointees, but Reid also opened himself up to the criticism that race was a driving factor in his preference for the appointment. And astonishingly Reid did this by assuming he could trust a corrupt politician in the midst of scandal and public bouts of megalomania to keep a private conversation private. Reid effectively neutered himself on the issue and a better leader would have handled the situation without embarrassing himself so thoroughly. Reid backed himself into a corner where it would look like he was advocating for particular candidates because of their race rather than their qualifications (and he very well may have!) and it hindered his ability to be fully critical of Blagojevich’s slection of Burris. In fact you could say this was played masterfully by Blago after receiving the “advice” from Reid.

As for Obama, it is less clear where he stands however he does have a dicey history with the black Chicago south side constituency that Burris made his career out of. Obama even lost an election to Bobby Rush, who spoke at the press conference during which Burris’ appointment was announced. It could only look bad for Obama to involve himself in these issues. Obama would be lowering himself to take a legally risky position (although once again, possibly tenable) in a battle against a weak, scandal tainted Illinois politician and two pillars of the Chicago black community. The risk is high and the reward likely low. And we have already seen Obama shy to risk any capital when he declined to actively campaign for Jim Martin against Saxby Chambliss in Georgia’s Senate runoff.

What I see here is ham-handed leadership by Reid and a need to be mindful of risking political capital by both Reid and Obama. My point was never that political agendas should trump the law, instead my point was that concerns of integrity will likely always lag behind concerns of politics. The old boys network of the Senate must laud a long time Senator regardless of his number of felony convictions and our legislators only dislike Blagojevich appointees when the appointee is not the one that the party privately lobbied for.