Advice for Sam Adams

For those of you not in Portland, you may have missed the bit of controversy surrounding some actions of our mayor, Sam Adams. He had what is apparently a consensual relationship with an 18 year old young man, and then lied about it when asked whether he had. There are now people calling for him to step down. (Just to be clear, the fact that he slept with a man is not the issue at all, the issue is the fact that he was 18).

I want to start by suggesting that this is probably not a huge deal. While it shows truly horrendous judgement, it does not impact his ability to govern effectively. We have learned over the years to separate the private sexual lives of our leaders from their effectiveness in leading. We may not like it, but we have certainly seen enough of it.

Lying to the public about it, while perhaps a  bigger deal, is not particularly blameworthy, either. I do not condone lying to the public, but he was lying to the public about an issue which is not our business. I assume that there are appropriate times for public figures to mislead and dissemble. I don’t think it’s a good practice, but I do not believe that a lie is, in and of itself, reason to declare someone unfit to govern.

I want to suggest that what everyone needs to do right now is take a deep breath, relax, and wait a month or two to see how we feel. Sam should certainly not step down at this point. He must let tempers settle and carry on with his plans for Portland. If, in a month, it turns out that this scandal is interfering with his ability to govern effectively, let him resign at that point. Otherwise, I’m hopeful that a month from now this may seem a little silly.

Admittedly, part of my view on this subject is informed by the knowledge that Portland does not have anyone else who can be an effective mayor at this point. We have other competent administrators, but no one who will be a strong leader at this time of economic upheaval. And at this time, we need a strong leader.

Finally, I want to suggest that it may be appropriate for Sam to go beyond a simple apology in making it up to the people of Portland. He has acted inappropriately (if legally). If he is as truly sorry as he says he is, perhaps he should take on a voluntary penance of public service. Not necessarily cleaning up beside roads, but doing some service which he would not otherwise do, that comes out of time which would otherwise be his free time. Again, what he did was not illegal, but it was foolish, and I believe, morally wrong (because a relationship between a 42 year old and an 18 year old can never be a relationship of equals, and because he did lie to us about it). He has embarrased our city, and this scandal is distracting city governement at a time when we can ill afford it. Spending a few hundred hours of service to the community seems like it might be appropriate restitution.

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11 Responses to “Advice for Sam Adams”

  1. Elizabeth Buckwalter Says:

    The cooling of tempers is an excellent and refreshing view. I’m still attending Fridays rally in support of Sam Adams, but I will try to temper my future comments. Thank you for the sound advice.

    Let’s enjoy Obama’s first few days.

  2. artwells Says:

    I had thought he should step down until I read this. Now, I’m very uncertain. I’m resistant to excuse dishonesty in one seeking (and holding) public office, regardless of the subject matter, and even though expecting consistent and absolute honesty from politicians is genuinely stupid on my part.

    You make good, very pragmatic points that Portland needs him and that we need cooler heads to decide. I fully expect that being our mayor will be punishment enough for the misstep of lying to avoid a touchy subject that is not directly related to his ability to lead Portland. Nonetheless, I’m one of the people who needs to cool down and would like him to step down, kinda.

  3. Chris O'Rourke Says:

    I’m in complete agreement. If we all made rash decisions in the heat of the moment the entire city would be in a much bigger state of collapse than the pundits weighing in on this topic in the media are leading us to believe.
    Personally much like with Clinton in 98 I think that Adams should have simply said “it’s none of your business, let’s stick to the actual important information”.

    I’m actually shocked and a bit dismayed that so many Portlanders are eschewing the standard “We’re above all of that sort of crap” behavior that Portland is famous for and instead partaking in the witch hunt attitudes that other more conservative cities are infamous for.

    We’re above all of this and Adams is the mayor we all voted for because of his skill and plan to keep Portland vibrant; not because of who he sleeps with and how.

    Don’t quit Sam, we need you more than ever!

  4. Corina Says:

    I totally agree with you, too. Everyone needs to stop.and.take.a.breath!

    It is far too early to call for his resignation. We need to leave the man alone to do his job. We need to digest the news and come to terms with it. We need to put ourselves in his place and ask ourselves if we have EVER lied to save face or save our position.

    Leave him alone. Let’s take a breath. Let’s move on and see what Time brings.

  5. aimee noel Says:

    I agree! I’m so sick of this crap. Simmer down, peeps. Give him a chance.

  6. Sharon Says:

    I think you miss the point on why people are so angry, and why papers such as Just Out would go so far as to call for his resignation.

    They feel that it wasn’t his lying straight out that bothered them, it was how he lied; smugly insinuating others were homophobic for even asking. Some feel he used self-righteous rhetoric to attacking others for using what he called a ‘homophobic stereotype.’

    Perhaps their feelings might be akin to me saying ‘You think I’m gypping you? What? Because I’m a Jew? What you think all Jews steal? Go ahead, call me ‘Schlomo’. You are so anti-semetic!’
    All that while, you know, I was stealing from you.

    Some feel he had options: Don’t say anything, lie but in a quick non-attacking manner, obfuscate but not flat out lie, state it was none of the askers business, and had no affect on his ability to do the job, etc. But he didn’t choose those options.

    Now for me, personally, I don’t have an issue with the above. I am however a tad annoyed that he showed such tacky hubris, such gall, such crassness as to decide to give his public statement on Inauguration Tuesday. Wait your turn, do it Wednesday. that’s my own personal thoughts on the matter.

  7. arnie98683 Says:

    Any 42 year old man, who chases a 17 year old boy and then beds the kid after he turns 18, has displayed very poor judgement at the very least. It creeps me out. Adams must be suffering from arrested development.

    During the Mayoral campaign, Adams attacks his gay opponent for spreading “lies” about him and slandering his good name. Later, Adams tells the kid to lie about their tryst and then Adams hires the female reporter who has been investigating his affair to fill a very well-paying job (for which she is poorly qualified) in his office. This wreaks of devious manipulation to cover up his affair. What else has he lied about?

  8. Sharon Says:

    @arnie98683

    That is not true. Adams did not attack his gay opponent during the Mayoral campaign. His opponent was and is heterosexual, and happily married.

    By your own logic: If you got this wrong, what else did you get wrong?

  9. rabbidavidkominsky Says:

    Actually, he did attack his gay not-quite announced opponent, Ball, for lying during the campaign. In defense of Adams, however, Ball was alleging that he had sex with an underage kid, which Adams continues to assert he did not. And Adams said that Ball was trying to smear him with the allegation, which he most certainly was.

    Did Adams take the high road? At no point. Have his actions been morally murky at best throughout this? Absolutely. But this whole situation is shades of gray, and we may need time for our eyes to adjust in order to make out the details.

  10. realsupergirl Says:

    X-posted to Rory‘s journal:

    On the one hand, I think having a rigid age of consent invariably creates these sorts of difficulties – sometimes a 17 year old can consent to sex with someone older than them just fine, sometimes they aren’t really emotionally mature enough to be able to do so. The same could be said for someone who is 14, and someone who is 35. But you have to draw the line somewhere, because pedophilia is very real. But innocence is highly sexualized in our culture, so lots of generally well-meaning people can get swept up in anti-pedophilia laws…

    On the other hand, BECAUSE Sam Adams is a gay man, and BECAUSE he chose to go into politics, he should have known better. He should have cut off the relationship the moment he realized there was any kind of sexual chemistry. If he didn’t want this added burden of responsibility to be a role model, he shouldn’t have gone into politics.

  11. Sharon Says:

    @rabbi david

    I’m not sure I could call Robert Ball his opponent in the mayoral race.
    Bob Ball, never formerly or even came close to throwing his hat in the ring; it was just bandied about in some circles and on some blogs. Given Bob’s track record as a developer and close association with some in the PDC, and the failed city charter change that he authored, I don’t think he will ever run.

    Certainly, however, they are not quite the best of friends.


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