With a name like Sam Adams…

For those of you who don’t live in Portland, we’ve been dealing with a local scandal for the past several days. In fact, I’ve had more conversations about Sam Adams (sadly, not the beer – the first openly gay mayor of a major US city) with friends and coworkers recently than I have about our new president. Here’s the rundown:

In 2005, Adams was a city commissioner. At the time, he made the acquaintance of a young legislative intern, whose name I’m not including in this post, frankly because I feel bad for him and all the press he’s getting. Two years later, when Adams was running for mayor, one of his opponents, who was also gay and a fellow Democrat, accused him of having a relationship with said intern, potentially before he was 18. Adams denied the relationship over and over, and even once went as far as to say this:

“If this had come from the right wing — and it probably will now — that would have been one thing. But to come from another gay man is something more hurtful. It plays into the worst deep-seated fears society has about gay men: You can’t trust them with your young.” — The Portland Mercury, Sept. 20, 2007

In spite of this potential scandal, Adams was elected Mayor of Portland in 2008 and was sworn in earlier this month. Then, on Tuesday, Mayor Adams released this letter admitting that he and the young former intern both lied publicly about the nature of their relationship. He said it was in fact sexual, but that the intern had turned 18 before they became involved (later on, the intern, who is now 21, was quoted as saying that he and Adams actually kissed twice before his 18th birthday, but that was all). Since Adams’ admission, all hell has broken loose in PDX and people are arguing in the streets.  Naturally, there are those who support Sam no matter what and those who think he should resign.

First of all, let me say that I’m really proud to live in a city that elected a gay mayor without really making it an issue. As far as I can tell, the only times his sexuality is even mentioned is in a positive way; he’s breaking new ground. Second, I don’t believe that Mayor Adams has done anything illegal. The only reason I feel it necessary to say that is because a lot of Sam’s supporters argue that we shouldn’t care what’s going on in his bedroom and that he hasn’t done anything wrong… therefore he should remain mayor. I agree to a certain degree – I don’t really ever want to know about politicians’ personal lives, but when someone who represents me and my city acts inappropriately, I do feel entitled to an opinion. I don’t care who they sleep with, unless it’s someone under the age of 18 and therefore illegal. Let me put it this way: If Sam Adams had responded in 2007 by saying, “Yes, I did have a relationship with this young man, but he was 18 at the time, it was completely consensual and I still care very deeply about him.” then I would be fine. I would probably question whether he actually waited until the kid turned 18, but overall I’d be fine.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, Mayor Adams proved to me that he has learned absolutely nothing from the last 15 years of politics. Liars never get away with it. The public always finds out. And the lying trumps any previous wrongdoing. And that’s exactly what happened – now I’m angry at him for lying. Not for sleeping with a really good-looking kid he met through work, not for dating someone over 10 years his junior, not even for kissing the guy before his 18th birthday. I can’t believe he not only thought he would get away with lying, but that he convinced the intern to lie as well and then tied the whole thing to a stereotype of gay men that he is now perpetuating. He became his own worst enemy. And now he’s used up his entire quota of forgiveness from the people of Portland before his first month of his first term is even over!

The really sad part is how this could possibly affect the queer community. As I said, I’m thrilled that Portland is so open-minded about this (on the whole – I don’t claim to know what everyone’s saying). I hope that they see this as a reflection of Sam Adams’ choices, and nothing else. I think most Americans understand that since Barack Obama is the first African-American president, he is in the very unfortunate position of not being able to make any mistakes. He can’t cut a single corner because he is pioneering this position for all African-Americans. Similarly, Sam Adams was a trail blazer (pun intended) for members of the LGBT community, and in my mind he blew it. I know it must be terrible to be under that kind of a microscope, but it’s the unfortunate price you pay for being the first.

I’m glad Sam Adams has refused to resign, and I’m glad he’s sorry. But I really, sincerely hope he can get past this and be the mayor we all thought he could be. I had a hard enough time coming to grips with my own disagreements over Clinton, and I wasn’t even old enough to vote for him. So, Sam, you’ve used up all of your forgiveness. You only have one chance and you can’t make any more mistakes. Ready…Go.

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2 Comments

Filed under Keeping Portland Weird

2 responses to “With a name like Sam Adams…

  1. miamired

    Good post, Meg.

    Responding to the whole diversity in government thing, the mayor of the city where I lived in Spain was a) female b) a lesbian (not officially out, but she’d attend events with her partner, so…) and c)…..a Communist! It made me proud to be a citizen, if only for a little while. At the local level, do any of these things really matter as much as the person being fairly level headed and willing to cut lots of ribbons and attend lots of boring meetings and events?

  2. There is so much to think/say about this topic, and you’ve said it very well. I don’t know a great deal about Sam Adams, but I’ve always thought he was a charismatic leader who could do good things for Portland. And I still think that. But why is it so common for charismatic, interesting people with power to make questionable choices like this? He may not have broken the law, but he couldn’t have walked a narrower line, and he’s smart enough to realize the risk he was taking. Why risk everything like this? (Bill Clinton, I’m talking to you too.)

    I’ve been thinking about something you said:
    “Liars never get away with it. The public always finds out.”
    Do we? I really hate that this kind of incident makes my mind go in this direction, but here it goes. If public figures feel confident in repeatedly lying about these kinds of things, doesn’t it make you wonder if they’ve seen others get away (or if they, themselves, have gotten away) with similar lies? Ick.

    Oh, and to reply to miamired, I’m not sure if you’re from Portland? We’ve had a history of mayors who have been powerful and progressive forces in politics, making our city a national example of everything from urban planning to public art, and who have gone on to statewide and national positions. You’re right that, in many cities and cultures, the mayor’s role is more ceremonial, but here we’re used to being inspired and strongly guided by our mayors. Which is why this whole thing is such a big deal and why it makes me sad.

    I don’t want Sam to go away, but I really really wish I didn’t have to worry that my favorite leaders will one day break my heart. They’re only human like me, I guess.

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