Under Scrutiny


By Aaron Scott

On January 4th, Sam Adams became the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city. He symbolized a new generation of post-gay politicians -- a leader whose sexuality was just another word in the long list of adjectives used to describe him: wonky, grassroots, charming. Two weeks later, who he chose to have sex with became national news when he admitted both to having a sexual relationship with a teenage legislative intern named Beau Breedlove in 2005 while city commissioner and then to denying it in 2007. Both say Breedlove was 18 when they slept together, but an investigation is pending.

Out had been following Adams before the scandal broke to write a profile. Recently, our reporter sat down with him in his Portland City Hall office for a follow up interview. Unpacked boxes still dotted the normally bustling hallways, and Adams, an environmentally attuned workaholic who was wearing a wool coat because he turns the heat off on weekends, discussed his decision to stay in office despite calls for his resignation, disappointing his supporters, and how he plans to weather the scandal in order to continue to serve the people of Portland.

Out: Why did you decide to stay in office?
Sam Adams: I wrestled with resigning or staying. My first priority was what's best for the city. And my second priority was what am I up for, what do I have the energy for. In the end, I can offer at least six to nine months of relative stability by staying [Portland's charter protects newly-elected mayors from recall for at least six months], and I can make amends better by staying. So that's what I decided to do.

Do you feel like your personal life is something the public has a right to know about?
I think at the time [that the rumor came out in 2007], I had the option to say it's none of your business. I should have said exactly that. But I certainly didn't give myself that option. I made the mistake of thinking no one would believe me. It was like, how do I prove a negative? How do I prove something didn't happen? So I just panicked, and I made a mistake.

You were in Portland when Willamette Week broke the Goldschmidt story [revealing that a former Oregon governor had sex with his 14-year-old babysitter]. Did you see that as an example of what could happen?
Absolutely, even though it was very different. Very, very different. I think at the time, because it was on the heels of that, it was like, no one's going to believe me.

You've said the relationship with Breedlove was inappropriate. What do you mean?
I was forty-[two], however many years older than he was. And an elected official. I think the difference in age and the fact that I was an elected official made it inappropriate.

Yet there're certainly similar such relationships among unelected officials.
But elected officials are held to higher standards, and I know that. I can say, at the time, I was very flattered by the attention. I'd recently ended my 11-year relationship. I was dating again. I didn't think it through.

There're a lot of gay people who are really angry with you. What do you say to them?
I totally understand why they're angry. I've let them down. I'm very, very sorry for that. I made a bad decision. And the best thing I can do right now is to work at trying to make amends by serving the people of Portland the best I can.

Did the call for your resignation by the Portland gay and lesbian paper, Just Out, take you by surprise?
No. I know this city pretty well. I knew coming clean with this issue would likely spark calls for my resignation from everybody. Understandably, I've embarrassed a lot of people in the LGBT community, and the newspaper calling for me to resign is a reflection of the frustration and anger and disappointment that lots of people have. My job is to try to regain their trust. And part of doing that is accepting and embracing people's own reactions, and going to them, and being with them. And as difficult and as painful as it might be, that's part of what I feel I need to do to make amends. I've been out in the community and will continue to be. I'm not going anywhere.