By the time the ink dried on the newspaper page, Bob Ball was nowhere to be found, having lobbed a grenade into the political field and then scrammed away from the spotlight. But the damage—at least some damage—was done: City Commissioner Sam Adams was accused, in an implied sort of way, of having an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old boy.
The initial media coverage between the two outlets that broke the story, the Oregonian and Willamette Week, couldn't have been more different. The O presented a story of a potential political opponent—real estate developer Bob Ball—telling the rumor to Commissioner Randy Leonard and former Mayor Vera Katz, and then lying about whether he knew about it. Willamette Week, though, in an apparent grasp at its former Pulitzer glory, ran with the rumor as is: That Adams befriended young Beau Breedlove, who wanted advice on coming out to his family and navigating a political career as an openly gay man. They met a few times, had dinner, and Adams went to Breedlove's family birthday party.
Despite the fact that both Adams and Breedlove denied the darker allegations, conservatives like radio host Lars Larson were happy to run with the WW's version of the story.
"Sam Adams is homosexual, he likes men," Larson said on his Tuesday, September 18 radio show. "So if Sam Adams, a homosexual, is mentoring a boy, it would be the equivalent of a 40-something-year-old man taking a teenage girl out to dinner to talk about her sex life."
For Adams, the right-wing chatter is nothing new. But the original accusation was delivered by Ball, who's an openly gay man.
"If this had come from the right wing—and it probably will now—that would have been one thing," Adams told the Mercury. "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."
And therein lies the double standard. Adams believes he was serving as a mentor to Breedlove. But, because he's gay, there's an implication that something inappropriate—or even illegal—was happening.
"The ironic part of this is that even Big Brothers and Big Sisters frequently pairs queer adults with queer youth," says Adams. "I hope this doesn't have a chilling effect on the mentoring that should go on between queer youth and adults.
"I'm hoping that this gives me an opportunity to talk about the bigger issues here," he added. "Like the fact that it's apparently still not okay to be gay in certain situations. It's as if, because I'm gay, I can't have any meaningful interaction with males under the age of 18."
If blog comments and random conversations with city staffers and political observers are any indication, it took precisely a half a second for the story to backfire on Ball, who's long been considered a likely contender for the mayor's seat—along with Adams. Ball has now been labeled as a political and personal mudslinger; staying quiet to avoid the scandal's fallout won't help matters either. According to many, Ball's political career is now toast.
One former friend whose support he won't get is Leonard. Ball accused Leonard of leaking the story to the Oregonian, since the commissioner was the only person he told. In reality, Ball told Katz the same story days before, and Leonard knew he was lying.
"The biggest point here is that Bob was telling anyone who would listen," says Leonard. "He was spreading this around for the simple purpose of destroying Sam's career so that [Ball] can be mayor. It's as simple as that."
Adams says the brouhaha won't dissuade him from making a decision about his political plans, which he expects to announce in the next week and a half. Unsurprisingly, Bob Ball could not be reached for comment.