Two weeks to the day after taking his oath of office as Portland's first gay mayor, Sam Adams admitted to the Willamette Week on Monday, January 19, that he'd lied about the nature of his sexual relationship with teenage legislative intern Beau Breedlove, and that he had coached Breedlove to lie about it on his behalf.
Back in 2007, Adams denied rumors of a sexual relationship with Breedlove, calling himself the victim of a "homophobic smear campaign."
But by the time the Mercury went to press on Tuesday, January 20, two of Adams' fellow city commissioners, Nick Fish and Randy Leonard, were calling for an independent inquiry into the scandal, the treasurer of the police union was calling for Adams' resignation, and a citizen effort to recall Adams was underway. The story spread like wildfire throughout the day to mainstream outlets like CNN, and even celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton ran a post entitled "Boo! Hiss on Sam Adams," in the early afternoon.
"Dude, you should have just kept it in your pants!" wrote Hilton. "Or at least been upfront about it! Didn't you learn anything from Bill Clinton?????"
THIS IS THE MODERN AGE
"I am disappointed and outraged by the mayor's acknowledgment that he lied to the public and that he coached this young man to lie for him," said City Commissioner Fish, in a phone conversation with the Mercury on Tuesday evening. "What I want the public to know is that this council is focused on doing the public's business, and that we will not allow this to be a distraction from doing what we were elected to do."
"I think this is fundamentally an issue of a public official lying," said Adams, at a packed press conference at Portland City Hall, earlier on Tuesday afternoon.
Asked whether he expected to get away with his behavior, Adams responded: "It's not entirely up to me.
"I pride myself on telling the truth, and my word is very important to me," he said. "I am very ashamed, humbled, and humiliated, and I think that's absolutely appropriate."
Adams said he would resign if it became clear that it was not in the best interests of the city for him to remain mayor.
"This is the modern age," he said.
"I know I have a lot to do to restore the public's trust," Adams continued. "But I would ask the public to consider this anomaly in the context of my two decades of public service."
A citizen effort to recall Adams launched a website first thing on Tuesday. Adams responded at the press conference: "Listen, this admission, I understand it is shocking, and that people are angry about it, I understand that, and that might lead to a recall and it's the public's right to do that. It's my job to apologize, and be sincere about it."
Also at the press conference, Portland Police Association (PPA) Treasurer Mitchell Copp said the PPA was "disappointed" with Adams, and asked for his resignation. Copp said Adams' behavior presented an opportunity for "blackmail."
Adams was asked what consequences he would face besides coming clean.
"Well, I'm facing them," he said. "I'm being held accountable, which is appropriate, and my reputation is impacted, my friendships have been impacted."
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz defended Adams, saying that in her experience as a psychiatric nurse she has learned the importance of forgiving people for their mistakes. She also hit back at Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss for his paper's decision to run the story on the eve of President Barack Obama's inauguration.
"I cannot think of a compelling public reason for you to have broken it yesterday," she said to Jaquiss.
I'VE NOTHING TO HIDE
Meanwhile, the Mercury's former news editor, Amy Ruiz, was hired by Adams as a planning and sustainability policy adviser on December 22, 2008. Ruiz had confronted Adams in 2007 with information about Adams' alleged affair with Breedlove, but since the information fell under the banner of hearsay and could not be substantiated, the Mercury declined to run the story. Adams lied to Ruiz about the nature of his relationship with Breedlove, too.
Nevertheless, others who applied for Ruiz's new job with Adams are questioning the appropriateness of her hire.
"It felt like I wasn't really being listened to," says one applicant who had six years of experience in planning and sustainability when Adams' senior policy director, Lisa Libby, interviewed them for the position late last year. The applicant declined to be named.
"It was just these canned questions, and not really asking me what I'd bring to the office," says the applicant. "It just felt like window dressing. I just didn't get a sense that I was part of a real interview, like there was no integrity to it."
"After a decade spent writing about what other people are doing I wanted an opportunity to go about doing it," Ruiz said, at a meeting with the Mercury in Mayor Adams' office, shortly after the conclusion of the Tuesday press conference.
"We were surprised," said Adams' chief of staff, Tom Miller, of Ruiz's application, which was filed on November 3, 2008. "We certainly didn't see it coming."
Miller said he has been responsible for all hiring and firing for Adams since 2005.
"I think you can look to my work and see that it didn't change [after the application for the job went in]," said Ruiz. "I've got a three-year record [at the Mercury] and I think it speaks for itself. A lot of that work was done in the context of an opinion column, because my opinions are my opinions, and I stand by those opinions.
"I've nothing to hide," Ruiz continued. "I stand by my work, it's all fair, and it's all accurate."
The other two candidates on the shortlist of three for Ruiz's job included a person with a master's degree in urban planning and three to four years of experience in post-master's policy and administration, said Miller. But that person "made clear at the interview that their preference was to work 40 hours a week if possible, and that was the fatal flaw."
The other shortlist candidate had a master's degree in public administration but was "too young in the sense of marketplace experience," said Miller, who at press time was seeking the city attorney's approval to release a summary list to the Mercury of other applicants for the position, detailing their experience and qualifications for the job.
"Whenever a reporter who has been covering a public official is hired by that official there are always concerns about appearance and about ethical conflicts," says Tim Gleason, dean of the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication. "Absent a bright line between the journalist and someone in the news, there's always the threat that there'll be a perception of conflict."
Ruiz said she has no plans to step down, either.
For more on this story and regular updates, check blogtown.portlandmercury.com.