MAYOR SAM ADAMS returned from a "staycation" last Friday, July 29, to make a major announcement: He's not running for mayor again in 2012.
This wasn't a long-calculated move. The announcement took even insiders by surprise—Portland City Hall staffers say their phones exploded with a wave of messages from shocked colleagues as the news spread Friday afternoon.
"It's a total surprise," says Kari Chisholm, publisher of BlueOregon.com who was involved in Adams' 2008 campaign and has been working on 2012 mayoral candidate Eileen Brady's campaign since last week. "Sam is a political animal, he's an ambitious guy. I'm sure he has a lot of stuff that he still wants to get done."
Adams laid out his decision to reporters who crowded into his office late Friday afternoon.
"Beautiful day!" Adams called out to the massed media, before explaining how fundraising and campaigning would suck up too much time from accomplishing his long list of goals for the city.
"This really boiled down to what's best for Portland. I'm not going to phone it in as mayor," said Adams. He is adamant about not being a lame duck, promising that he aims to complete work on improving the economy and reducing gang violence.
Political insiders believe Adams is sincere on that point—the 2012 campaign is shaping up to be a tough, expensive race, and Adams would have to spend long hours digging up donors and answering again for his 2008 sex scandal. Two candidates, New Seasons co-founder Brady and streetcar-backer Charlie Hales, have already jumped into the race. They've each raised over $100,000.
Weighing in on Adams' decision is a poll two local unions conducted on the race. The poll has not been released, but Willamette Week reported it showed Adams doing "very poorly" against Brady and Hales. In contrast, Adams says the poll "showed it would be a tough race, but, frankly, showed that I'd be better off than I thought." Oregon AFSCME Political Coordinator Joe Baessler says, that in actuality, the poll showed a dead heat between Adams, Hales, Brady, and Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen (who was mulling a mayoral run, but recently announced he wouldn't seek the job).
Also potentially influencing Adams' choice is the fact that city council may change dramatically after 2012, with Adams' old frenemy Commissioner Randy Leonard not seeking reelection and Commissioner Amanda Fritz facing a challenge from powerful state Representative Mary Nolan.
"I think it's the polling, the money, and the fact that there's a risk he wouldn't win—and then what would he do?" says one city insider. "Politicians do have egos and he could come out saying he's never lost a race."
Once he's out of office, the consensus among insiders is that Adams will get out of direct politics and seek a job in arts or sustainability. The current leading rumor is that Adams already has a job lined up as executive director of a nonprofit, though others say he could easily land a gig as a consultant on sustainability policies. Adams himself is mum on future plans beyond city hall.
So what can Portland expect from the 2012 race? A lot of money and an absurd amount of candidates.
During the 2008 race for the open mayoral seat in Portland, 13 candidates jumped into the fray. In 2004, Tom Potter pulled ahead of 22 other candidates (21 of whom gathered a collective 23 percent of the vote).
Currently, though, the only announced candidates are Brady and Hales. Both have business backgrounds and strong Portland credentials. Brady is a co-founder of "The Friendliest Store in Town," who now serves on several environmental policy boards. Hales, meanwhile, served on city council from 1992 through 2002, and since then has worked promoting streetcars across the country.
Portland voters shot down public financing for local campaigns last year, and now Brady and Hales seem to be locked in a race to out-fundraise each other.
During the whole course of his 2008 campaign, Adams raised just over $391,000. But with 17 months to go before Election Day, Hales has already raised $100,685 (including $25,000 from streetcar contractors Stacy and Witbeck, Inc.). Brady has raised even more, $108,623, including a $10,000 donation from Nature's grocery founder Stan Amy.
Several other individuals are considering jumping into the race, including City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and East Portland State Representative Jefferson Smith.
Representative Smith says the intense cash being thrown into the election makes him somewhat wary of running.
"It's going to be a race for the money leading to a race to the mayor's office," says Smith, who would have to give up the chance to run again for his house seat if he files in the race. "Can I run the kind of campaign that can win and at the same time retain my soul?
"If I announce I'm running for mayor," he continues. "I'll have to say it's because I want to spend less time with my family."