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Sam Adams and the unfiltered impulse

Sam Adams

Sam Adams

Some months back a first-time candidate (not in Oregon) asked the question: Why do so many politicians keep getting caught in scandalous or near-scandalous sexual situations? (Worried, maybe, he might be missing a crucial strand of political DNA?) It was a good question. The snap answer might be that politicians tend to be gregarious people and prone to lots of human interaction generally; they draw energy from being around other people. Or something like that.

But there ought also to be a strand of political DNA that sends up a red flag in the face of a bad idea, and that’s a strand that seems to be missing from a lot of political people these days. At the moment, you wonder: What was Sam Adams, long considered one of the brightest guys in Portland politics, thinking when he struck up that close friendship in 2005 with a 17-year-old named (however improbable it may sound) Beau Breedlove, a friendship that eventually and briefly went further than that. And then, for an extended period, lied about it.

Now on Adams’ website (responding to a story just broken by Willamette Week): “In the past, I have characterized my relationship with Beau Breedlove as purely non-sexual. That is not true. Beau Breedlove and I had a sexual relationship for a few months in the summer of 2005 after he turned 18 years of age. I should have been honest at the time about the true nature of my relationship with Beau Breedlove when questions about my relationship with him first surfaced publicly in October 2007. In fact, Beau encouraged me to be honest about the facts of our relationship. I am deeply sorry that I asked him to lie for me.”

The immediate comparison in the Northwest would logically be to the case of former Spokane Mayor James West, who was recalled from office in December 2005, after exposure of his trolling on gay sex web sites and relationships with much younger male partners. That was an explosive story that totally riveted, dominated, public life in Spokane for nearly a year.

How does the Adams story compare? What effect might this revelation have?

The long-range is hard to know. But the contrasts do seem more striking than the similarities.

First, the whole idea that the conservative Republican West was gay came as a stunner to much of Spokane, and he denied it rigorously. Adams is a whole different story; he has been openly gay for a long time, Portlanders were well aware of that part of his life when they elected him. That element of surprise isn’t the case here.

West was recalled on (and his local newspaper investigated him on the basis of) the charge that he was using his office for personal benefit – that is, essentially, to gain young sex partners. There’s no comparable charge in this case, no allegation that Adams was misusing his office (at the time, his office on the city council).

The main issue here is the age of Breedlove at the time of the relationship. There are two aspects to that. Adams said that Breedlove was at least 18 at the time, which would eliminate any serious legal issue.

But there’s another more subtle issue here as well. To put it in clearer light, imagine (and this is purely imaginary) the last mayor (Tom Potter), a retired police officer, was – as mayor – unmarried but having a fling with an 18-year-old woman. How might that have looked to the community? What conclusions about Potter and his character might have been drawn?

(Just that sort of analysis was part of the thought process as the Spokane Spokesman-Review prepared their West stories: Suppose West had been doing essentially the same thing, only with young girls instead of boys? Would it still have been a news story? They concluded that it would.)

The fact that he lied and pressured Breedlove to lie is an issue too.

This doesn’t look like a recall in the making, at least not yet. But there will be reverberations. Adams’ quick and public response suggests that he already understands as much.

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