Jan 25 2009

Adams: Staying, for now

Published by at 2:12 pm under Oregon

Word this afternoon that Portland Mayor Sam Adams is hanging in there, scandal notwithstanding, brings to mind a structural comparison with a politician from another state, former Idaho Senator Larry Craig.

Yes, there’s the common element of disputes related to gay sex, but there are numerous differences besides that – and the point is a different one. The point has to do with the supposed inevitability of scandal>resign, or be thrown from office. The point is that the inevitability is not always there.

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It happens that way, of course, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer being maybe the most spectacular example. But what first looks inevitable sometimes looks less so with time. A decade ago, the resignation of Bill Clinton as president after the Monica Lewinsky affair was widely thought to be inevitable, and ouster by impeachment was considered a very serious prospect. But he finished out his term.

The Craig comparison may be more pertinent. Think back to August 2007, to the explosion that greeted news of Craig’s “disorderly conduct” arrest in the Minneapolis airport. Within a day or so, the common wisdom was that Craig would quit. This blog bought into that, briefly: “Our initial thought (on hearing the news reports 24 hours ago) was that, since his arrest in a Minneapolis airport mens room had little to do with his work as a senator, he might be able to ride it out, at least through this term (though re-election seems a lot cause). We no longer think so: While Craig is very unlikely to be forced out, conditions are deteriorating so quickly that his staying may soon become impractical.”

But we also wrote not long after that Craig could stay if he chose. After all, there are no recall provision for U.S. senators; the only way he could be thrown out was to be expelled by the Senate, and since he broke no major laws (just a misdemeanor), that was highly unlikely. And while his clout in the Senate would be diminished if he stayed, he retained his vote, his grasp of how to work in the Senate, his staff and his public platform. That apparently is how Craig read it, when days later he announced that he would finish out his term. Which, earlier this month, he did.

Mayors, those in Portland included, can be recalled – the only way an elected official in Oregon can be made to leave. But not until six months have passed following a swearing-in, and weeks would pass after that before an election actually would be held.

Will the current Adams fury last that long? If Adams turns out to be a pretty good mayor in the months from here to there, will the anger be hot enough for the voters to fire him?

Maybe. But in the meantime, while circumscribed and while suffering some diminished clout and reputation, Adams would retain the prerogatives of office, his highly sophisticated grasp of how things work in Portland, and some (albeit not all) of his useful political relationships. (Of course, as Steve Duin’s Thursday Oregonian column suggested, Adams would be wise to not stand in the way of any attempt to recall him, and should – at least publicly – welcome the verdict of the voters later this year.)

Taken as a whole, Adams’ call on this sounds not so drastically different from Craig’s, and from Clinton’s. How well will it work? Check back in six months . . .

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