Saturday, July 30, 2011

Narcissistic Masturbation

Please excuse the rather "vulgar" blog post title, but that was the phrase that came to mind when I thought about Portland Mayor Sam Adams' tenure in office. On Friday, during the mid-afternoon, the news broke that Mayor Adams had decided not to run for reelection next year. After what he called his "staycation" (spending a week at his home in north Portland), he decided not to run for a second term because campaigning would take away a lot of his time and energy from his duties as mayor. Really?!? Amazing...he's still spinning reality in his favour. His reasons sound about as credible as Sarah Palin's when she made her announcement that she wasn't running for reelection as Governor. But unlike Palin, Adams isn't deciding to vacate the mayoral office before the term is up.

I especially love this self-delusional quote by Portland's scandalous mayor: "I'm not worried about being a lame duck. I intend to be a very active and vibrant duck." Where the hell has he been for the past two and a half years?!? He became a lame duck in the third week of his administration when the Willamette Week ran a cover story exposing the lie Adams had told in the fall of 2007 when his campaign was just getting started. From that moment forward, Adams was the lamest of lame ducks. Cooked goose is more like it. Though he decided not to resign and two attempts to gather enough signatures for a recall election failed, the scandal had made the mayor so toxic that he was not invited to the big political rally that President Obama held for the election campaign of Governor Kitzhaber. All of the major Democratic politicians were up there on the stage with the president and gubernatorial candidate, including the hapless Congressman David Wu, who announced his resignation this past Tuesday. There is simply no way that a President visits a city and the mayor does not get to meet him. Its simply not done. The fact that it was obvious that Adams would be no where near the Oregon Convention Center when the president was in town indicates the level of toxicity regarding his scandal.

For my readers who are not familiar with the local politics, I will offer a brief recap. I had written several blogposts about the scandal in January 2009 and I know that quite a few people in City Hall had read them. This whole sordid saga is actually an excellent case study in how the Law of Karma works, and yes...everything you've heard about Karma is true! She really is a bitch!

In the fall of 2007 when candidates were gearing up a run for the mayor's office, City Commissioner Sam Adams was considered to be the one to watch out for. He was smart, ambitious, and worked his entire adult life in politics (from being a staffer in the Oregon legislature, to being Chief of Staff to Mayor Vera Katz, to his first elected office as City Commissioner in 2004). He is a wonky poli sci nerd straight out of a West Wing television cast. He was also open about his homosexuality.

A potential rival named Bob Ball, who is also openly gay, began a whispering campaign. He had heard that Adams had a sexual relationship with an underage teenager. Many who heard this rumour thought it was particularly nasty and unfounded. The kind of trick that someone like Karl Rove would pull, not some liberal, politically aware Portlander. This whispering campaign backfired and effectively ended any political aspirations that Bob Ball might've had. However, the rumour was so salacious that Sam Adams had made the most spectacular of denials. He waxed indignant, claiming that he merely served as a mentor for a teenage boy who had approached him and asked how he might navigate a political career of his own someday as an openly gay man. Adams said that the kind of rumours and insinuations that Ball engaged in was one of the worst accusations a person could make against a gay man: that they were sexual predators going after borderline legal young boys. Such insinuations encourage cynicism in people regarding gay men mentoring younger men. His denial was so spectacular (the right amount of indignation to shame every heterosexual who might wonder about his interest in young men) that one couldn't help but side with Sam Adams for being victim to a sinister smear campaign.

During the campaign, the issue never came up. I had volunteered on a regular basis during the first half of 2008. I had sent my resume and cover letter to a few campaigns and the Adams campaign was the first one to respond. I had seen Adams at a few neighbourhood meetings and I was impressed by his wonky knowledge and charisma. His liberal views and ambitions for Portland all sounded great. It didn't take much to convince me that he was a winner. Our first task was to create signs for each neighbourhood in Portland. These signs were long rectangles, like viewers see on TV during the political conventions, with the names of the states on them. Creativity was encouraged. The best sign I created was for Downtown Portland. I wanted to keep it as a souvenir after Adams was done using them for an event, but apparently, he wanted to keep all the signs.

The biggest controversy during the actual campaign involved a poll that candidate Sho Dozono was privy to, which he had failed to count as an in-kind contribution. This presented a dilemma for the Adams campaign. Dozono had violated campaign finance law by failing to disclose the contribution. The question Adams' campaign manager asked some of us volunteers was: should Adams file an official complaint? Someone else had already filed a complaint with the election's office. The consensus was that Adams should remain above the fray and let it slide. He would look petty if he filed a complaint. The campaign manager, Jennifer, said that after talking to Sam about it, he had decided not to file an official complaint. Then, a day or two later, Adams reversed course and decided to file an official complaint. He said that he was doing it out of principle. I remember being impressed at the time, but now find it ironic. Sam Adams had decided to file an official complaint against Sho Dozono not reporting an in-kind contribution because Adams believed in full disclosure. All the while, he was hiding the deepest, darkest secret: that he wasn't truthful about his relationship with a borderline legal teenage boy.

Adams won a decisive victory over Dozono in the May 2008 primary that had more than a dozen candidates. This allowed him to shut down his campaign, avoiding a run-off in November. Adams had said that elections make him nervous because you don't know how people will vote. I had no doubt that Adams would win. Dozono ran a lousy campaign and during a debate at Portland State University, Dozono seemed distracted and his cell phone actually went off twice during the debate (once when Adams was talking, another time when Dozono was talking). My sense about Dozono was that he was recruited to run by the anti-Sam faction who did not want Adams to cakewalk a promotion from his City Commissioner office to the Mayor's office. Adams needed a strong competitor and he simply did not get one.

The victory did make national news because Adams became the first openly gay politician to win the mayor's office in a top 40 U.S. city. Portland became the biggest city to have an openly gay mayor. It was a sign of how liberal Portland is. Adams' homosexuality was not really an issue in the race, like it would be in, say, Birmingham, Alabama or Nashville, Tennessee.

Everyone thought Adams effectively put his past behind him. Little did anyone know that Willamette Week had continued investigating the rumour and decided they had enough evidence to drop the bombshell on Adams and the city of Portland during the weekend before President Obama's historic inauguration. In fact, Mayor Adams (who was sworn in at midnight on the first of January) was in Washington, D.C. during the Inauguration weekend events for a meeting of all the mayors of the major American cities. Why Willamette Week decided to unleash the bombshell on Inauguration weekend appears to be vindictive. What a way to embarrass the mayor, while he was meeting with the other mayors. Also, it ruined his boondoggle trip to witness history being made with our first African-American president. The bombshell was big enough that Adams cut short his Washington, D.C. trip to give a press conference. He weathered the storm of calls for him to resign. Defenders like Dan Savage, the sex columnist, and Storm Large, the mistress of ceremonies and hard rocker, held a rally at City Hall on Adams behalf while he was holed up at home during that most intense first week.

Adams ultimately chose not to resign, the two recall petitions failed to gather enough signatures by the deadlines, and an investigation into the scandal and potential payoffs for silence did not turn up any conclusive evidence that proves Adams broke the law regarding statutory rape. Both Adams and his beau, Beau Breedlove claimed a sexual relationship did not begin until Breedlove had turned 18. All of this should have cleared Sam Adams, but the scandal was just so salaciously unsavory that the mayor was unable to regain the public's trust. Ironically, before the scandal broke, Adams was scheduled to give a speech at Portland State University about ethics in government. County Commissioner Jeff Cogen went in Adams' place and no one doubts Cogen's ethical standards.

One of Adams' campaign promises was lessening the drop out rate of high school students, but after the scandal, no one wanted Adams to visit the schools. No one wanted their picture taken with the mayor at social events or even official photos (the kinds people love to display on their walls). The unspoken fear was that no one really knows what other skeletons might be hiding in Adams' closet. The scandal essentially turned him into a political leper. How effective can a mayor be if no one wants him to visit their schools, no one wants to be caught in a photograph with him, and perhaps the biggest humiliation of all: the President of the United States of America comes to Portland (the first since Clinton, as George W. Bush didn't dare set foot in this town) and the mayor is not invited to the big political rally.

What can we learn from the short elected political life of Sam Adams? Easy. One simple lie told in the fall of 2007 effectively destroyed his credibility and term of office. Adams had said in an interview that the reason why he did not tell the truth about his relationship with Breedlove at that time was because he thought people might actually believe that they had a sexual relationship before the boy had turned 18. That's probably true, but in a liberal city where there are people in polyamory relationships, it might not have been an issue that kept him out of office. Adams wanted to be mayor in the worst possible way and he got his wish. But because of his lie, he wasn't allowed to escape the consequences of the lie. He had to live with it every day. When people ask him not to appear at certain events, when people don't want their picture taken with him, when he's not wanted in high schools, it all drives home the point that he is forced to live with the consequences of his lie. That's a heavy price to pay for ambition.

During the campaign, another volunteer and I speculated on Adams' career ambitions. The other guy, who is a political savvy and active volunteer on numerous campaigns, thought Adams' trajectory included two or three terms as mayor, followed by a long career as a Congressman (after Congressman Blumenauer retired). Now, of course, that's not going to happen. By stepping down after his term ends, its probably safe to say that his political life is over. Was it all worth it? That's the question that keeps coming to mind. He simply could not balance his career ambitions with his personal transgressions. When will these narcissistic politicians ever learn the recurring lesson we keep reading about? Ethics, integrity, self-discipline, and restraint all matter. As New Age spiritualist like to point out, we are in a period called "the Apocalypse", which means a revealing. Things once hidden will become known. For the past decade, we've seen so many institutions, companies, systems, and people unravel before our eyes. It is getting progressively more difficult to engage in deceit or traffic in lies. The sooner politicians and aspiring politicians realize this, the better off we'll become. Living life by an inner moral code may have gone out of style, but living recklessly is nothing more than an awaiting timebomb that could destroy a person's legacy.

What are we to make of the mayoral administration of Sam Adams? Like the blogpost title suggests, his tenure is nothing more than narcissistic masturbation. He was blind to his moral lapses, thinking he could get away with whatever his dark side indulged in. While he may have gotten off, his administration has been disappointing. Underwhelming. Lackluster. In the end, his unremarkable tenure will be forgotten soon after the next mayor is sworn in on New Year's Day in 2013. Anyone who aspires to lead must first conquer themselves. Holding oneself to the highest possible standard shouldn't be too much to expect in a politician who wants to lead our fair city into a more progressive and sustainable future. Let's hope his exit will result in more people jumping into the race. We need a true race, rather than a cakewalk.

As for Sam Adams, a part of me feels sad for the incredible waste his life has come to represent. All that talent, ambition, intellect, charisma, and experience flushed down the toilet for the sake of sex with a much younger and impressionable guy. If Sam was a spiritual person at all, he might have been familiar with one of the most important questions ever asked: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?" Perhaps when he leaves office at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve in 2013, he can venture forth in search of the soul he lost somewhere on the way to political power. Hopefully we will never have to hear his name ever again, unless its a waiter bringing us a beer. Good riddance, Mayor Adams! And thank you for making this one of the best weeks Portland has ever experienced. First Congressman Wu's announcement of his resignation, now your announcement that you're not going to seek reelection. The synchronicity of two Portland politicians losing credibility because of their sexual relationships with borderline legal teenagers truly is remarkable in the sheer audacity of it all. Do any politicians ever learn from other politicians who have fallen because of moral lapses? Maybe its time they start.

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