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January 21st, 2009 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Why Adams Confessed

The story behind why the Mayor admitted to lying.

     
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Sam Adams (left) and Beau Breedlove at a party for The Nines Hotel in October 2008.
IMAGE: Byron Beck

[Editor's Note: This cover story is an update to an article originally published on WWeek.com on Monday, Jan. 19. Click here to read the original online version, with more than 200 reader responses.]

By now, most readers know Mayor Sam Adams called WW on Monday afternoon and, contrary to his earlier denials, confessed to having had a sexual relationship with Beau Breedlove in 2005. Thirty minutes later, Adams issued a press release to other media, repeating that confession.

Adams made his comments as WW was finishing a detailed update to a story from September 2007 about Adams and Breedlove, a legislative intern whom Adams met in 2005, when Breedlove was 17.

In that story, both insisted their relationship in 2005 was platonic. On the phone Monday, Adams said his original denials were untrue. Rather, he said he and Breedlove did have sex, although he said it was after Breedlove turned 18 on June 25, 2005.

“I want to publicly acknowledge I made a mistake and apologize for it,” said Adams, who was in D.C. for the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama and returned Tuesday. “In the past, I’ve characterized my relationship with Beau Breedlove as purely nonsexual, and that is not true.”

Adams said the sexual relationship lasted for a couple of months.

The timing of Adams’ call to WW was not happenstance. Four days earlier, on Thursday night, this reporter and two WW editors went to Adams’ mayoral office and presented him with the evidence WW had compiled over the 16 months since the original story.

During the 40-minute interview in a conference room, Adams continued to deny any sexual relations with Breedlove. He changed his mind sometime during the following four days.

Here is the story that prompted Adams’ confession. Click here to read the version published online Monday afternoon, as well as hundreds of reader responses.

Three weeks into Mayor Sam Adams’ term, much is new at City Hall.

There are two new city commissioners, a new mayor and an energy that has long been missing.

Everything is new, that is, except for the long shadow of a young man named Beau Breedlove.

Sixteen months ago, Portland’s news media jumped on a story about a series of 2005 meetings between Adams, then a city commissioner, and Breedlove, then a legislative intern.

The long-ago meetings became a public matter because Pearl District developer Bob Ball, who, like Adams, was considering a mayoral run, raised questions about whether the relationship between Adams and Breedlove was sexual.

Because Breedlove was 17 years old and a minor when he first met Adams, then 42, the corollary question was not just if it happened, but when.

Ball—who, like Adams, is gay—spoke to his then-close friend, City Commissioner Randy Leonard, in August 2007.

In WW’s story (“Mayoral Race Off to a Brutal Beginning,” WWire, Sept. 17, 2007), Adams acknowledged meeting Beau Breedlove during a lobbying trip to Salem.

They met again in the spring and early summer of 2005, including a lunch at the downtown Macaroni Grill and a dinner on June 9, 2005, at the Lotus Cafe near City Hall.

Adams had also said that he and a friend drove down to Salem for Breedlove’s 18th birthday party on June 25, 2005.

Adams, now 45, also acknowledged then that his encounters with Breedlove distressed his staff, because they looked inappropriate.

“We made it clear that Sam should be careful,” Adams’ chief of staff, Tom Miller, told WW in 2007.

At the time, Adams said he was mentoring Breedlove, and both men said their relationship was just platonic. And Adams claimed Ball was engaged in a dirty tricks campaign.

“I have been the target of a nasty smear by a would-be political opponent,” Adams wrote in a Sept. 18, 2007, letter released to the public. “I didn’t get into public life to allow my instinct to help others to be snuffed out by fear of sleazy misrepresentations or political manipulation.”

For about 10 days, the story burned bright. Leonard and others sided publicly with Adams.

And what began as an inquiry into potentially predatory and illegal behavior instead became a story about an effort to destroy Adams’ reputation.

Then the story disappeared. Ball’s political hopes evaporated, and Adams enjoyed an easy ascension to the mayor’s office after a late challenge from businessman Sho Dozono.

It all might have ended there. Over the past several months, however, and especially in the past three weeks, WW has obtained new information showing Adams and Breedlove now disagree about what happened in 2005.

Interviews with acquaintances of Breedlove and Adams, as well as a former newspaper reporter who worked on the original story, suggest the relationship between Adams and Breedlove was sexual. Breedlove’s and Adams’ actions have provided new clues as well.

Adams is sticking to his original narrative—that he never had a sexual relationship with Breedlove.

At least five others have come forward to disagree.

“People got this story wrong,” says Mark Merkle, 39, Breedlove’s boyfriend for two years ending in August 2008. “Beau lied. And Sam, not Ball, was the bad guy.”

If Merkle is right, and if Adams had acknowledged as much when the story became public in 2007, he would have faced tough but ultimately survivable questions about his judgment.

Now, 16 months later, the stakes are higher. If Adams lied, his actions unfairly blackened the reputation of one man—Ball—while clearing his own path to the mayor’s office. New information now raises questions about what decisions he may have made—or may continue to make—to keep the truth under wraps.

Voters have just handed Adams the keys to America’s 30th-largest city. Most Portlanders may not care whom he sleeps with so long as it’s legal. But they expect a mayor who is smart enough to level with the public—and who is not beholden to anyone to protect his secrets.

The puzzling relationship of Portland’s new mayor with a young man less than half his age is not a story about sexual orientation.

Instead, it is a story about candor and the need for the public to be able to trust its leaders.

Beau Breedlove is an enigma. He is a darkly handsome 2005 graduate of Salem’s Sprague High School, and a talented pianist. Now 21, he has bounced from place to place and job to job.

Starting last April, eight months after Breedlove briefly made headlines, the story came back to life. Breedlove’s curious actions, the decision by some of his acquaintances to speak to WW and, more recently, the circumstances surrounding a surprising new hire by Adams have provided new information.

On April 23, 2008, Breedlove penned a cryptic blog post on his MySpace page, which was emailed anonymously to WW:

“[Y]ou know that feeling you get when you come to realize that youve probably done something wrong, and although you really wanted and/or needed to do it, you know it probably wasnt the best decision at the time, or at least not the most honorable,” Breedlove wrote.

The post could be read as a harmless evocation of a young man’s angst, or as a confession. Either way, WW decided to do additional reporting.

Since then, WW has spoken to three Breedlove acquaintances. All spoke on condition of anonymity. All three say Breedlove told them he had a physical relationship with Adams in 2005, although the men were unsure of whether it began before or after Breedlove turned 18.

Two of them say Breedlove told them about the relationship in early summer of 2005, long before Ball made it an issue. They also say the public explanation both Adams and Breedlove gave the media—that Breedlove was only interested in politics and searching for a mentor—was preposterous.

All three recounted the approximate date and specific location of their conversations with Breedlove.

One of the men, who worked with Breedlove when he was a waiter at Bluehour restaurant, said he was not sure he believed the story because he thought Breedlove might be bragging.

On June 5, 2008, Breedlove was working as a waiter at a benefit for the Q Center, a Southeast Portland gathering place for gay youth.

Ball, a Q Center benefactor, attended the event at Cacao, a downtown Portland chocolate shop.

Since publication of the original Breedlove story in September 2007, Ball had largely withdrawn from public life.

During the event, Breedlove, whom Ball says he had never previously met, walked up and introduced himself.

Ball, 42, says he was “stunned” by the encounter, but even more surprised when Breedlove apologized to him.

“I wanted to say I was sorry,” Breedlove said to Ball, according to notes Ball took after the conversation. “I was very isolated and didn’t understand how big this situation was and what was happening,” Ball recalls Breedlove saying.

Ball said he believed Breedlove to be saying he was sorry for having lied about Adams.

“Why else would he apologize to me?” Ball says.

Over the past nine months, this reporter has met with Breedlove three times in public places and has also exchanged phone calls and numerous text messages with him.

Breedlove said the content of those detailed conversations could be followed to do additional digging. But he requested on all occasions—except one—that he not be quoted for publication.

The one exception came on the day after the Q Center event: On that occasion, Breedlove did speak for attribution.

“I apologized for the way the situation [with Adams] was handled,” Breedlove said in a phone interview on the morning of June 6, 2008. “I was in Michigan and I didn’t know anything about the [mayor’s] race.”

On Jan. 10, as this story was being prepared for publication, WW emailed Breedlove one last time, seeking public comment and asking him to “respond factually and on the record to a few brief questions.”

At 2:59 pm on Jan. 11, Breedlove gave his response via text message:

“I can’t say anything. I’m sorry. I’m scared. If the story goes to print without me saying anything, I’m worried I will look like a scumbag. If I do say anything, then Sam’s fate is in my hands.”

Several recent developments have added to this story. The first happened on Dec. 22, 2008, when Adams hired Portland Mercury City Hall reporter Amy Ruiz to be his adviser on sustainability and strategic planning.

Ruiz, 28, acknowledged in a Jan. 15 interview that she has no experience in sustainability, planning or government.

“This town has a million and a half urban planners, and I’m not one of them,” she says.

Ruiz’s new salary—$55,000—is substantially more than she made at The Mercury.

Mayors and city commissioners frequently hire people whose enthusiasm exceeds their experience. But it was what Ruiz had done as a reporter—or more specifically, what she had not done—that brought into question Adams’ decision to hire her.

In 2007, Ruiz was one of two Mercury reporters who covered the Breedlove story. The other was Scott Moore.

Long after the original story died, Moore and Ruiz continued to pursue the premise that Adams and Breedlove had lied. They did so after The Mercury had originally been Adams’ strongest supporter, going so far as to publish a story Sept. 20, 2007, called “The Scandal That Wasn’t There.”

Two weeks ago, based on information from people close to Breedlove, WW contacted Moore, who wrote the original Mercury article.

Moore said that in September 2007, right after his article was published, he got a call from a source who had been close to Adams. The source said The Mercury had got it wrong and that he was “disgusted” by what he knew.

While Moore wouldn’t reveal the source’s name, WW has learned it was John Vezina.

Vezina, 47, has worked for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, and was on the campaign board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Adams’ biggest 2004 campaign contributor.

While living in Portland in 2005, Vezina volunteered with the local Human Rights Campaign group and the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center. He also dated Adams.

On the phone to Moore, Vezina said he was the one who joined Adams in the drive down to Salem for Breedlove’s 18th birthday party on June 25, 2005. And he insisted that Adams was lying about his relationship with Breedlove.

Vezina told Moore that while Adams revealed nothing, Breedlove did. Vezina said he ran into Breedlove on a Portland street a couple of weeks after the birthday party. Breedlove told him he had just spent the weekend at Adams’ house, where they had sex.

“[Vezina] said it was ‘shocking’ to him,” Moore recalls. “He said, ‘People don’t usually tell you that kind of thing on the street.’”

“He thought Breedlove was a young kid and that was highly inappropriate,” Moore adds.

Now an aide to newly elected U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Vezina declined repeated interview requests from WW, saying only in a brief phone message, “I’m not the bad guy here.”

Moore says he and Ruiz worked closely on the story. At one point, Moore confronted Adams with Vezina’s story, but Adams denied everything.

Meanwhile, Ruiz continued to pursue the story. She spoke with at least one of the Breedlove acquaintances this reporter had interviewed, and she pursued Breedlove, who refused several invitations to talk. Breedlove finally agreed to meet Ruiz at Higgins restaurant in the spring of 2008.

Ruiz won’t reveal what Breedlove told her, but insists, “Beau never told me they had sex.”

Ruiz says during the mayoral campaign she confronted Adams with the information Vezina provided, but The Mercury never published a revision of its original story. Ruiz says that’s because she could never determine who was telling the truth: Adams or Vezina.

“It came down to a ‘he said, he said’ situation,” Ruiz says. “I don’t know what I believed.”

Moore, on the other hand, was convinced of Vezina’s veracity.

“I was skeptical at first, but quickly came to believe that he was telling the truth about what he had been told,” says Moore, who left The Mercury in November 2007 for a job in the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.

Late last year, Adams hired Ruiz. She says her uncertainty about the Breedlove matter did not diminish her interest in applying for a job in Adams’ office.

At the same time, she says, “That’s a strange unresolved issue to walk into City Hall with.”

Ruiz says she never questioned why Adams chose her for the job over other applicants.

“It never crossed my mind that [Adams] might have hired me to keep me quiet,” she says.

Adams says she earned the position on merit.

“Amy was hired because of her smarts,” he says. “[Her previous reporting] had nothing to do with it.”

Asked what he thought of Ruiz becoming Adams’ aide, Moore, now a spokesman for the advocacy group Our Oregon, offered a terse

“No comment.”

The second development that brought forth new information was a Jan. 9 anonymous email sent to WW, The Oregonian, the Portland Tribune, Just Out, the Statesman Journal, The Mercury and KOIN-TV.

The email got right to the point.

“I suggest you follow up on Sam Adams and Beau Breedlove,” it said. “You should contact Mark Merkle. He knows and has talked to some people already.” The message included Merkle’s cell phone number.

Merkle is a Michigan native who met Breedlove while vacationing in Hawaii in 2006, the year after Breedlove first met Adams. Breedlove moved to Michigan to be with Merkle, and the two stayed together for about two years, until August 2008.

They lived in Saugatuck, Mich., where Merkle owned a gift shop and Breedlove worked in a restaurant, until November 2007, when they moved to Portland.

Merkle, who has not spoken to reporters before, says he believes the relationship between Breedlove and Adams was more than platonic.

“That was before I knew Beau,” Merkle says. “But based on things Beau said and did, I believe their relationship was sexual.”

Merkle adds that in September 2007, when the Ball rumors were circulating and reporters were poking around, he was present when Adams contacted Breedlove to prepare him for media questions.

(Adams has said he was simply trying to arrange a phone call between Breedlove and Mark Wiener, who is Adams’ political consultant, because Breedlove was nervous and had never spoken to reporters before.)

Merkle says the conversation had an additional purpose. He told WW that when Breedlove went to visit Adams, he took Amtrak trains from Salem to Portland.

Adams and Wiener asked whether Breedlove bought train tickets with a credit card.

“I remember Mark [Wiener] and Sam coaching Beau on what to say,” says Merkle, at whose home Breedlove was then living. “Beau told me they were concerned about what kind of paper trail might exist for Beau’s visits to Sam. It was very fishy.”

Wiener confirms he talked to Breedlove but says, “I don’t have any specific recollections of discussing train tickets.”

Merkle says he also recalls Breedlove later explaining his actions at the Q Center event at which Breedlove apologized to Ball.

“Beau felt that he’d kind of ruined Ball’s reputation by drumming up a false story,” Merkle says. “He told me that’s why he apologized to him.”

On Thursday, Jan. 15, at 7:15 pm, Adams sat down for a 40-minute interview with WW in the conference room adjoining his City Hall office.

Accompanied by Ruiz and his spokesman, former Oregonian reporter Wade Nkrumah, Adams was reserved and, at times, clearly shaken.

He denied ever having had a sexual relationship with Breedlove, but said they have remained friends and continue to talk and text message each other regularly.

Adams acknowledged receiving two gifts from Breedlove—a vase and a blue dress shirt. And despite earlier warnings from his staff to steer clear of Breedlove, he also acknowledged that Breedlove had been to Adams’ North Portland home after returning to Oregon in November 2007. He has also loaned Breedlove his pickup truck.

When asked why Merkle, Vezina and at least three of Breedlove’s acquaintances believed, based on conversations with Breedlove, that he and Breedlove had had sex, Adams declined to offer an opinion.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I wasn’t there for those conversations.”

When asked why Breedlove would tell so many people the same story if it were not true, Adams defended Breedlove’s reputation.

“I think Beau is a good guy,” he says. “I think Beau has always been a very good person.”

In a story full of surprising turns, one of the most curious is that Breedlove, after moving from one restaurant job to another, has become a leasing agent at the Wyatt, a new luxury apartment building in the Pearl District.

That career change is notable because Bob Ball developed the Wyatt but sold it just before completion in fall 2007 to a California investor.

Adams says he helped Breedlove get the job by providing him a reference. Merkle says Breedlove had no previous real estate experience.

Last summer, a representative from the Wyatt asked Mayor-elect Adams to cut the ribbon at the building’s grand opening.

Initially, an Adams staffer declined the invitation. But then Breedlove called and asked Adams to reconsider and he agreed.

“Beau gave Sam a call and got Sam to do it,” Merkle says. “I guess Sam owed him one.”

The Story Timeline

The Reaction

Standing alone in front of dozens of cameras and reporters, Mayor Sam Adams said Tuesday he would not resign unless his service was “no longer in the city’s interest.”

“Although my relationship with Beau was consensual and legal, it was inappropriate,” Adams told reporters at a press conference attended by Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish. A Democrat, Adams was sworn in less than three weeks ago to the nonpartisan mayor’s job.

On Monday, Commissioner Randy Leonard defended Adams, calling the matter “nobody’s business.” He said he’d asked Adams before the story broke in 2007 if Adams had sex with a minor. He says Adams told him no. “He never lied to me,” Leonard said Monday. “I’m a little put off that this is considered newsworthy.”

By Tuesday, Leonard had reconsidered and called for an investigation of Adams’ relationship with Breedlove.

“Randy is increasingly aware how outspoken he was on Sam’s behalf,” said Leonard chief of staff Ty Kovatch.

Fish, who lost a council race to Adams in 2004, also said he supports an investigation. Commissioner Dan Saltzman was at the Oregon Coast on Tuesday and unreachable for comment until Thursday, Jan. 22, said his chief of staff, Brendan Finn.

Fritz said at the Tuesday press conference it was important to recognize Adams had acknowledged his mistake. She blamed WW for publishing its story Monday and overshadowing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and President Obama’s inauguration.

Bob Ball, who was vilified by many in 2007 when he first raised concerns about Adams and Breedlove, says he’s gotten a flood of supportive emails and phone calls since the story broke on wweek.com.

“I feel like I’ve had a fire hose of information coming at me,” Ball said Tuesday. “And I need some time to digest it and sort it out.”

Adams’ political consultant, Mark Wiener, who helped prep Breedlove for reporters’ questions in 2007, said Tuesday Adams lied to him back then and that it’s “up to Portlanders whether he continues in office.”

Police union president Sgt. Scott Westerman called on Adams to resign.

Adams’ shocker left even ex-Mayor Vera Katz, who brought Adams to City Hall in 1993 as her chief of staff, wondering what’s next. Said Katz: “Sam will survive this, right?”

—Beth Slovic and Nigel Jaquiss

Police Puzzle

Last fall, one of the biggest puzzles in local politics was Sam Adams’ plan to give the Portland Police Bureau to Commissioner Randy Leonard, even though the highly respected police chief, Rosie Sizer, made it clear she would quit if Adams pulled such a move. The Portland Tribune’s Phil Stanford wrote a September column in which he offered the opinion that Adams was repaying Leonard for backing Adams and trashing his then-close friend Bob Ball when the original Breedlove story broke, and that Leonard was calling in his chips: “Just why is Mayor-elect Sam Adams so stuck on making Randy Leonard his police commissioner?” Stanford wrote. “According to one school of thought over at the cop shop, it all goes back to last fall, when Leonard played an instrumental role in derailing rumors about Adams’ relationship with a 17-year-old legislative intern with the unlikely name of Beau Breedlove.… As the tea-leaf readers over at the Justice Center will tell you, a debt like that is not soon forgotten.” Adams eventually changed his mind and gave the police bureau to Commissioner Dan Saltzman.


In April 2008, WW endorsed Sam Adams for mayor.

According to Oregon law, if an adult male has sex with a minor older than 16, the act is considered contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor.

In 2005, Beau Breedlove worked as an intern to Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer), one of the most conservative members of the Oregon House.

For a decade until 2003, Sam Adams served as chief of staff to then-Mayor Vera Katz.

In addition to working at the Wyatt, Breedlove has an events-promotion business called Beau E. Breedlove Productions.

 
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