IMAGE: Adams Image: Vivian Johnson
A city leader loses his job when the public learns embarrassing details of an affair he’d cultivated in his past.
Mayor Sam Adams’ current predicament? No. It’s the situation faced in 2006 by then-Police Chief Derrick Foxworth.
Foxworth, who retired last October, got shoved out of the chief’s office and demoted as a commander in the aftermath of his affair with Angela Oswalt, a 40-something city employee who worked as a police desk clerk.
Adams faces an investigation by Attorney General John Kroger into his sexual relationship with 18-year-old Beau Breedlove. But the mayor remains in office, backed by a broad swath of supporters, despite Adams’ lying for 16 months about his relationship with Breedlove.
No one’s saying the two cases are an exact legal match. But some black Portlanders see the political result for the white mayor and the black ex-chief as proof that racial double standards still apply in Portland.
“I have not talked to a black person yet who does not see this correlation,” says Fred Stewart, a black real-estate broker who ran for City Council last year. “Every day that [Adams is] there, he is basically saying this is a white man’s world.”
As the Adams drama has unfolded, the parallels with Foxworth have become constant fodder for conversation at barbershops, cafes and kitchen tables, Stewart and other black Portlanders say.
“Obviously there’s a double standard here,” says James Posey, a contractor who ran for mayor in 2004.
Many in Portland’s beau monde continue to back Adams after Breedlove described them kissing in a City Hall bathroom when Breedlove was 17. But black Portlanders remember few residents rushing to Foxworth’s defense after emails he wrote Oswalt describing his “naked brown chocolate body” went public.
Amid a public uproar, then-Mayor Tom Potter demoted Foxworth in June 2006, saying he’d violated the public trust and “failed to set the tone for acceptable conduct.” But with no publicly elected officials now calling for Adams’ resignation, the mayor has refused others’ calls to step down, apologizing and saying he deserves another chance.
All of which has some black residents frustrated in
America’s the West Coast’s whitest major city.
“Derrick had a rough time finding any support at all,” says Lew Frederick, a former spokesman for Portland Public Schools who ran for Multnomah County Commission in 2006. “He certainly found no support in the media.”
Frederick wonders if Foxworth was shunned because he had an affair with a white woman. Compared with how Foxworth was covered in the media, Frederick says Adams is getting a pass.
Foxworth declined to comment on the Adams saga, saying it’s up to voters to decide Adams’ fate. Adams’ office did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Black residents aren’t alone. The Portland police union also noted a disparity in political repercussions between Adams and Foxworth when the union leadership issued a call for Adams’ resignation. Sgt. Scott Westerman, the union president, says Foxworth never lied about his affair and there was never any question that it involved two adults at all times.
“I see drastic differences,” says Westerman, who is white. “One is far more egregious.”
The City Council never voted on dismissing Foxworth, but it discussed the issue at public meetings. In one of those meetings, Adams said people were starting to tell jokes about Foxworth.
“They either shake their heads or roll their eyes,” Adams said then.
Former state Sen. Avel Gordly, who teaches a course on public leadership at Portland State University, declined to discuss race relations in the Adams case. But Gordly, one of Oregon’s most prominent black politicians, notes that Portland’s power structure is backing the mayor with press conferences and rallies.
“Sam lied to gain power. That isn’t all right. And it isn’t all right for the beneficiaries of the lie to prop him up,” she says. “You had the dueling press conferences. Think of the people who have deals in the works, deals on the table. This town is so incestuous when it comes to how politics gets done.”
The fact that no member of the City Council has called for Adams to step down—with commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman appearing at events with Adams’ supporters—is hurting relations between city government and black residents, Stewart says.
“He’s got city commissioners mugging up to the camera with him, like he’s still the golden boy,” Stewart says. “All four of them should stop this madness and do all they can to encourage him publicly and privately to go away.”
READ IT: Click here for the latest updates and complete WW coverage of the Adams-Breedlove story.