Karin Hansen supports the recall of Mayor Sam Adams, but it would be difficult for his supporters to demonize her as a homophobic troglodyte.
In fact, the 47-year-old wife of former Mayor Tom Potter fits the "People's Republic of Portland" like a Dansko clog.
A former teacher at Jefferson High School and the alternative Vocational Village, Hansen is a proud liberal and vocal supporter of gay and lesbian rights.
Inconveniently for Adams, she and her equally liberal and gay rights-supporting husband are also among those Portlanders who have said they would back Adams' recall.
That may not be surprising to some. Potter and Adams fought often when Potter was mayor and Adams was a commissioner. And Hansen and Potter had enough animus for Adams that they supported Adams' best-financed mayoral opponent, Sho Dozono, in 2008.
But in a recent interview at Woodstock Wine Deli—within walking distance of the couple's home—Hansen rejects any notion that her support of the recall arises from past grievances. She says it comes down to her belief from her days dealing with high-school students that Adams took advantage of a teenage boy—no matter how outwardly precocious—and that the mayor can no longer be trusted to tell the truth.
That decision resolved, her main question is why aren't more Portlanders doing what she's done—picking up a petition and trying to get others to sign it before the Oct. 5 deadline.
WW: Why support the recall?
Karin Hansen: As the wife of a mayor, I learned a lot about what is important about being a mayor. It's really more than sitting in City Council. There is this whole leadership component that's about inspiring people and trust and setting a good example. I feel like Sam has taken away from himself that opportunity to be that kind of a leader. In this economic time, it's more important than ever to have a leader who has trusting relationships with the community. When you are a self-admitted storyteller and liar, then you've got some real issues with people trusting you. And I don't know how it's possible to get the work done if you don't have that trust.
You and Tom obviously developed hard feelings during Tom's term. How do we know this isn't just sour grapes?
If anybody's bitter, I'm bitter. Tom has moved on. But what's happened is more evidence to why I don't think Sam is a good leader because he doesn't play fair. To say everybody lies in politics is a bad argument. Everybody doesn't lie.
Why is his apology for lying not enough for you?
Because every time he apologizes, there's a new lie. It's the boy who cried wolf. Eventually you just don't believe him. And I think Portland needs a leader to believe in. I didn't vote for him. I didn't support him. But I don't want to see Portland go down in flames. And it's divided us as Portlanders. It's divided the GLBTQ community. Now, there are people who will argue if you will just get over it, we can move forward. I'm really turned off by politics right now because they're a bunch of cowards. They are quivering and waiting. And they're also not willing to be seen with him. They won't say, "Yes I support him." Or, "No, I don't." Take a stand.
If no politician is going to say anything, maybe Adams' supporters are right and there's nobody out there who could replace him.
It's an interesting point. I have to think about that. Because if nobody's willing to step up, you have to ask what kind of leader would you be.
How about you? You ever think about running?
I was in student government [laughs]. And now my Facebook friends are poking me. If it could work the way I want it to work—the way Tom was doing and he never gets credit for unless you ask the people nobody asks. If we could have this ideal situation where people had integrity and took chances…if I felt like more people were running for office for the right reasons. Not that I think I could be a good candidate, but….
I've heard you enjoyed the job more than your husband did.
Because I got to do the cool stuff. I didn't have to do the drudgery stuff like fight it out with the other commissioners.
It sounds like you're not ruling out a run, but it would have to be an ideal situation.
Who would? Would anybody rule it out? I don't want you to say I would ever consider it. Because I'm retired. I want to go to Mexico when I want to go to Mexico. So it's not anything I'm particularly interested in. But I am politically interested. What I will continue to do is say what I think, whether people think I'm just a crabby old lady or they think she's got it going on.
Who was the catalyst for you and Tom to speak out?
I think I asked him, "Are you going to stand up and say anything about it?" And he said, "I am." Initially, it was, "If people asked, I'll tell them." We were both waiting for leadership to take a stand [laughs].
Are you trying to get other political leaders to come out and take a stand?
No. I did do one door to door. I have a hard time as the wife of the former mayor being aggressive with this. If people are interested in this, they'll ask me and I'll say, "Sure." I don't want people to feel like I'm putting pressure on them.
Have you given recall petitioner Jasun Wurster any advice based on the grassroots race Tom ran in 2004, or maybe even something more concrete, like the email list from that campaign?
We really don't have that big an email list. And Jasun is doing just fine on his own. What happened in Tom's campaign is, people felt ownership because there wasn't big money.
In your heart of hearts, do you think this recall has a chance?
It could go either way. It has the potential. It's about us and whether it matters enough to Portlanders. Tom was outside taking [out] the garbage today at about 9 o'clock, and he came back in saying a couple just stopped by our house on their way to Safeway and asked if we had a petition. Tom said, "Sure." That's pretty cool, don't you think?
Have you lost any friends over your stance?
I don't know yet. Tom told me we might take some abuse for this. But if we believe we're doing the right thing, then we're doing the right thing. If it's out there, it hasn't touched me. I'm having a little quarrel with a high-school friend on Facebook, but he says, "You know what? I still love you." My friends know me and they know who I am.
Why are other prominent people not doing what you've done?
There are people who are so afraid of Sam's retaliation that they will not go public. They will go behind the scenes getting their spouses and neighbors to sign. And [politicians] have got futures they want to protect. But you know, if we get enough signatures for this recall, names all over the political spectrum are going to pop up and say, "I was always for it." I can understand being passionate about recalling him. I can understand being somewhere in the middle. But I don't understand being passionate about keeping him. I want to understand where my friend from high school is coming from.
Really? Retaliation? Are you worried?
I don't foresee any time in the future where I need anything from City Council. I'm not planning on running for office, so I won't need their support. And I don't have a business, so I don't need to worry about a contract with the city.
How real do you think the threat of retaliation is for others?
There are entire communities [minority groups, neighborhoods and others] who are not taking a public stance because down the road, they might want to make a [request]."
Beyond now and the signature-gathering deadline, how do you plan to help?
I don't think there are many people sitting on the fence, so I have helped connect people to the campaign. But as far as something bigger, I don't know. I don't want to be in the way. If he [Adams] is a leader, he should sign the petition so Portlanders can vote knowing what they know now. I don't support him. But if he did that, it would show he had a lot more leadership ability than I thought he had. The whole concept of political capital, his account is empty. If Sam were to put it on the line and he came out still on the job, his account would be overflowing. It's a risky game, but isn't that what leadership is?