Portland voters hoped Sam Adams would be like a windmill when they elected him mayor in 2008—transforming the forces that buffet this city into productive energy.
Instead, Adams finishes his first year in office like a weather vane in a winter storm, spinning furiously and producing little.
And that's why we name him our Rogue of the Year, beating out other worthies such as John Minnis, the former lawmaker and state agency director who capped 30 years of public service last month with a sleazy sex scandal.
To be clear, we're not roguing Adams because he won office in 2008 thanks to a series of lies about a 2005 sexual relationship with then-18-year-old Beau Breedlove (see "Why Adams Confessed," WW, Jan. 21, 2009). No, we're roguing Adams for his behavior for virtually all of 2009 after he admitted lying to win the city's highest elected office.
When an effort to recall Adams surfaced last summer, WW urged the mayor to be the first to sign a petition so Portland could vote on the question "Did the lie make him incapable of serving?" He did not.
That recall effort—and the closure it would have provided—failed (a second recall effort may emerge in January), leaving the city and the mayor estranged from each other.
Today the mayor drifts from contrived photo ops about potholes to whichever overseas sustainability conference will buy him a plane ticket, feverishly recording ethereal "achievements." All that even as Portland reels under 10.5 percent unemployment and Sam Adams jokes, and tries to come to terms with a police union in open revolt.
Adams last week released a multimedia review of 2009.
The mayor did some good work in 2009: He deserves credit for a deal that provided TriMet passes to 13,000 public high-school students. And his conversion of City Hall's lawn to a vegetable garden set a fine example of grow-it-local sustainability.
But most of the dozens of "accomplishments," he claimed, such as attending the "Gaining Ground" conference in Vancouver, B.C., or setting up a pothole "hotline," were less substantial than a butterfly's wing.
In his desire to regain relevance, Adams has shown himself willing to say or do anything.
In 2008, for instance, he blasted plans for a new 12-lane bridge to Vancouver. Then this February, he linked arms with Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard in a strong endorsement of that same 12-lane bridge. But after enviros hammered Adams, he rediscovered what he already knew: A 12-lane bridge is inconsistent with carbon-reduction goals. Now, he's back to being one of the bridge's loudest critics.
Adams proved no more resolute on the fate of Memorial Coliseum. In March, when Portland Beavers and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson proposed replacing the decrepit structure with a baseball stadium, Adams eagerly jumped onboard. When the Trail Blazers and preservationists objected, Adams did a 180 in May and resorted to a favorite tactic—naming an unwieldy "blue-ribbon panel" to process the issue until people forget about it.
Amid all his spinning, he has neglected to bring jobs to Portland or take control of the Police Bureau—two of the most basic tasks for any mayor. Adams is the first mayor in nearly three decades to assign the Police Bureau to another commissioner.
So Adams is our Rogue of the Year—not because he told vicious lies to win the city's highest office and then savaged Breedlove's reputation to save his own skin during a subsequent Oregon attorney general's investigation. Instead it's because, when caught, he put his own preservation ahead of the city's interests.
He could have redeemed himself if he'd done something in 2009. He also could have resigned and immediately filed to run again with voters knowing the whole story. Maybe he would have won decisively and proved Portland has moved on. We'll never know. Here's what we do know: By staying on for another three years, Adams squandered the political capital necessary to lead.
No doubt in 2010 Adams will continue to direct multiple city employees to broadcast his "accomplishments" on Twitter, Facebook and traditional media. But we now wish he had acted on a resignation speech, which later surfaced, that he wrote Jan. 21, 2009, but decided not to deliver:
"At this time of economic crisis this city can ill afford the distraction it would create if I was to continue on as mayor so I resign as of 2:00 pm today."
Adams never gave that speech. And that leaves us with our Rogue of the Year.