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February 21st, 2007 HENRY STERN | News Stories
 

Silence of the Sam

Will Commissioner Sam Adams let us know what he thinks about charter reform before the May 15 vote?

     
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HOW LONG will commissioner Sam Adams stay tight-lipped on an issue crucial to the future of the city and his political fate?
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Sam Adams provided the crucial third vote this month when he agreed with Mayor Tom Potter and fellow City Commissioner Dan Saltzman to put major changes to Portland's form of government on the May ballot.

Yet Adams hasn't taken a position on the most controversial piece of that reform—whether Portland should move to a stronger mayor system—other than to say voters ought to decide.

Since Adams hasn't ruled out making a mayoral run next year, voters might want to know which side he favors on the May ballot. Even his ex-boss, former Mayor Vera Katz, is among those saying he should announce a position.

But good luck smoking Adams out.

Adams says he hasn't decided yet whether Portlanders should change the system in which the four commissioners share management of city bureaus to one in which the mayor runs all the bureaus with the help of a chief administrative officer (see "As the Charter Turns," WW, Feb. 14, 2007). Adams doesn't even say whether he will endorse one position or the other before the May 15 vote.

Instead, Adams says he could operate under either system and that he may take a pass on a public stance because it might appear he is acting in his own self-interest.

"I think most people would understand, since it changes the current job I have," Adams says.

Before his election to council in 2004, Adams served for more than a decade as Katz's chief of staff—a position that allowed him to experience firsthand the strengths and weaknesses of the current mayor-council system.

And certainly his council mates haven't had any problem weighing in. Potter favors a stronger mayor; Commissioners Randy Leonard and Erik Sten oppose the idea. (Saltzman, however, says he, too, hasn't made up his mind.)

Katz, who has come out in support of the stronger mayor system, says her former employee and Saltzman should end their public silence.

"They all owe folks an explanation about whether they favor a change or not," Katz says. "My sense is, [Adams] understands the measure and he should be able to explain it."

Other political observers think it's only fair that Adams show his cards given the vote's impact on his political future, instead of weaseling out with a record of voting to let voters decide.

"Of course, he should take a public position," says Nick Fish, Adams' opponent in 2004 and now host of a Sunday morning public affairs TV program, Outlook Portland with Nick Fish.

If Potter's charter reform measure fails, it would be a political embarrassment that seemingly would lessen Potter's ability to run for re-election next year. Adams says he can't speak to the political implications for Potter, because "I'm not a confidant of his."

And if Adams wants to run for mayor in 2008 (he says he's not discussing his future political plans until the end of 2007), an open seat would be a much easier contest.

Says Adams, "A lot of people are not going to be hanging their votes on what my endorsement is." Perhaps not, but it would have been nice to know what his position was if and when he runs for mayor.

 
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