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Former Portland Mayor Sam Adams Will Join Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Office, Although Not as Chief of Staff

The former city commissioner and chief of staff to former Mayor Vera Katz came up short in a 2020 election bid but enjoys strong support downtown.

Former Portland Mayor Sam Adams will join current Mayor Ted Wheeler's staff.

The hiring has been rumored since late December, and the possibility was first reported by The Oregonian earlier this month.

The details of Adams' job in the mayor's office remain unclear, but two sources told WW on Monday morning Adams had been hired.

Wheeler's office will also announce a chief of staff today, but it will be someone other than Adams.

Adams could not immediately be reached for comment.

Adams, 57, served as chief of staff to Mayor Vera Katz for nearly three terms, then won a City Council seat in 2004. In 2008, he won a landslide victory in the mayor's race over businessman Sho Dozono only to see his single term hamstrung by a scandal involving his relationship with a young man named Beau Breedlove.

After leaving office in 2013, Adams served as executive director of Portland City Club, then moved on to a senior position at a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, the World Resources Institute. He left that job at the end of 2017 and came back to Portland the following year. In 2020, he challenged incumbent City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly but placed third in the May primary behind Eudaly and now-Commissioner Mingus Mapps.

As Wheeler moved toward a general election victory in November, several of the downtown business leaders who formed an independent expenditure campaign to help him win landed upon the idea of bringing Adams into Wheeler's administration in some capacity. Just how that might work has been a matter of discussion since then. The discussion became more urgent when Wheeler's chief of staff, Kristin Dennis, announced earlier this month she will leave City Hall on Feb. 3 to become chief of staff to Metro Council President Lynn Peterson.

Updated at 2:47 pm

Mayor Ted Wheeler this afternoon made his second high-profile hire of the day, announcing that he'll bring in Bobby Lee, currently the economic development director for the city of Seattle, to be his new chief of staff.

Lee formerly worked at Prosper Portland, the city's economic development agency and, before that, held posts in the administrations of Govs. Kate Brown and John Kitzhaber and served as an elected city councilor in Eugene.

Lee replaces Kristin Dennis, who departs for Metro on Feb. 3. Lee will start work Feb. 22. In the interim, Dennis' deputy, Sonia Schmanski, will serve as acting chief.

"Bobby Lee's public, private and civic experience, along with his work bringing partners together to tackle complex challenges, will help us address Portlanders' top concerns—homelessness, COVID and public safety," Wheeler said. "He knows this community. He knows economic development, which is essential as we support our local businesses through the pandemic. And he has the management experience to get the most from our amazing city team."