Former Mayor Sam Adams Prepares to Run for Multnomah County Commissioner

Adams has retained an attorney to contest the details of his abrupt departure from City Hall last year.


Former Portland Mayor Sam Adams is preparing to run for a seat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

Adams, who served as Portland mayor from 2009 to 2013, last sought a political comeback when he ran for City Council in 2020. He hoped to resurrect a career that took him from being the longtime chief of staff to Mayor Vera Katz, to his own City Council seat, to being elected in 2008 as the first openly gay mayor of a large American city. A scandal involving Adams’ sexual relationship with a teenage state legislative intern named Beau Breedlove cost him a second term as mayor.

Adams left politics in 2013, working at nonprofits here and in Washington, D.C., before returning to the ballot for his unsuccessful challenge in 2020 of then-Commissioner Chloe Eudaly (Mingus Mapps won that race).

Mayor Ted Wheeler then brought Adams back as a top aide in 2021. Adams advised the mayor primarily on homelessness and was the architect of a controversial plan to set up large homeless encampments. But the two men had a major falling-out in early 2023 and Adams abruptly left that position. He and Wheeler attacked one another publicly, presenting different explanations for why Adams had suddenly left.

Wheeler told the press he forced Adams to resign after the city received multiple reports that Adams had bullied women at City Hall; Adams insisted he resigned of his own accord after increasingly severe anemia rendered him exhausted.

Now Adams appears to be trying once more to put his name on the ballot.

Adams has been privately discussing a comeback for weeks, looking both at the City Council and the Multnomah County District 2 (North and Northeast Portland) seat vacated by Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who quit to run for Congress. (Hotelier Jessie Burke and former county homelessness czar Shannon Singleton have already announced their candidacies in District 2.)

People familiar with Adams’ thinking believe he has settled on the county race. The first written evidence of his impending candidacy comes in an undated letter penned by Michael Fuller, an attorney representing Adams.

The letter, which Fuller provided to WW, shows that Adams is relitigating the timeline of his 2023 departure: Adams alleges that Wheeler’s office initially failed to disclose an email after Adams’ departure that showed Wheeler signing off on Adams’ drafted resignation letter three days before Wheeler told newspapers he’d forced Adams to resign.

In other words, Adams wants to emphasize that he quit before he got fired and alleges that the email the mayor’s office did not immediately release to the media in the wake of his departure would have supported his claim. (WW did obtain the email in question in early February 2023 in response to a subsequent records request, but did not report on that email.)

“The right of the public to access government records is a very serious matter. Intentionally concealing a public record can have criminal implications,” Fuller’s statement reads. “Based on our review of documents and information available at this time, we believe the city may have misled the public regarding the circumstances of Adams’ departure from his employment, and withheld responsive documents from public records requests made by various news organizations.”

In the email Fuller refers to, Adams sent Wheeler his draft resignation letter—citing increasingly severe anemia as the reason for his departure—on Jan. 10, 2023. Wheeler emails Adams back just minutes later: “Thank you Sam.”

It was not until Jan. 13, after media outlets received records showing that the city was investigating multiple instances of alleged bullying by Adams, that Wheeler held a press conference and said that he demanded Adams’ resignation. Adams vehemently contested the mayor’s timeline then, and he appears to think clarifying the sequence of events will improve his chances of winning the county race.

When reached by phone this morning, Adams declined to confirm that he was running for county commissioner.

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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