On Friday afternoon, Mayor Ted Wheeler spoke with WW and The Oregonian to discuss the sudden departure of his top aide Sam Adams from City Hall earlier this week.
What Wheeler alleges is explosive: that Adams engaged in a pattern of “bullying and intimidation” against women working at City Hall.
“I read in both of your publications that Sam said he’d resigned exclusively for health reasons. He did not tell you the whole story. And I’m compelled to tell you what actually happened. About one and a half weeks ago, I was notified by our human resources department director, Cathy Bless, that there were several complaints that had been lodged against Sam,” Wheeler said. “The complaints centered on bullying and intimidation of a number of employees, all female employees.”
Wheeler said that he asked for Adams’ resignation on Tuesday of this week.
“He wrote a statement about his departure that focused exclusively on his health, and I was extremely disappointed by his statement in the articles that there was no other reason for his departure,” Wheeler continued. “He had an opportunity to own it, and he didn’t. There is no place for bullying or intimidating or hassling behavior [at the city].”
Wheeler said it wasn’t just one or two complaints but several.
Wheeler was joined on the call by his chief of staff, Bobby Lee, and the city attorney, Robert Taylor.
Lee said that the human resources team provided a summary Dec. 27 that outlined a pattern of Adams’ behavior. It was formally shared with the mayor Jan. 4.
Adams told WW Friday morning on a phone call that he left the city entirely because of health issues; he’s been experiencing worsening anemia that left him routinely exhausted, he said. Adams said he left of his own volition and wasn’t fired.
WW reached out to Adams for further comment after Wheeler leveled his allegations this afternoon.
“This is a knife in the back,” Adams tells WW, who denied that Wheeler demanded that he resign. “There must be something else going on behind the scenes.”
In a statement, Adams added: “I would like to see these reports the mayor is referencing, since I never have.”
He added: “He never said that there’s a pattern of bullying. He said that there were some complaints against me, but that was it. And then I talked about just being wiped out, and offered to quit.”
WW asked Adams if Wheeler had asked him to resign, as Wheeler claimed.
“No,” Adams said.
Speculation swirled since Adams’ Tuesday resignation announcement that health was not the primary reason for his departure.
To be sure, Adams’ political career has been a controversial one, tarnished by a sexual relationship with a teenage legislative intern while he was Portland’s mayor in 2009. That intern, Beau Breedlove, alleged that their sexual relationship began before Breedlove turned 18. Prosecutors deemed Breedlove’s allegations not credible, but for more than a year, Adams lied on the record to various outlets about the relationship.
Since rejoining Mayor Wheeler’s office in 2021, Adams paired an encyclopedic knowledge of the city with aggressive and sometimes controversial policy ideas, most notably a plan for six large-scale sanctioned homeless camps paired with a ban on sidewalk camping.
The city has received a number of records requests regarding Adams’ departure that have not yet been fulfilled.