[WWEEK.COM BREAKING NEWS - Published Jan. 19, 2009]
Newly elected Mayor Sam Adams admitted this afternoon that contrary to his earlier denials, he had a sexual relationship in 2005 with Beau Breedlove.
Adams made his comments to WW on Monday at 4 pm as it was preparing to publish a story updating a story from September 2007 about Adams and Breedlove, a legislative intern whom Adams met in 2005 when Breedlove was 17.
In that original story, both insisted their relationship was platonic in 2005. But today, Adams said in a telephone interview from Washington DC that the original story was untrue. He said they had sex after Breedlove turned 18 in June 2005.
"I want to publicly acknowledge I made a mistake and apologize for it," said Adams, who is in DC for the presidential inauguration tomorrow of Barack Obama. "In the past, I've characterized my relationship with Beau Breedlove as purely non-sexual and that is not true."
Adams said the relationship lasted for a couple of months in the summer of 2005.
"I should have been honest at the time when this first surfaced in 2007. But I didn't believe that given the way that rumors were being spread—about whether I had broken the law by having sex with a minor—that people would believe me."
Adams says that until now, only he and Breedlove knew the truth.
"Until today I have not discussed the true nature of the relationship with anyone. Not my friends, family, staff or colleagues on the council. I have apologized to Beau Breedlove for asking him to lie for me. I want to apologize to my colleagues for my dishonesty and especially to the people of Portland for my dishonesty. I should have been truthful from the beginning."
The final bit of WW's reporting happened last Thursday night when WW interviewed Adams in his City Hall office and presented him with the evidence that had been compiled over several months.
At that 40-minute interview, Adams again denied a sexual relation with Breedlove.
PHOTO: Sam Adams (left) and Beau Breedlove at a party for The Nines Hotel in October 2008. Photo by Byron Beck.
THREE WEEKS INTO MAYOR SAM ADAMS' TERM, much is new at City Hall.
There are two new city commissioners, a new mayor and an energy that has long been missing.
Everything is new, that is, except for the long shadow of a young man named Beau Breedlove.
Sixteen months ago, Portland's news media jumped on a story about a series of 2005 meetings between Adams, then a city commissioner, and Breedlove, then a legislative intern.
The long-ago meetings became a public matter because Pearl District developer Bob Ball, who, like Adams, was considering a mayoral run, raised questions about whether the relationship between Adams and Breedlove was sexual.
Because Breedlove was 17 years old and a minor when he first met Adams, then 42, the corollary question was not just if it happened, but when.
Ball—who, like Adams, is gay—spoke to his then-close friend, City Commissioner Randy Leonard, in August 2007.
In WW's story ("Mayor's Race Off to Brutal Beginning," WWire, Sept. 17, 2007), Adams acknowledged meeting Beau Breedlove during a trip to Salem.
They met again in the spring and early summer of 2005, including a lunch at the downtown Macaroni Grill and a dinner on June 9, 2005, at the Lotus Cafe near City Hall.
Adams had also said that he and a friend drove down to Salem for Breedlove's 18th birthday party on June 25, 2005.
Adams, now 45, also acknowledged then that his encounters with Breedlove distressed his staff, because they looked inappropriate.
"We made it clear that Sam should be careful," Adams' chief of staff Tom Miller told WW in 2007.
At the time, Adams said he was mentoring Breedlove, and both men said their relationship was just platonic. And Adams claimed Ball was engaged in a dirty tricks campaign.
"I have been the target of a nasty smear by a would-be political opponent," wrote Adams in a Sept. 18, 2007, email released to the public. "I didn't get into public life to allow my instinct to help others to be snuffed out by fear of sleazy misrepresentations or political manipulation."
For about 10 days, the story burned bright. Leonard and others publicly sided with Adams.
And what began as an inquiry into potentially predatory and illegal behavior instead became a story about an effort to destroy Adams' reputation.
THEN THE STORY DISAPPEARED. Ball's political hopes evaporated, and Adams enjoyed an easy ascension to the mayor's office after a late challenge from businessman Sho Dozono.
It all might have ended there. Over the past several months, however, and especially in the past three weeks, WW has obtained new information showing that now Adams and Breedlove are disagreeing about what happened in 2005.
Interviews with acquaintances of Breedlove and Adams, as well as a former newspaper reporter who worked on the original story, suggest the relationship between Adams and Breedlove was sexual. Breedlove's and Adams' actions have provided new clues as well.
Adams is sticking to his original narrative—that he never had a sexual relationship with Breedlove.
At least five others have come forward to disagree.
"People got this story wrong," says Mark Merkle, 39, Breedlove's boyfriend for two years ending in August 2008. "Beau lied. And Sam, not Ball, was the bad guy."
PHOTO: Mark Merkle (right) moved to Portland with Beau Breedlove in 2007. Photo by Byron Beck.
If Merkle is right, and if Adams had acknowledged as much when the story became public in 2007, he would have faced tough but ultimately survivable questions about his judgment.
Now, 16 months later, the stakes are higher. If Adams lied, his actions unfairly blackened the reputation of one man—Ball—while clearing his own path to the mayor's office. New information now raises questions about what decisions he may have made—or may continue to make—to keep the truth under wraps.
Voters have handed Adams the keys to America's 30th largest city. Most Portlanders may not care whom he sleeps with so long as it's legal. But they expect a mayor who is smart enough to level with the public—and who is not beholden to anyone to protect his secrets.
The puzzling relationship of Portland's new mayor with a young man less than half his age is not a story about sexual preference.
Instead, it is a story about candor and the need for the public to be able to trust its leaders.
BEAU BREEDLOVE IS AN ENIGMA. He is a darkly handsome 2005 graduate of Salem's Sprague High School, and a talented pianist. Now 21, he has bounced from place to place and job to job.
Starting last April, eight months after Breedlove briefly made headlines, the story came back to life. Breedlove's curious actions, the decision of some of his acquaintances to speak to WW and, more recently, the circumstances surrounding a surprising new hire by Adams, have provided new information.
On April 23, 2008, Breedlove penned a cryptic blog post on his MySpace page, which was emailed anonymously to WW:
"you know that feeling you get when you come to realize that youve probably done something wrong, and although you really wanted and/or needed to do it, you know it probably wasnt the best decision at the time, or at least not the most honorable," Breedlove wrote.
The post could be read as a harmless evocation of a young man's angst, or as a confession. Either way, WW decided to do additional reporting.
Since then, WW has spoken to three Breedlove acquaintances. All spoke on condition of anonymity. All three say Breedlove told them he had a physical relationship with Adams in 2005, although the men were unsure of whether it began before or after Breedlove turned 18.
Two of them say Breedlove told them about the relationship in early summer of 2005, long before Ball made it an issue. They also say the public explanation both Adams and Breedlove gave the media—that Breedlove was only interested in politics and searching for a mentor—was preposterous.
All three recounted the approximate date and specific location of their conversations with Breedlove.
One of the men, who worked with Breedlove when he was a waiter at Bluehour restaurant, said he was not sure he believed the story because Breedlove might be bragging.
ON JUNE 5, 2008, Breedlove was working as a waiter at a benefit for the Q Center, a Southeast Portland gathering place for gay youth.
Ball, a Q Center benefactor, attended the event at Cacao, a downtown Portland chocolate shop.
Since publication of the original Breedlove story in September 2007, Ball had largely withdrawn from public life.
During the event, Breedlove, whom Ball says he had never previously met, walked up and introduced himself.
Ball, 42, says he was "stunned" by the encounter, but even more surprised when Breedlove apologized to him.
"I wanted to say I was sorry," Breedlove said to Ball, according to notes Ball took after the conversation. "I was very isolated and didn't understand how big this situation was and what was happening," Ball recalls Breedlove saying.
Ball said he believed Breedlove to be apologizing for having lied about Adams.
"Why else would he apologize to me?" Ball says.
Over the past nine months, this reporter has met with Breedlove three times in highly visible public places and has also exchanged phone calls and numerous text messages with him.
Breedlove said the content of those detailed conversations could be used to do additional reporting, but requested that on all occasions—except one—he not be quoted for publication.
In the one exception—on the day after the Q Center event—Breedlove did speak for attribution.
"I apologized for the way the situation [with Adams] was handled," Breedlove said in a phone interview on the morning of June 6, 2008. "I was in Michigan and I didn't know anything about the [mayor's] race."
On Jan. 10, as this story was being prepared for publication, WW emailed Breedlove one last time, seeking public comment and asking him to "respond factually and on the record to a few brief questions."
At 2:59 pm on Jan. 11, Breedlove gave his response via text message:
"I can't say anything. I'm sorry. I'm scared. If the story goes to print without me saying anything, I'm worried I will look like a scumbag. If I do say anything, then Sam's fate is in my hands."
Several recent developments have added to this story. The first happened on Dec. 22, 2008, when Adams hired Portland Mercury City Hall reporter Amy Ruiz to be his adviser on sustainability and strategic planning.
Ruiz, 28, acknowledged in a Jan. 15 interview that she has no experience in sustainability, planning or government.
"This town has a million and a half urban planners, and I'm not one of them," she says.
Ruiz's new salary—$55,000—is substantially more than she made at The Mercury.
Mayors and city commissioners frequently hire people whose enthusiasm exceeds their experience. But it was what Ruiz had done as a reporter—or more specifically, what she had not done—that brought into question Adams' decision to hire her.
PHOTO: Former Portland Mercury reporter Amy Ruiz took a job with Adams in December. Photo by Byron Beck.
In 2007, Ruiz was one of two
reporters who covered the Breedlove story. The other was Scott Moore.
Long after the original story died, Moore and Ruiz continued to pursue the premise that Adams and Breedlove lied. They did so after The Mercury had originally been Adams' strongest supporter—publishing a Sept. 20, 2007, story called "The Scandal That Wasn't There."
Two weeks ago, based on information from people close to Breedlove, WW contacted Moore, who wrote the original article.
Moore said that in September 2007, right after his article was published, he got a call from a source who had been close to Adams. The source said the Mercury had got it wrong and that he was "disgusted" by what he knew.
While Moore wouldn't reveal the source's name, WW has learned it was John Vezina.
Vezina, 47, has worked for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, and was on the campaign board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Adams' biggest 2004 campaign contributor.
While living in Portland in 2005, Vezina volunteered with the local Human Rights Campaign group and the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center. He also dated Adams.
PHOTO: John Vezina, who once dated Adams, told former Portland Mercury reporter Scott Moore that Breedlove told him he and Adams had sex at Adams' house in 2005. Now an aide to newly elected U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Vezina declined repeated interview requests from WW, saying only in a brief phone message, "I'm not the bad guy here." Photo courtesy Seattle Gay News.
On the phone to Moore, Vezina said he was the one who joined Adams in the drive down to Salem for Breedlove's 18th birthday party on June 25, 2005. And he insisted that Adams was lying about his relationship with Breedlove.
Vezina told Moore that while Adams revealed nothing, Breedlove had. Vezina said he ran into Breedlove on a Portland street a couple of weeks after the birthday party. Breedlove told him he had just spent the weekend at Adams' house, where they had sex.
"[Vezina] said it was 'shocking' to him," Moore recalls. "He said, 'People don't usually tell you that kind of thing on the street.'"
"He thought Breedlove was a young kid and that was highly inappropriate," Moore adds.
Now an aide to newly elected U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Vezina declined repeated interview requests from WW, saying only in a brief phone message, "I'm not the bad guy here."
Moore says he and Ruiz worked closely on the story. At one point, Moore confronted Adams with Vezina's story, but Adams denied everything.
Ruiz did additional reporting. She spoke with at least one of the Breedlove acquaintances this reporter talked to, and she pursued Breedlove, who refused several invitations to talk. Breedlove finally agreed to meet Ruiz at Higgins restaurant in the spring of 2008.
Ruiz won't reveal what Breedlove told her, but insists, "Beau never told me they had sex."
Ruiz says during the mayoral campaign she also confronted Adams with the information Vezina provided, but The Mercury never published a revision to its original story. She says that's because she was never able to determine who was telling the truth: Adams or Vezina.
"It came down to a 'he said, he said' situation," Ruiz says. "I don't know what I believed."
Moore, on the other hand, was convinced of Vezina's veracity.
"I was skeptical at first, but quickly came to believe that he was telling the truth about what he had been told," says Moore, who left the Mercury in November 2007 for a job in the secretary of state's office.
Late last year, Adams hired Ruiz. She says her uncertainty about the Breedlove matter did not diminish her interest in applying for a job in Adams' office.
At the same time, she says, "That's a strange unresolved issue to walk into City Hall with."
Ruiz says she never questioned why Adams chose her for the job over other applicants.
"It never crossed my mind that [Adams] might have hired me to keep me quiet," she says.
Adams says she earned the position on merit.
"Amy was hired because of her smarts," he says. "[Her previous reporting] had nothing to do with it."
Asked what he thought of Ruiz becoming Adams' aide, Moore, now a spokesman for the advocacy group Our Oregon, offered a terse "No comment."
THE SECOND DEVELOPMENT that brought forth new information was a Jan. 9 anonymous email sent to WW, The Oregonian, The Portland Tribune, Just Out, The Statesman Journal, The Mercury and KOIN-TV.
The email got right to the point.
"I suggest you follow up on Sam Adams and Beau Breedlove," it said. "You should contact Mark Merkle. He knows and has talked to some people already." The message included Merkle's cell phone number.
Merkle is a Michigan native who met Breedlove while vacationing in Hawaii in 2006, the year after Breedlove first met Adams. Breedlove moved to Michigan to be with Merkle, and the two stayed together for about two years, until August 2008.
They lived in Saugatuck, Mich., where Merkle owned a gift shop and Breedlove worked in a restaurant, until November 2007, when they moved to Portland.
Merkle, who has not spoken to reporters before, says he believes the relationship between Breedlove and Adams was more than platonic.
"That was before I knew Beau," Merkle says. "But based on things Beau said and did, I believe their relationship was sexual."
Merkle adds that in September 2007, when the Ball rumors were circulating and reporters were poking around, he was present when Adams contacted Breedlove to prepare him for media questions.
(Adams has said he was simply trying to arrange a phone call between Breedlove and Mark Wiener, who is Adams' political consultant, because Breedlove was nervous and had never spoken to reporters before.)
Merkle says the conversation had an additional purpose. He told WW that when Breedlove went to visit Adams, he took Amtrak trains from Salem to Portland.
Adams and Wiener asked whether Breedlove bought train tickets with a credit card.
"I remember Mark [Wiener] and Sam coaching Beau on what to say," says Merkle, at whose home Breedlove was then living. "Beau told me they were concerned about what kind of paper trail might exist for Beau's visits to Sam. It was very fishy."
Wiener confirms he talked to Breedlove but says, "I don't have any specific recollections of discussing train tickets."
Merkle says he also recalls Breedlove later explaining his actions at the Q Center event at which Breedlove apologized to Ball.
"Beau felt that he'd kind of ruined Ball's reputation by drumming up a false story," Merkle says. "He told me that's why he apologized to him."
On Thursday, Jan. 15, at 7:15 pm, Adams sat down for a 40-minute interview with WW in the conference room adjoining his City Hall office.
Accompanied by Ruiz and his spokesman, former Oregonian reporter Wade Nkrumah, Adams was reserved and at times, clearly shaken.
He denied ever having had a sexual relationship with Breedlove, but said they have remained friends and continue to talk and text message each other regularly.
Adams acknowledged receiving two gifts from Breedlove—a vase and a blue dress shirt. And despite earlier warnings from his staff to stay clear of Breedlove, he also acknowledged that Breedlove had been to Adams' North Portland home after returning to Oregon in November 2007. He has also loaned Breedlove his pickup truck.
When asked why Merkle, Vezina and at least three of Breedlove's acquaintances believed, based on conversations with Breedlove, that he and Breedlove had sex, Adams declined to offer an opinion.
"I don't know," he says. "I wasn't there for those conversations."
When asked why Breedlove would tell so many people the same story if it were not true, Adams defended Breedlove's reputation.
"I think Beau is a good guy," he says. "I think Beau has always been a very good person."
IN A STORY FULL OF SURPRISING TURNS, one of the most curious is that Breedlove, after moving from one restaurant job to another, has become a leasing agent at the Wyatt, a new luxury apartment building in the Pearl District.
That career change is notable because Bob Ball developed the Wyatt but sold it just before completion in fall 2007 to a California investor.
Adams says he helped Breedlove get the job by providing him a reference. Merkle says Breedlove had no previous real estate experience.
Last summer, a representative from the Wyatt asked Mayor-elect Adams to cut the ribbon at the building's grand opening.
Initially, an Adams staffer declined the invitation. But then Breedlove called and asked Adams to reconsider and he agreed.
"Beau gave Sam a call and got Sam to do it," Merkle says. "I guess Sam owed him one."
ALTHOUGH ADAMS MAY HAVE DISPLAYED POOR JUDGMENT in his dealings with Breedlove, he still possesses the opportunity and skills to become a good mayor.
Other elected officials have thrived after putting themselves in similar positions. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom won re-election after it was revealed that he had an affair with his aide's wife. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's popularity remains undiminished after confessing in 2007 that he had an affair with a television reporter.
In 1989, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) paid 28-year-old Steve Gobie for sex, hired him as a staffer and wrote letters on Congressional stationery on his behalf to probation officials.
Voters have re-elected him 10 times since.
Frank, Villaraigosa and Newsom all have one thing in common: When confronted, they disclosed what they had done.
April 2005 Lobbying in Salem, Sam Adams meets Beau Breedlove
June 9, 2005 Adams invities Breedlove to come to a First Thursday party at City Hall. The two dine afterward at the Lotus Cafe.
June 25, 2005 Adams and John Vezina drive to Salem on a Saturday night to attend Breedlove's 18th birthday party.
2006-2007 Breedlove moves to Hawaii, where he meets Mark Merkle. Then Breedlove moves with Merkle to Michigan.
Sept. 17, 2007 WW publishes "Mayoral Race Off to Brutal Beginning," detailing rumors and Adams' response.
Sept. 20, 2007 After the Mercury publishes an article supporting Adams, John Vezina contacts Mercury reporter Scott Moore.
November 2007 Mark Merkle and Beau Breedlove move to Portland. Adams takes them to lunch at Carlyle Restaurant.
April 23, 2008 Breedlove pens a cryptic MySpace blog post, confessing to an unspecified wrong.
May 20, 2008 Adams beats Sho Dozono 59-33 in the mayoral primary.
June 5, 2008 Breedlove apologizes to Ball at Q Center event.
July-August 2008 Adams helps Breedlove get a job at the Wyatt and agrees to cut ribbon at the building's opening.
Oct. 23, 2008 Breedlove and Adams are both at opening party for the Nines atop the downtown Macy's.
Dec. 22, 2008 Adams hires Portland Mercury City Hall reporter Amy Ruiz.
Jan. 1, 2009 Adams sworn in as Portland's 51st mayor.
The Randy Connection
Last fall, one of the bigger puzzles in local news was the issue of Sam Adams' plan to give the Portland Police Bureau to commissioner Randy Leonard, even though the police chief, widely popular Rosie Sizer, made it clear she would quit if Adams pulled such a move. Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford wrote a September column in which he offered the belief that this was because Leonard had helped Adams with the Breedlove coverup, and that Leonard was calling in his chips: "Just why is Mayor-elect Sam Adams so stuck on making Randy Leonard his police commissioner?" Stanford wrote. "According to one school of thought over at the cop shop, it all goes back to last fall, when Leonard played an instrumental role in derailing rumors about Adams' relationship with a 17-year-old legislative intern with the unlikely name of Beau Breedlove.… As the tea-leaf readers over at the Justice Center will tell you, a debt like that is not soon forgotten." Adams eventually backed off and gave the bureau to Dan Saltzman.
According to Oregon law, if an adult male has sex with a minor older than 16, the act is considered contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor.
In 2005, Beau Breedlove worked as an intern to Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer), one of the most conservative members of the Oregon House.
From 1992 until 2003, Sam Adams served as chief of staff to former Mayor Vera Katz.
In addition to working at the Wyatt, Breedlove has an events-promotion business called Beau E. Breedlove Productions.
Adams has lived in Oregon since he was 2 years old. He grew up in Newport and Eugene, and moved to Portland in 1991.
Adams lived on his own in Eugene throughout most of his high-school years after his mother moved to Portland. He worked as a dishwasher and cook to support himself.