For a long time, the political ascent of Sam Adams seemed to have no ceiling.
Adams started as an intern for then-Lane County Commissioner (now Congressman) Peter DeFazio in 1984. He dropped out of the University of Oregon to pursue politics full time. As a legislative staffer and campaign manager in Salem, he proved savvy enough that then-House Speaker Vera Katz took him with her to City Hall when she was elected Portland mayor in 1992.
As Katz's chief of staff for more than a decade, Adams was Katz's gatekeeper and her hatchet man. He immersed himself in the intricacies of city finances and rode herd on projects such as the renovation of the decrepit Civic Stadium (now Providence Park) and the development of South Waterfront and the aerial tram.
With his boundless energy, encyclopedic Rolodex and deep grasp of city issues, Adams had amassed all the tools to run for office himself. In 2004, he faced off against lawyer Nick Fish for a vacant City Council seat. Fish nearly knocked Adams out in the primary, beating him by 11 percentage points. But Adams outworked Fish to win the council seat in the November runoff.
It helped Adams that he was an openly gay candidate in an election year when voters were being asked to ban same-sex marriage. Adams took a leading role in fighting the ban. The measure passed statewide, but a big Portland turnout helped lift Adams to victory.
On the City Council, Adams made clear he wanted to be mayor. In September 2007, rumors circulated Adams had become involved with a legislative intern named Beau Breedlove when Breedlove was 17. When WW and The Oregonian questioned him about it, Adams insisted he was only a mentor to Breedlove. "I have been the target of a nasty smear," Adams said in a Sept. 18, 2007, statement. "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."
He won the mayor's race in 2008, trouncing travel agency owner Sho Dozono, and he took office in January 2009 as the first openly gay mayor of a major American city.
But Beau Breedlove was talking, and the story he told WW contradicted Adams' version. Breedlove said their relationship was sexual. Confronted with Breedlove's account, Adams continued to say he had only mentored the young man. Only as WW prepared to publish the story did Adams admit he had lied. He insisted, however, he and Breedlove only had sex after Breedlove's 18th birthday.
Adams had been in office only three weeks. The city was split between outrage over Adams' lie and anger over what some saw as an unfair intrusion into his private life. An Oregon Department of Justice investigation found no evidence of any crimes.
Adams had arrived as mayor with a mandate but now stood humiliated and damaged politically. "It was like the first stage of a rocket sputtering out," says veteran lobbyist Len Bergstein. âA tremendous waste of political talent.â
To his credit, Adams never gave up. He brought the streetcar to the eastside, passed an arts tax, and increased the city's investment in bicycle infrastructure. He also brokered the deal that turned what was PGE Park into the home of the Portland Timbers and made possible the city's food-cart frenzy.
Adams' attempt to strike a deal for a hotel next to the Oregon Convention Center flopped, as did his plans for an eco-friendly and expensive Oregon Sustainability Center.
In 2011, polls showed Adams could not win re-election, and he announced he would be a one-term mayor.
Now 51, he's executive director of the Portland City Club. He's lost 40 pounds and is still working to have an impact—he's especially proud of a January City Club report on the plight of 340,000 adult high-school dropouts in Oregon.
1974: Mt. Hood Freeway Killed
1975: Soccer City, USA | A Vet Shuts Down Nuclear Power
1976: A Home for Refugees | Intel Changes the Economy
1978: Bill Walton Sits Down
1979: Busing Ends in Portland Schools | Oregon Wine Gets Famous
1982: Courts Pave Way for Nudie Bars | The Other Daily Paper Folds
1984: Satyricon's First Show | A Bartender Becomes Mayor | The Air Jordan Saves Nike
1985: First Female Police Chief Ousted | Wieden+Kennedy's Most Important Ad
1986: Dark Horse Comics' First Issue
1988: Inaugural Oregon Brewers' Fest | Rise of Hate Groups
1989: NW Rowhouses Burn | Gus Van Sant's Portland Hits Screen
1990: Our First Great Restaurant | Oregon's Longest Tax Revolt
1991: Cleaning up the Willamette
1995: Bicyclists Sue Portland
1996: Vera Katz Builds a Wall | March to Save City Nightclub | Powell's Rebuffs Amazon
1997: Path Cleared for Pearl District
1999: Stumptown Coffee Opens | Fight Club Hits DVD
2000: Largest Union Pension Fraud Ever
2003: Fred Meets Carrie | Suicide of Elliott Smith
2004: Gay Marriage Legalized (Briefly) | Goldschmidt Exposed | Eastside Portland Rises
2006: The Death of James Chasse Jr.
2008: Our Fanciest Restaurant Ever Bombs
2009: Sam Adams Admits Lying
2011: Occupy Portland