The recent bad news that the newly elected mayor of Portland lied to cover up an affair with a much younger man has drawn national attention, including a few lame Jay Leno jokes. (As if there were any other kind.) While the rest of the country indulges its need to crack wise at a train-wreck sex scandal — and certainly there are amusing details, such as the name of the young man (Beau Breedlove) and his dog (Lolita) — we here in Portland have had a more serious task of figuring out how to react intelligently and responsibly in a time of economic crisis.
Here’s the thing: Sam Adams has been a popular figure in Portland for a long time. The unique and historical aspect of his sexuality has been for Portlanders a cherry-on-top similar to the unique and historical status of our new President’s African heritage. We know Adams to be a smart and competent leader; I have personally seen this in action as he dealt with homophobic disruptions at a gay pride parade. No drama, just get on it. The protesters were handled quietly and respectfully without spoiling the festivities. Very impressive.
The quiet competence of Adams leadership is what Portlanders need right now, yet this is what has made the scandal such a shock. We thought he had better political judgment than this. Writing in the Willamette Week, Byron Beck, who counts Adams as a friend, recalls seeing a dark streak of self-destructiveness in him. Yet Beck echoes my thoughts as he argues for retaining Adams as mayor and for placing Adams’ poor judgment in a larger context of homophobia. The whole column is worth reading, so go, do.
One thing that Beck does not mention, given the location of his soapbox, is the responsibility WW bears for investigating the story. While Adams’ cover-up tactics were reprehensible and led many in the queer community to feel rightly betrayed, the investigation into rumors of Adams’ affair with Breedlove were cheered on by his opponent Bob Ball’s willingness to use them for political advantage. Sure, sure, that’s politics. But the fact is had Adams been brave enough to tell WW and Ball, “It’s none of your business,” there would be no scandal. Breedlove himself has insisted that he is “no victim.” Most Portlanders would have respected Adams’ defiance and Breedlove’s agency and elected Adams anyway. So if it is no one’s business, where is the story? Salacious details? Exploiting homophobic stereotypes? If, or really when the state attorney general concludes that Breedlove was indeed 18 at the time of the affair, there goes the crime angle. Woo hoo, nice journalism, WW.