Is The Sam Adams Scandal A Witch Hunt?

Sam Adams, openly gay mayor of Portland, admitted that he had an affair with an 18 year-old legal intern in 2005 last month, something which he had earlier denied during his campaign for office in 2007 and asked said intern, one Beau Breedlove, to lie if he were ever questioned over the relationship. His confession came in the form of a lengthy post on the city’s website, a paragraph of which read:

“In the past, I have characterized my relationship with Beau Breedlove as purely non-sexual. That is not true. Beau Breedlove and I had a sexual relationship for a few months in the summer of 2005 after he turned 18 years of age.”

Please go here to find the rest of Sam Adam’s statement.

Citizens of Portland, and indeed people all over the United States, have been vocal in making their opinions on the Sam Adams’ debacle felt, with message boards, newspaper columns and website articles a-plenty, but their protests and calls for Sam Adams’ resignation seem to draw on three main areas of criticism, two of which are, at least on the surface, non-issues:

Firstly, the relationship between Sam Adams and Beau Breedlove was reported to have begun when Adams met intern Breedlove when the latter was just seventeen. Immediately people have jumped on this to cry statutory rape as well as an array of other felonies. However the relationship was a chaste one whilst Breedlove was underage, and started with “just kisses” as Breedlove himself has stated in an interview for an Oregon paper, but after Breedlove’s eighteenth birthday party, the pair’s involvement did become physical.

Many of those voicing opinions on this have cried that Sam Adams is a “pervert”, had “groomed” Breedlove as a pedophile grooms their victims, and that he is a “sociopath predator” – just a few of many of the charming responses placed on message boards throughout the internet.

This is in spite of Beau Breedlove’s own insistence that his and Adams’ relationship was both consensual and physically restrained until he came of age, which would put Adam’s outside of any wrong-doing on that front, even if the distinction between wrong or right was, in this case, months or even days.

Secondly, questions have been raised as to whether the relationship between Adams and Breedlove was not an ethical conflict given Mr. Adams’ position as a councilor at the time. The facts refute this. The emancipated minor Beau Breedlove did take a position as a legislative intern for Representative Kim Thatcher of Keizer in 2005 close to where Adams worked as a city councilor, however he was not, and never had been, in a position where Adams was his superior.

Thirdly, and possibly the real issue in this case, is that Mayor Sam Adams lied. But even that is not the full story, is it? The reason for this controversy is that a gay mayor lied, and that is something, it seems, that is very different.

The fact of the matter is a lot of gay Portlanders are the ones calling for Adams’ resignation. Why? Because he lied about an affair with a young man when, in truth, he needn’t have, and in so doing, he has ruined the small victory that was had by a landslide during the May primaries last year when Sam Adams came to office and took his position, perhaps not with the official title, but certainly with a title that was spread throughout newspapers and internet pages, as Portland’s Gay Mayor. Sam Adams’ assent to his mayoral position wasn’t just a matter of personal achievement or pride, but it was a shared pride, a gay pride, and something for the community.

Now, JustOut, a local gay orientated periodical, has formerly called for Sam Adams’ resignation, as has the Portland Police Union Chief Sgt. Scott Westerman, who states:

“What would happen if a police officer befriended a 17-year-old cadet, or a high-school girl, and waited until the second she turned 18 to nail her?” A point which, as addressed above, is certainly not a detail of luminous quality, but is a faulty analogy as the police officer and cadet clearly have a power dynamic in their work life that Adams and Breedlove did not (at least not professionally), however, it is Sgt. Westerman’s second remark that perhaps finds the truth of the matter:

“How can we as a police union accept a person who addressed the entire city of Portland, demanding that we believe him, demanding that we accept the fact that he didn’t do anything inappropriate?” (Willamette Week Online; James Pitkin; January 20th 2009.)

Not only did Adams refute those claims, but he made a case for it being a matter of his sexuality being under attack during his run for mayor, and perhaps even won his place as mayor based on that sole fact, painting himself as a figure that stood against what was thought to be a smear campaign based on prejudice and dirty tactics. When confronted with the allegation back in 2007, Adams reacted angrily, saying:

“I’m angry, I think [the allegations are] disgusting, they’re totally false,” to which he then added, “[these] are some of the worst allegations you can make against a gay man and it preys on the homophobic stereotypes that a gay man cannot be trusted with young people.”

In lying in this way, Portland mayor Sam Adams gambled his personal reputation and traded on Portland’s own liberal attitudes in order to achieve his position, but in so doing, and in wake of these revelations, he lost much more than just his credibility as a mayoral official. He let down not only his gay constituents, but also every gay American that looked to his election as a sign of change. In so calling out the gay stereotypes that he refuted prior to his ascension to office, Sam Adams has, even if inadvertently, reinforced those same stereotypes in the eyes of the intolerant, the bigoted and those morally opposed to homosexuality.

So Should Mayor Sam Adams resign?
The case is this: who any mayor did or did not have sex with is of little relevance to their job, as long as that individual was on consensual age, something that an independent enquiry will determine in due course. What does have baring is the character of the mayor in question, and Sam Adams has tarnished himself and betrayed the voters who elected him.

The fact is, if you are gay, or any minority, you are held to a higher set of rules than your white, average Joe counterparts. In lying Adams has fallen short of these standards, desperately short, and only time will tell if he can ever claw his way back. But should he be given that time? That is the question. So we ask another which could serve to inform our choice:

Would a heterosexual man who, having had consensual sex with an eighteen year old female intern, lied about it when questioned during their campaign for the position of mayor be given the opportunity they campaigned for and won, be allowed to carry on in public service and possibly make amends for that mistake?

I believe so. Therefore, my answer has to be that Sam Adams should continue in office. What’s yours?

Image by Operators Are Standing By used under the creative commons attribution license.