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Bike-friendly former Mayor Sam Adams could be headed back to City Hall

Posted by on January 7th, 2021 at 3:46 pm

Wheeler and Adams working together?
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A bit of interesting local political news got completely buried by the domestic terrorism incident at our nation’s capitol yesterday: The Oregonian reported Tuesday night that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is considering adding Sam Adams to his staff.

This would be the same Sam Adams who, as commissioner of transportation in 2005, passed out “Go Platinum Portland” reflectors atop the Fremont Bridge in 2005, vowed to make Portland the first city in America to have a bike share system long before it was cool, rode his bike to work in his mayoral campaign video, promised to ‘Enhance the safety and accessibility of bicycling for everyone’ in his “First 100 Days” as mayor, built Portland’s first-ever cycle-track, and was considered by some to be, “the most pro-bike mayor we’ve ever had.”

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According to The Oregonian, no formal offer has been made by Wheeler and it’s not yet confirmed what role Adams would play: “But Wheeler and some of his staff and advisers see an upside to a seasoned City Hall power broker, albeit one with baggage, joining his administration, the people with direct knowledge said.”

Wheeler is currently looking to hire a new chief of staff, but it’s unlikely Adams would take the same job he had in 1993 (when he served in that capacity for former Mayor Vera Katz).

Adams left City Hall in 2012 following one term as mayor; a term that was marred by scandal after he lied about a relationship with a 17-year-old intern.

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Given Adams’ baggage, Wheeler needs to be careful how he handles this. If he does plan to bring Adams on board, it would much easier for Wheeler (political optics-wise) if Adams came in as a hired-gun with a narrowly-defined assignment. Wheeler is desperate for help on a number of fronts and Adams is known as a deft City Hall denizen who can bring people together to get big things done (at least he could back in 2012 — which is light years ago in local political terms). He’s also relatively popular. Adams received 59,000 votes in his bid for a seat on Portland City Council last May, just 2,049 fewer than eventual winner Mingus Mapps.

The question is: What issue would Adams work on?

Climate change is an area Adams knows well. After leaving Portland in 2015 Adams was hired to lead the U.S. Climate Initiative at World Resources Institute, a Washington DC-based think tank. A climate change portfolio would also mean Adams could tap into his passion for transportation policy.

On his “Stumptown Sam” website, Adams has laid out a detailed plan on how to tackle Portland’s most pressing problem: homelessness. Adams has a vast professional and personal network and given his past experiences, this is another area where he might be able to offer Wheeler a life raft. Homelessness is also such a big issue in Portland that bringing on a former political heavyweight like Adams could be seen as a reasonable move by Wheeler.

Wherever he ends up, it’s clear Adams wants to return to public service in Portland.

When asked via text today to respond to The Oregonian story, Adams didn’t deny the news: “Nothing more to share,” he texted. “I’ll keep you posted.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Bob R.OGBriannuovorecordJohn MulveySteve Scarich Recent comment authors
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buildwithjoe
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I went to rallies to support him outside city hall. I can still say he does not belong back in our public service. I can still make note of where he went wrong: He obstructed justice and abused power. He may have had a legal relationship with someone in his power, but all HR departments prohibit this. This is the problem with the bike community in general. Very faulty transparency; few apologies for racist systems. Sam had so much potential and wasted it. Other than Bernie, I have never seen a public rally for any lawmaker the size of the rally for Sam outside city hall. It was before I had a mobile phone, so I don’t have any photos.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Adams got more transportation projects funded AND immediately implemented in East Portland than any previous mayor or since. He knows exactly how PBOT operates.

dan
Guest
dan

Please, just no

Even if he still has the juice to get things done (questionable in my opinion, he lost to both Chloe and Mingus), the ends do not justify the means. This is a man who likely used his position as mayor to get out of drunk driving charges. He doesn’t deserve a second round in Portland’s government.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

I’m a fan. City Hall has recently been stacked with sanctimonious, grandstanding navel-gazers. Someone like Sam who has great ideas and can actually get sh&t done would be a welcome change.

Couple-a-Watts
Guest
Couple-a-Watts

We should leave it up to Same victim to decide what is right. Or if the young man is still too traumatized by his experience from then to comment..there’s your answer.

Christian Samuels
Guest
Christian Samuels

I think Sam Adams has served his time. He is a coalition builder and I would welcome his involvement to get Portland back on its feet.
After the recent atrocious assault on Mayor Wheeler he may also need to recruit Jesse Ventura to his team so he can have some protection from the violent leftists here in Portland.

Warning: Video in link has graphic language
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9125107/Portland-Mayor-Ted-Wheeler-punched-dining-outside-protesters-frustrations-boil-over.html

ZBP
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ZBP

Dropping by just to remind everyone that Ted Wheeler did war crimes

Todd/Boulanger
Guest
Todd/Boulanger

As for being Portland’s most “bike friendly mayor” that would be true of the “modern era”…but perhaps not forever as I would assume that earlier mayors (Mayor Williams et al) in the bike’s gilded age did more to facilitate its adoption as a transportation mode with the early bikeways and parkways. Welcome back Sam!

Fred
Guest
Fred

I haven’t read the 16 replies already posted, but my hunch is that we should be so lucky to get Sam back in city gov’t. Yeah he made mistakes – he let personal problems impact his job. But people can recover – do recover – from mistakes (if we let them). Sam knows how to get s**t done in Portland, probably better than anyone.

Eudaly is out and Sam is in?! Bring it on.

RudiV
Guest
RudiV

“Domestic Terror” seems like a a stretch. I don’t recall you referring to the people who assaulted the Hatfield courthouse every night for months as “domestic terrorists”. I fail to see how the behavior of those people is qualitatively different from the behavior of those who stormed the capitol.

Either you condemn this tactic in both cases or neither. You can’t have it both ways.

Simon Mottram
Guest

The photo of Adams almost makes Rapha look cool. Almost, but not quite

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Compared to biden…is he worse? Nope. Portland is weird enough to take him back …

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

I think you are all missing the context. Ted appoints Sam. Sam puts his head down, gets stuff done, does not offend anyone…is granted tacit pardon for all his past ‘sins’….Ted is recalled later this year…new surprise candidate wins replacement election….not an impssible scenario.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Sam Adams was one of the most effective agents for change in City Hall for almost two decades, as Mayor Katz’s chief of staff, as Transportation commissioner and as mayor. To turn him away now due to a personal misstep from years ago would be at best unfair; I have always sensed some homophobia in his treatment by the media and many in the public. Portland can be a prudish town. Let’s welcome him back!

Phil M
Guest
Phil M

Sam’s first action as mayor was to lie to the city. Are there no other choices? Is Portland really that broken?

Matt
Guest
Matt

He should move on.

John Mulvey
Guest
John Mulvey

Sam lies a lot and his positions shift with the winds. His ugly brand of backroom politics led to a plan to destroy Lents Park, and only a massive effort by the community stopped it from happening.

He’s a scandal waiting to happen. He cannot help himself. If Wheeler wants that then Sam’s a great hire.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

Sigh…if our current leadership is incapable of addressing the serious needs of our city without resorting to bringing back a disgraced former mayor as a hired hand, we’re in worse shape than I feared.