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


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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