The Portland Tram Test Rescue with Sam Adams

In pursuing his own agenda, Adams, the city’s first openly gay chief executive, already has begun to suggest he will run a transparent city government and an administration that understands the power of multimedia. He posts his priorities and schedule at CommissionerSam.com, a strategically curated site that includes blogs (a headline on one Adams post: “I visited 4 porn stores, 5 strip clubs and 7 bars in 5 hours,” about W Burnside Street traffic); photos (“My favorite rose, Union Station Garden, NW Portland”); and even video, including a weirdly fascinating forty-two-second clip of traffic at SW Sixth Avenue and Morrison Street in 1939. A few years ago, he let Portland firefighters “test rescue” him from the aerial tram by lowering him 150 feet to the ground—still slinging his briefcase, cameras rolling—a stunt that has logged more than three thousand views and that tied him to the tram issue more cleverly than a press release ever could. And during his mayoral campaign, a five-minute “day-in-the-life” video was meant to take viewers up close and personal, beginning with Adams’s morning ablutions at his home in North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood. We see him shave, make coffee, get dressed (tight shots of him cinching his striped tie); we watch him bike to work in his bright-yellow helmet, stopping to report a pothole at 1001 SE Water Ave. While the video actually reveals little more than what kind of coffeemaker Adams uses, it suggests openness and, if nothing else, earnestness. “When you inherit a great city, you also inherit the temptation to rest on past accomplishments, to say, ‘Let’s take it easy, we’ve made enough progress for now,’” his voice-over tells viewers, an online audience of 1,090 if the YouTube count is correct. “Instead, we must draw in our minds the picture of an ideal future: cleaner, bigger (but responsibly), more equal, smarter, even more beautiful. We imagine our future, and then we build it.”

It’s a future that may have impact beyond Portland. For years, other US cities have looked to the Rose City for progressive ideas about transportation and urban planning. As cities scramble for a foothold in developing economies, Adams would like to export to the world the Portland way of doing things, drawing attention especially from countries across the Pacific. He already thinks of himself as Portland’s traveling mayor. He returned from China in September and will go back with local CEOs in April. He wants to find sister colleges in Asia for OHSU and Portland State University, and establish markets for Portland’s “green” expertise in terribly polluted countries like China. And while he’s not known as a fashion maven (“Have you seen how he dresses?” a friend of his once asked me. “He’s the least-gay gay man I know”), he would like to see Portland’s clothing industry one day rival Milan’s. “Sam’s got a city that’s got to figure itself out in a more complicated, global world,” says Len Bergstein, a veteran political consultant who once worked for legendary Mayor Neil Goldschmidt and served as an adviser to Dozono. “Portland is positioned where the world’s economies are heading. It’s a tougher job than Neil had.”

And, therefore, a more visible one.