Sam Adams
Image: Kate Madden

When Sam Adams filed to run for mayor in early 2008, both he and Portland seemed on the
verge of a triumphal march. The economy was rocking. As the veteran of 15 years at city hall cruised to victory, he set a civil-rights precedent as America’s first  openly gay big-city mayor. 

Instead of a brass-band jubilee, however, Adams’s term turned operatic with the Great Recession and his own Great Transgression (his lie about a relationship with a teenager—former legislative intern Beau Breedlove). As 2012’s political season approached, instead of battling for a second term, Adams opted out. 

But as Adams, now 49, leaves office, Forbes ranks Portland among the top 10 cities for job prospects. He has reshaped city policies on everything from economic growth to racial equity while, in his final weeks, cutting deals for new development and taxes. Whether you love Adams or dismiss him (few people are ambivalent), rest assured the next mayor is unlikely to be as interesting. And so, in the waning days of his tenure, I invited Mayor Sam to answer a few questions, fast. Over two Cape Cods at Nel Centro, he was, as always, game.

After 31 years of political life, what do you most want to do? 

Lose another 30 pounds

What are you most qualified to do? 

Lion tamer

What was the most potent political force when you entered city hall in 1993? 

The Oregonian editorial page

 What is the most potent political force as you exit in 2013? 

That doesn’t exist, and that might not be a bad thing.

 Who or what is the most potent political force not based here? 

Whoever becomes the CEO of Intel, which accounts for 50 percent of
all exports from the region

Whom in the media do you most fear? 

The Oregonian columnist Steve Duin

Whom in the media do you most respect? 

The Oregonian writer Scott Learn. He writes stories that are tough, but are actual
in-depth stories, not just shitty stories pretending to be in-depth.

Had Beau not happened, what could you have gotten done? 

Not answering that question

Had the recession not happened, what could you have gotten done? 

Exponentially more public-private development across the city.
We lost our private partner.

What was the best thing about the recession? 

I got to help reinvent economic development and education. Sixty-five percent of the cuts we made came from administration, so I made the city leaner in ways it should be.

What was the most difficult thing about being a gay mayor? 

Being asked that stupid question

What was the most difficult thing for a gay mayor’s partner? 

Sharing me with 585,000 other people

What was the worst day of your tenure? 

Two in the morning at the scene of a gang shooting outside Season’s bar,
when I had to restrain a mom from crossing the police lines to see her dead son.
I knew her. She knew me. Legally it would have poisoned the crime scene.
I tried to hug her and stop her, and she just started wailing and beating on me.

What was the moment as mayor in which you were most nervous?

When Storm Large got completely naked in a dressing room we shared—because I found her very attractive. I was even more nervous than when I met President Obama.

What does the world get most wrong about Portland? 

That this is the place “where young people go to retire.” We’re one of the nation’s top cities for job growth, and we’ve had a 6 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions.
As someone recently put it, Portland is laughing all the way to economic success.

What do Portlanders get most wrong about Portland? 

That we’re a city of racial equity. We are not. Not even close to Seattle or
San Francisco, and nowhere near our values.

Who is Oregon’s most underrated politician? 

Congressman Kurt Schrader

Who is Oregon’s most overrated politician? 

Might be my next boss, so no comment.

A few words of advice to Charlie Hales? 

Be a leader of the city, not just city government.

Words of advice to those working with Charlie Hales? 

We only have one mayor; make sure he’s successful.

Of those who have never run for the office, who would make the best mayor? 

Scott Andrews, chairman of the Portland Development Commission

Why won’t he run?  

He has a stable and balanced personality.

What’s the dumbest Portland idea that won’t die? 

That nonfluoridated water is somehow good for you

If you could pick one failed initiative to succeed, what would it be?

The Living Building (Oregon Sustainability Center). Portland can’t remain
on the cutting edge of green building by reputation alone.

What criticism of you stung the most?

That I wear a toupee.

What are the odds you’ll do another, nonconsecutive term (à la Kitzhaber)? 

I’m flattered you’d ask. I wouldn’t bet on it.