For those of you not in Portland, you may have missed the bit of controversy surrounding some actions of our mayor, Sam Adams. He had what is apparently a consensual relationship with an 18 year old young man, and then lied about it when asked whether he had. There are now people calling for him to step down. (Just to be clear, the fact that he slept with a man is not the issue at all, the issue is the fact that he was 18).
I want to start by suggesting that this is probably not a huge deal. While it shows truly horrendous judgement, it does not impact his ability to govern effectively. We have learned over the years to separate the private sexual lives of our leaders from their effectiveness in leading. We may not like it, but we have certainly seen enough of it.
Lying to the public about it, while perhaps a bigger deal, is not particularly blameworthy, either. I do not condone lying to the public, but he was lying to the public about an issue which is not our business. I assume that there are appropriate times for public figures to mislead and dissemble. I don’t think it’s a good practice, but I do not believe that a lie is, in and of itself, reason to declare someone unfit to govern.
I want to suggest that what everyone needs to do right now is take a deep breath, relax, and wait a month or two to see how we feel. Sam should certainly not step down at this point. He must let tempers settle and carry on with his plans for Portland. If, in a month, it turns out that this scandal is interfering with his ability to govern effectively, let him resign at that point. Otherwise, I’m hopeful that a month from now this may seem a little silly.
Admittedly, part of my view on this subject is informed by the knowledge that Portland does not have anyone else who can be an effective mayor at this point. We have other competent administrators, but no one who will be a strong leader at this time of economic upheaval. And at this time, we need a strong leader.
Finally, I want to suggest that it may be appropriate for Sam to go beyond a simple apology in making it up to the people of Portland. He has acted inappropriately (if legally). If he is as truly sorry as he says he is, perhaps he should take on a voluntary penance of public service. Not necessarily cleaning up beside roads, but doing some service which he would not otherwise do, that comes out of time which would otherwise be his free time. Again, what he did was not illegal, but it was foolish, and I believe, morally wrong (because a relationship between a 42 year old and an 18 year old can never be a relationship of equals, and because he did lie to us about it). He has embarrased our city, and this scandal is distracting city governement at a time when we can ill afford it. Spending a few hundred hours of service to the community seems like it might be appropriate restitution.