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I’m disappointed, Sam Adams

Timothy Kincaid

January 20th, 2009

Sam Adams is the newly elected mayor of Portland, Oregon. He is the first openly gay mayor of a major US city. He is also coming under public criticism for a lack of judgment.

In 2005, Sam met a young man with the unlikely name of Beau Breedlove. Beau was 17. The two became friendly and, after Beau turned 18 they had a brief romantic liaison. Sam was 42 and a city councilman.

Now I’m not faulting Sam for finding Beau alluring. Many a relationship has successfully weathered age disparity. And the attentions of a handsome young man can do wonders to the ego when you’ve crossed the 40 divide. And while 18 is awfully young, Beau was also an adult.

But Sam lied. He told the media, the voters, and anyone who would listen that their friendship was simply that of a mentor. And Adams won the election in November May by a landslide.

But surely the Monica Lewinsky scandal has shown us that we can forgive our politicians for their lustful peccadilloes… just don’t lie to us. You can offer “no comment”, you can demand the privacy of your personal life, you can imply that the media is simply prurient, you can “defend the honor of this aide and all aides against besmirchment and insinuation”, but don’t lie.

I’m disappointed in you, Sam Adams.

Comments

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Emily K
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

ew, that’s effin’ gross. Ok? GROSS. I don’t care if he’s a legal adult, that boy is a child next to a 42 year old. and it makes gays come off as aggressive pederasts.

that kid obviously has some severe daddy issues. And i maybe it’s “neat” for him to have an older politician sugar daddy or something, but for gd’s sake, what the hell is a 42 year old man doing hooking up with a barely-not-a-teenager???

Mad John
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Would have been nice if the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city had made it at least a month before his first sex scandal. Thanks a lot, jackass.

AJD
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

My biggest worry here is that right-wingers will try to blow this out of proportion and hold it up as evidence that gay people are untrustworthy and can’t keep it in their pants.

However, I think Adams’ lying says a lot more about American society than it does about him.

From what I’ve read, the reason he lied about it was because it got the attention of the news media and he didn’t want it affecting his mayoral campaign. And therein lies the problem: the fact that what a person does in his or her bedroom matters more than his or her managerial skills.

I feel the same way about this that I did about Bill Clinton’s dalliance with an intern: I don’t care. What I do care about is the fact that someone thought both incidents mattered enough to investigate them and thus put Clinton and Adams in a position where, let’s be honest, any person would be reluctant to tell the truth.

We live in such a puritanical, nosy neighbor culture. The whole reason why either Bill and Monica or Sam and Beau were ever considered worthy of Congressional inquiry or news coverage is because we’ve convinced ourselves that the content of a person’s character is summed up by what they do in bed, that if a guy cheats on his wife or sleeps with someone 20 years his junior, then he can’t possibly be a good or competent leader.

That’s why Adams and Clinton both lied: They both knew that no matter their accomplishments or abilities as political leaders, one blowjob could bring their entire careers crashing down.

But just consider this: Whatever you might think of Clinton’s politics, you can’t deny that he was an effective leader who accomplished a lot in his eight years in office, despite his affair with Monica Lewinsky. By contrast, as far as we know, George Bush has been faithful to Laura, yet he may go down as one of the worst presidents in this country’s history.

I’m not trying to suggest that lying is acceptable, but there’s something seriously screwed up with a culture where politicians have to sleep on eggshells, so to speak.

AJD
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Emily, I’m in a relationship with someone almost 10 years my senior, and I can say unequivocally that I don’t have “daddy issues,” nor do I consider relationships like mine “effin’ gross.” We love each other and are not at all ashamed of our relationship, but we do often hear whispers of “he’s too young/old for the other.”

I think your comment is evidence of the sort of puritanical, nosy-neighbor culture I mentioned earlier.

When a politician’s dating habits are considered newsworthy enough to force him into a situation where he would probably lie about it, I don’t have a lot of hope for gay rights in this country. Opposition to gay rights really boils down to sex and Americans’ discomfort with any sexual activity that goes beyond man-woman-missionary-position-make-baby.

As I once joked with a British friend, “You were smart to kick out the Puritans, but why the hell did you have to send them here?”

Bruno
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

It’s terrible that he lied and I wouldn’t be surprised if steps are taken to remove him. No one likes to be lied too. But it’s about time we all stop worrying about “them” viewing “us” as pedarists, perverts, or untrustworthy sex addicts. The fact that right-wingers are waiting to pounce on anything one LGBT person does to malign the entirety of us is an inescapable reality that nothing will change. In other words: if it ain’t true, they’ll make it up anyway.

Emily K
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Actually, AJD, it’s not the difference of age so much as the ages of the difference. Are you a 17 year old partnered with a 27 year old? Or a 27 year old partnered with a 37 year old?
I’m not calling on this man to step down, i’m not calling for a legal investigation. So please spare me the “puritanical” name-calling.

I feel the same way about a 15 year old dating a 25 year old. One of them has a curfew and homework to do. The other one has a job and goes to bars to have a pint when he’s in the mood. One of them rides a bike to school the other drives a truck to work. See the difference? that’s what I’m talking about. And you and others can disagree, but that’s my opinion.

And if I voted purely by my opinions of which kinds of sex I’m “comfortable” with, man-woman-missionary-position-man-on-top would be illegal. Y’know, because I’m a lesbian. Except that I don’t believe in squelching others’ right to privacy.

Norm!
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Slight, nit-picky correction: Adams was elected May 20, 2008. He won over 50% of the primary vote (58%) so a general election run-off was not necessary.

I speculate that had Adams been honest about the sexual relationship when the allegations were first reported, he may have lost 8% of the vote and been forced to campaign to the general election. However, Portland is an open-minded city that probably would have trusted a truthful explanation and he could have still pulled-off a political victory. However, by lying and maligning an early political challenger’s (who also happened to be gay) accusation about the sex scandal, he secured the political win through deception.

As someone who voted for Adams and unknownly repeatedly his lie in his defense, I do feel betrayed and question his commitment to the truth.

Adams’ 2005 behavior was especially foolish considering the city was still reeling from the 2004 discover of a prior mayor’s underage sex scandal. Also, during the summer of Adams’ relationship, another northwest mayor, Spokane’s Jim West, was in the middle of recall for using his office to troll for teens and young men. So, it just seems foolish Adams took such risks for sex.

AJD
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Emily, I’m in my mid-20s. And I still see nothing creepy or wrong with an 18-year-old dating a 42-year-old, provided that both parties give consent. People that age are capable of saying “no,” after all.

I’m sorry about calling names, but I found that remark a little insulting, and I think anyone in a relationship where there’s that significant an age difference would as well.

In my view, the only people who should be ashamed here are the idiots in the Portland news media who asked about a consensual relationship between two legal adults. That kind of sleazy, tabloid “reporting” is a disgrace to the journalistic profession. Willamette Week might as well have included a sidebar informing readers of who was top and bottom, Breedlove’s and Adams’ respective penis sizes and whether they’re circumcised, maybe with a couple of nude photos of the two.

Timothy Kincaid
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Just food for thought: Don Bachardy was 18 when he met 48 year old Christopher Isherwood. They were together until Isherwood died 33 years later.

Mad John
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

AJD: It’s about a bit more than “a consensual relationship between two legal adults.” There was the smearing of the guy who first raised the story, Bob Ball, and possible misuse of public funds in Adams’ hiring of a local reporter investigating the story for a city job she’s unqualified to do. See http://wweek.com/editorial/3510/12093/.

I don’t think you’ll find many here who care what consenting adults do in private. But those elements make it of public interest.

elaygee
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Is he a legal adult? if so, I could care less how they met and when their relationship turned from friendship to love

Christopher™
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Emily K, you’re totally playing into offensive stereotypes with your views on age differences.

You make it seem like any gay man over 40 is automatically an old troll, and could only possibly be sexually involved with a guy half his age because he lured them into his car with a box of Snickers bars or because the young man is fresh off a Greyhound bus and confused with “daddy issues.” How insulting!

I’m an athletic, single gay guy in my mid-40s, and most people are shocked to learn I’m not in my early 30s. I’m no daddy, and I have no interest in that kind of role-playing or meeting someone who is. (In fact, I find it a huge turnoff.)

I’m not deliberately looking to date someone much younger than I, so the small number of young guys I’ve been involved with over the past few years (between 19 and 22 or so) generally hit on me first. And just because they’re younger doesn’t mean I’m eager to jump into bed with them. They have to be like anyone else of any age I find myself drawn to–attractive, interesting, smart and funny. But if there’s sexual chemistry, then there’s sexual chemistry.

So, I don’t feel the need to “check in” with you and see if it’s okay if we mutually decide to take things a step further. That’s our business.

Just because a younger guy chooses to be involved with someone much older doesn’t mean he’s only attracted to the older guy’s wallet or because he wants to role-play. And just because an older guy chooses to be involved with someone much younger doesn’t mean he’s desperately immature or trying to play Peter Pan. Sometimes gay men are attracted to each other because… they genuinely admire one another! Shocking.

In fact, I’d make the same argument about lesbian women and their relationships. I occasionally see considerable age differences there as well.

Personally, I think the people who complain the loudest about this are just jealous.

AJD
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

Mad John, if memory serves, he hired the reporter to persuade her to keep her mouth shut. The bottom like is that Bob Ball should never have brought it up.

The fact that a blowjob is enough to lose you an election in this country is the real issue. That’s why Sam Adams lied and hired the unqualified reporter.

Like Willamette Week, the reporter is also a disgrace to her profession, both for thinking that Adams’ relationship with Breedlove was newsworthy and for accepting what amounts to hush money.

Pender
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

How confident are we that the relationship turned sexual only after Breedlove turned 18?

I’m very disappointed in Adams. The issue is NOT that I find the age difference to be distasteful and creepy (although I do); the issue is that Adams placed himself in the public eye with the understanding that he would be seen as a standard-bearer for all gay people but with this skeleton in his closet that reinforces the anti-gay prejudices of mainstream society.

How many Portland voters will now never vote for a gay candidate again? How many of them have become opponents of our basic rights because of Adams’ behavior?

I know that Adams has a right to fuck whomever he wants to fuck (provided Breedlove was over the age of consent, which I believe is 18 and which I am not at all willing to take on faith) — but he also had a responsibility to comport himself in a way that his constituents find acceptable so as not to betray the people who trusted him with their votes.

And, for what it’s worth, blaming the press for prying into a politician’s personal life is like blaming water for being wet. Of course they’re going to do that; it’s their nature, and if it weren’t, market pressures would replace them with someone else. Calling this “the bottom line” and bellicosely ending the inquiry there is a great way to ensure that one’s arguments will never lead to a productive conclusion.

Mad John
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

I understand what you’re saying, AJD, but if the relationship started when Breedlove was 17, then it’s a crime and hence a story. The only way to determine that – besides relying solely on the word of the confessed liar Adams – is for the media to investigate it. No way should they ever stop just because some politician says “Nothing to see here.”

Had Adams been honest from the outset, knowing Portland, I believe he’d have still won the election.

AJD
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

Mad John, the thing is, it didn’t start when Breedlove was 17, as far as we know. Until Breedlove or Adams comes out and says they were having sex while Breedlove was underage, then the relationship is irrelevant. Bob Ball could have simply asked Adams privately, but instead, he chose to make it a matter of public record, while the Portland media further blew it up by turning it into a bigger issue than it really was.

I still don’t blame Adams for lying any more than I blame Bill Clinton for lying. “Are you having sex with this person” is a very personal and embarrassing question and completely inappropriate for public consumption. But if either Clinton or Adams had said “None of your business,” that would be tantamount to saying “yes” (think Clay Aiken and his attempts to deflect questions about his sexuality with “none of your business”-type responses) so the only real choice either of them had to avoid embarrassment was to lie.

This goes back to what I was saying about our culture’s puritanism. The only reason why anyone asked whether Clinton or Adams had sexual affairs with anyone is because Americans are a people who actually care what’s going on in neighbors’ and leaders’ private lives.

Adams didn’t lie because he lacks integrity; he lied because we live in a society where what you do in your bedroom can make people question your integrity.

Emily K
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

Christopher, I couldn’t care less who you schtupp and why. Nor am I asking you or anyone else to “check in” with me before they do for approval. My belief is that what Adams did is creepy. I don’t need your approval to believe what I do, just like you don’t need my approval to believe what you do.

Jim Burroway
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

For what it’s worth, Jerry Seinfeld was 38 when he began a relationship with 17-year-old Shoshanna Lonstein. They were engaged for a while, but broke up about five years later.

A little later, Seinfeld began dating Jessica Sklar, who had just been married three weeks earlier. She divorced and they married in 1999.

It seems to me that the outrage over Sam Adams’ behavior is severely misplaced. We may question the wisdom of his dating an 18-year-old, but it certainly shouldn’t rise to the level of scandal. I don’t recall howls of protest when Seinfeld did the same thing.

CLS
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

Emily clearly has age issues. if a young person has a partner who is about the same age that is fine but the idea of the wanting to be with someone older is abhorrent to her if the age difference is some magical amount — it sounds like she doesn’t mind a young person being with someone who looks young. If the 42 year old looked younger would she be so worried?

The facts are that this is a media beat up. Adams and Breedlove were both legal adults even by Oregon’s silly age of consent law (no state is higher, most are lower). Breedlove was not in a professional relationship (working for Adams). There was no coercion and it appears Breedlove pursued the matter. Many gay men first pursue older men because it could be damn difficult finding someone your own age.

So the relationship didn’t violate the law or any ethical obligations to a subordinate. Neither were involved with someone else at the time so no third party was hurt. The media still asked Adams who he was sleeping with. What right does the media have to demand anyone reveal their sex life to media glare.

The press is pissed off that Adams lied to them. No one seems to be asking about whether the press had any right to ask such things and whether Adams was obligated to answer any intrusive question they put to him. It simply was not the media’s business and not a valid news story. Under those circumstances Adams had the right to lie to the s.o.b’s.

AJD
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

My thoughts exactly, CLS (regarding the media sticking their noses in Adams’ business). I agree with Jim, also. If the affair had begun when Breedlove was 17, and Breedlove pressed charges against Adams and said he’d been coerced, then an inquiry would be in order; but he didn’t, so there’s no reason why anyone should have asked about the affair.

Personally, I consider 18 to be a fairly arbitrary age of consent. In most developed countries — and many U.S. states — it’s around 16.

Yeh, But… « ENDAblog
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

[…] get me wrong.  I’m not really disagreeing with the heat being dished out to the mayor from the gay blogosphere, pointing out that he’s just feeding the pedophile stereotype – except to the extent that, […]

Mad John
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

AJD and Jim sort of approach the point I’m about to make here from different directions. The reason there weren’t howls of protest over Seinfeld/Lonstein was because Seinfeld’s behavior was not generalized to other straight men. No one saw that relationship and concluded “All straight men (or comedians or Jews) like teenage girls.” It was seen as one guy conducting himself in a way some people felt untoward.

Questionable behavior by members of minorities, conversely, is frequently generalized to and held against other members of the minority. This isn’t fair, but it’s the truth. That’s where stereotypes come from. Ask any black person how they feel when the perpetrator of a high-profile crime turns out to be black – they cringe, because they know it reinforces the (false) stereotype that blacks are inherently more violent or criminal.

I cringed Monday night. After Mark Foley, after Barney Frank, after Gerry Studds, here’s another gay politician with an interest in young males. To a lot of people outside our progressive little bubble here, folks, that’s a pattern. And most of those folks aren’t real rational about potential threats to their children.

That’s why it’s incumbent on folks like Sam Adams to adhere to a higher standard. His behavior has implications for those of us without his power and privilege. Arkansas just banned gay adoption – anyone think that’s the last such state measure we’re likely to see?

Nonetheless, had Adams been honest about this from the outset, given the nature of Portland, I believe the issue would have come and gone with much less fallout. Instead, his lies led to the slurring of Bob Ball and the apparent buy-off of Amy Ruiz. And, of course, created a national story out of an essential nonstory.

It’s the lying that’s compounded all of this unnecessarily. It’s the lying I’m angry about. And it’s the lying that will make it appear there was something to hide, stoke the perception that gays shouldn’t be trusted around kids, and potentially harm the next gay person running for office or trying to adopt.

Jon
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

While Providence is only 1/3 the population of Portland, I would argue that it’s a “major city” — and one that has had an openly gay mayor since 2002. (And no sex scandals yet.)

Emily K
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

I think what Seinfeld did was creepy too. And the situation involving Woody Allen and his current wife is creepy, even though that is also perfectly legal.

People are welcome to brush off my simple opinions on the matter as psychological issues, diagnose me from their keyboards, and whatever else, that’s fine. Just like it’s ok for me to have my opinion and do the same to them. I’m not changing based on others’ opinion of me, and certainly nobody needs to change based on my opinion of them. Nor am I expecting/hoping for them to.

Emily K
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

One thing I don’t understand about the situation, though:

the fling happened a couple years ago when the kid turned 18 (he’s now 21 apparently) and yet Adams took pains to see that it remained hidden. I don’t understand why, if it is legal and it is simply his preference of age in a partner, he needed to keep it hidden. Why did he need to hide it? Why not be honest about it in the first place since it is not a criminal offense? Is it because he felt his actions, though not illegal, would have compromised his election?

I understand wanting to keep things private, but I’m under the impression that he actively tried to keep the story hidden from view. It’s like he was putting himself inside another closet.

Christopher™
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

Emily K: “I understand wanting to keep things private, but I’m under the impression that he actively tried to keep the story hidden from view. It’s like he was putting himself inside another closet.”

Well, with overreactions like yours, it’s no surprise.

You act as if I’m trying to change your opinion; I’m not. I’m just pointing out that just because others’ dating choices are not yours does not automatically make them “creepy.”

Relationships are often much more complex than at first glance, and while you’re welcome to hold your simplistic moral approach in this area, it is not helpful.

Frank
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

Adams can date who he wants without any persons approval. I think it is great that they got together and didn’t worry about the age thing. What a bunch of crap. As long as the young guy was 18 so what. I have had two long time relationships. One was 13 years younger and the other was 30 years older and I had a blast. Lighten up and give the guy some support.

Emily K
January 21st, 2009 | LINK

Christopher, morals have nothing to do with it. It’s about what I think is “icky.” And I think it’s “icky.” Nothing in my religion teaches me that it’s “immoral;” my parents never taught me it was “immoral.”

On an ethical side, legal or not, I believe certain lines were breached. For example, a doctor is breaching ethics by having an intimate relationship with a patient – even if that patient is the same age and shares the same birthday. It creates a conflict of interest. But it is perfectly legal. Similar ethical lines were crossed when the mentor had a sexual relationship with the “mentee.”

And finally, Adams shouldn’t give two shits about whether I or anyone else thinks it’s “icky” as long as he has strong convictions about the matter. I mean, there are citizens he serves that think gay sexual acts are “icky” (which they are absolutely entitled to that opinion) but Adams didn’t hide his orientation just to appease them. Why should he hide this relationship? Unless he thought it was wrong or something… who knows.

aratina
January 22nd, 2009 | LINK

There is nothing wrong with this. I know of one married heterosexual couple who is 21 years apart (female being older) and another composed of first cousins. Both are doing fine and very happy together and accepted by everyone who knows them. This fake outrage is just more of the same homophobic bile from the media. It is only ok because the mayor is gay.

BobN
January 23rd, 2009 | LINK

“but if the relationship started when Breedlove was 17, then it’s a crime and hence a story”

If a sexual relationship started, yes. Otherwise, no, not at all.

I have always found men in the mid to late 30s to be the most attractive. Adams would certainly qualify. I felt this when I was 15 and I still feel it now that I’m 50. I’ll probably still think it when I’m 90.

I suppose folks like Emily might find both ends of that arc “icky”. I consider it consistent.

BobN
January 23rd, 2009 | LINK

One more thing… Beau Breedlove. Down right Dickensian!

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