When I interviewed Sam Adams back in 2005, it was like an aerobic workout. He was midway through a campaign stunt to work at 100 businesses in 100 days, and ideas and energy were spilling out of him. I think I filled an entire notebook in a single evening. At one point we paused in our conversation to watch him deliver his latest sound bite on the television news. It was obvious to me that he was going to win his city council race and move on to bigger things, and he has.
This summer, interviewing the mayor was an entirely different experience. The ideas were still there but the energy was not. Transcribing the tape later, I wondered if my recorder was running low on batteries, he was speaking so slowly and with so little inflection and passion. He sounded like a burnt-out bureaucrat.
This is not surprising. We all know about the sordid sex scandal that surfaced at the worst possible moment, just as Adams was taking office and the economy was crashing. That mess nearly cost him his job, and it hasn’t done the city any good either.
But it’s over. The Attorney General’s office conducted a thorough investigation and found no evidence of criminal behavior. A band of activists attempted to gather enough signatures to put a recall measure on the ballot — and they failed.
It’s time to move past the bickering. There are many reasons for the sluggishness that has crippled Portland’s economy over the past year, none larger than the global financial meltdown and the layoffs that have ensued. But the wasted energy of the Adams sex scandal and the mayor’s fragile hold on power have not been helpful either. Portland needs a confident and bold leader in these times, not a shadow. Adams certainly has his flaws, but he never lacked for energy. Where he erred it was usually on the side of over-doing things rather than complacency. That Clintonesque quality has been missing, and the vacuum in inspired leadership has been a barrier to progress.
Adams has a solid economic strategy that was sorely lacking during the Potter administration. He studied under one of the best in former mayor Vera Katz. Were it not for Katz’s disciplined commitment to holding rainy-day cash in reserve in the interest of maintaining a strong bond rating to enable municipal borrowing, Portland would be in far worse shape. Adams understands this, and he also gets the importance of building on the city’s strengths — in the old economy as well as the new one — to encourage diversification.
Whether you like the mayor or hate him, it is time for him — and us — to get back to work.
Ben Jacklet is the managing editor of Oregon Business.