On Tuesday, mayoral aide Sam Adams announced his sudden departure from the city, citing chronic anemia and exhaustion as the reasons. He was gone the next day.
Speculation has swirled since then that health was not the primary reason for his departure.
To be sure, Adams’ political career has been a controversial one, tarnished by a sexual relationship with a teenage legislative intern while he was Portland’s mayor in 2009. That intern, Beau Breedlove, alleged that their sexual relationship began before Breedlove turned 18. Prosecutors Deemed Breedlove’s allegations not credible, but for more than a year, Adams lied on the record to various outlets about the relationship.
Since rejoining Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office in 2021, he paired an encyclopedic knowledge of the city with aggressive and sometimes controversial policy ideas, most notably a plan for six large-scale sanctioned homeless camps paired with a ban on sidewalk camping.
ww spoke to Adams on the phone Friday. In the interview, Adams maintains his health is the sole reason he’s leaving—and that a trip to the Oregon Coast over the weekend with his husband, Peter Zuckerman, made it clear that he had to step away. He could barely drive and couldn’t stay awake, he says.
The city has received multiple records requests about the circumstances of Adams’ departure, which have yet to be fulfilled.
ww asked him about his departure: whether there were there other reasons behind it, what he’ll do next, and whether he’s currently happy. Below are portions of that conversation.
WW: Is there anything else behind your departure other than health?
Sam Adams: No, I mean I’ve been dealing with this on and off for a while, and the fact that it’s come back, with medical intervention, I’m just worn out. The work gives me life, but I just got to step away and do this. It wasn’t the mayor that demanded that I quit, it was my husband.
The mayor’s office seems nervous about records requests being filed about your departure. Do you know why they’d be nervous?
The fact that this is around a medical issue, I’ve asked that any questions about my medical history be sent to me.
We, and we assume others, have made record requests. Do you know of anything that might be telling in those?
Well, Commissioner [Jo Ann] Hardesty had filed a complaint against me related to when I worked with my team and other council offices to clean up Providence Park around the Major League Soccer championship.
To be effective, I can’t be paralyzed by the fear someone might call me an asshole. Every day I get up, I try to channel Portlanders’ frustrations. My style is, I was brought up in my professional life by [former Mayor] Vera Katz and [now-retired U.S. Rep.] Peter DeFazio, and these are people that are and were passionate and not afraid of arguing, not afraid of persuading other people, and sometimes people don’t like it.
The urgency of these times requires an urgent response from the city.
Are you frustrated that people don’t believe you when you say your departure is about health?
No, it’s politics. I knew I needed to step away. This last weekend at the coast with my husband, I was barely ambulatory. He has asked, and now demanded, that I leave, and I had to agree with him.
Were there any tensions with Mayor Wheeler?
He’s been a great boss. He’s smart, asks brutally tough questions, has a great sense of humor.
Could the anemia be a prelude to something more severe?
I do not know. The fact that it came back while I’m actively under treatment for it is what causes the doctors concern. There’s some underlying issue that we have to explore. I’m determined to figure it out and get it fixed.
Why not take medical leave and retain employment?
Lucky, with [my husband] Peter, I have access to health insurance. What I need to address this, and I wanted to get things to a certain point. I just am so passionate about this, I love my team, working with the mayor’s office, I just had to go cold turkey. It’s kind of like breaking up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and I just got to take some time out and reset.
Are you going to run for mayor?
No, I don’t have any intention of running for mayor.
Would you ever run for one of the new council seats under the new form of government?
I’m not even thinking about that right now.
One of the reasons men of a certain age get anemia is because of alcohol consumption. Do you think that’s a factor?
I’m a social drinker, and that’s about it. Alcohol impacts livers and liver malfunction or disease, it’s what I’ve been tested for thoroughly. And that’s not the cause of this.
You’re an intense worker, and you seem like someone who doesn’t do well with idle time. Are you worried about the idle time?
Bright, yes. I’m a client of individual counseling on and off in my life, and I’ve been seeing a counselor for the past year and a half, so I have that if I need it.
I’ve got to go for a whole series of deeper diagnostics, and then I’ll probably drive and walk, and I got to stay active to get oxygen. I’ll be a big user of PDXReporter, or something. I’ll find ways to keep my mind active. I just finished the book Trust, it’s a fiction book. And I’m making my way through the top 10 rated books of 2021.
You’ve been called the shadow mayor. Is that true?
It’s a stupid thing to say. There’s no other mayor than Ted Wheeler.
It’s not a stupid thing, though. There’s often someone behind the elected official who’s pulling all the strings.
There’s only one mayor. My job has been to fulfill the mayor’s vision, and we’ve gone to work. That’s what a good staffer does.
The team in the mayor’s office is just fantastic. I helped hire them, I think Portland is in great hands.
Are you happy right now?
I wouldn’t say I’m happy, no, but I just got to face this health issue. I’ve got to focus on it. I’m determined.
Would you rejoin Wheeler’s staff if you felt better in a year?