What is it about politicians and sex? It seems that every year there are a few more politicians who, um, get caught with their pants down - so to speak. And yes, it's all men (maybe there are exceptions, but none spring to mind).
And so here we are in Portland, Oregon where our newly sworn-in Mayor, Sam Adams, finds himself in the middle of a sex scandal. Sam, who the press loves to point out is the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, had a sexual relationship with an 18 year old man in 2005 (Sam was in his early 40's at the time) and, while running for mayor, vigorously denied it when an accusation was made by another potential candidate. A few days ago, just before a local newspaper broke the story, Sam held a press conference and admitted that he had lied about the sexual liaison, and convinced his young lover to also lie, in order not to jeopardize his mayoral run. And so the scandal swirls and swirls.
The issue here, in my opinion, has nothing to do with Sam having sex - everyone does, I hope. There are a few issues that bother me:
1. Sam lied. He lied to the press and to the public. He now admits to the lie, and asks for the public to forgive this "one mistake" in a long political career. The issue: can Sam be trusted not to lie about other things? How will we know if he is telling the truth?
2. Sam had sex with a teenager. Yes, in Oregon, an 18 year old is considered a consenting adult, but there is something , well, creepy about a 40-something powerful politician having sex with an admittedly confused teenager. Gayness has nothing to do with it, it's just plain out of line.
3. And what does this episode have to say about Sam's judgment? I'd say it shows very poor judgment, particularly for a politician with ambitions of higher elected office. Can we trust Sam's judgment regarding the business of the City of Portland?
The battles are raging in the various media. Some people are defending Sam, others, including our newspapers, are calling for his resignation. Some folks are talking about a recall campaign. Can tar and feathers be far behind?
I don't have a position, yet, on whether Sam should step down or not. But I think the decision has to be Sam's - he needs to look at his role and responsibility as Mayor and decide what is best for the citizens of Portland and the workings of city government. I heard an interview today of the President of the Portland Police Union, who thinks Sam should resign. His issue: as Mayor, Sam is the final word on employee discipline, so what does he do if a policeman admits that he lied about something, but claims it was his only mistake in 20 years of service, and he's sorry?
And so Sam Adams joins the long list of distinguished (and not so distinguished) American politicians who have been caught up in sex scandals, including those of recent memory like Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, David Vitter, Mark Foley and Larry Craig (here's a list of the top 53). Truth be told, I like Sam, and he'll probably be an OK mayor if he hangs on and gets past this - there are other things about his political style and focus that are more bothersome to me. But this situation certainly raises some doubts.