Are the mayor's foibles affecting city business?

Are the mayor's foibles affecting city business? »Play Video
(AP File Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)

PORTLAND, Ore. - Troubling words about Portland's mayor are coming from powerful people in Oregon's capitol.

Four state senators, all Democrats and all representing parts of Portland, said they are concerned about the city's absence in Salem and are wondering whether the city is missing out on opportunities.

"I frankly see more of my constituents from Tigard and their city council than I have of Portland," said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland.

"Any time you have your largest city not with a grand presence, you feel that there is something missing," said Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland.

"The incident that occurred and the difficulty he has got himself into has caused him to lose respect among a number of people and lose credibility, clout, power," said Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland.

Monroe was talking about the mayor's romantic relationship with Beau Breedlove in a bathroom at City Hall.  Breedlove had been a teenage intern at the legislature and while the Attorney General continues to investigate the Adams scandal, the senators wonder about the mayor's political credibility.

When we asked Sam Adams to comment on concerns that the city of Portland is not pulling its weight in Salem, the mayor agreed that changes were in order.

"We need to spend more time down there," he said.  "Our focus on the budget has been intense and all-consuming.  With that out of our way, we'll be able to spend more attention, spend more time and pay more attention to Salem."

An example of Adams' credibility problem in Salem was demonstrated by what played out in a press conference in early April where he called on legislators to support a bill that would give the city more power over builders and how low-income housing is designed.  What he was doing was putting public pressure on Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton. The former KATU political reporter chairs the committee that would have pushed the bill forward.  But Hass said Adams' office messed up a critical lawmaking deadline.

"It was all so silly," said Hass.  "If he would have just called me a week before or his secretary called and said 'look, we dropped the ball on this and we'd like your help,' I would have bent over backwards to do that.  Instead, he calls the newspapers and TV stations and holds a news conference and demands that the chair take action on his bill.  And that's not how it's done here.  That was ridiculous.  The result now is his bill is not going anywhere.  He infuriated the Senate President and members of my committee and I think he embarrassed himself."

And it particularly stung Monroe because he was the sponsor of the bill and was trying to work with construction industry lobbyists on behalf of Adams and the city.

"They totally lost credibility with the development community," said Monroe.  "Down here, you don't pass laws that affect the development community without having them involved."

"If we rubbed folks the wrong way, I apologize in terms of our approach," said Adams.  "But this is a standing priority of the city. My discussions and work with Rod Monroe - we've got to just keep going at it. If we don't get it passed this term, we'll come at it again next term."

"The fact that we haven't had the kind of presence this year yet in the state legislature, I understand and accept that," he continued.  "Just like they've had to focus on an incredible emergency in terms of the needs of the entire state and having to cut budgets.  That's the same thing that's repeated in the county government.  That's the same thing that's being repeated in city government."

But in Salem, funding for the crumbling Sellwood Bridge is at stake.  So is funding for the city-promised Major League Soccer stadium.  Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has asked lawmakers for funding help in the House of Representatives.  Adams said it's Paulson's torch to carry.

But Burdick and Carter, who run the two committees in the Senate where funding comes from, are scratching their heads wondering what the city wants them to do.

"If they're thinking of anything similar as they did with the baseball situation, that would come right to my committee and no one has talked to me about that," said Burdick.

When asked whether she was troubled by what she was seeing, Carter said "I'm not really seeing a lot at this particular time, Dan.  I guess the absence of that would cause some concern."

We asked Adams whether he thought he should step down in light of some lawmakers feeling like his personal problems are getting in the way of the city doing business in Salem.

"There's no evidence of that.  Look in the newspapers.  We continue to accomplish what we need to accomplish."

We also asked each senator whether they thought Adams should step down and each one of them said it was not their place to judge, that it would be up to Portland voters.