Sam Adams, Beau Breedlove, Portland gay sex scandal
Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP
Portland Mayor Sam Adams

Behind the Scenes: Reporting the Portland Mayoral Scandal

February 06, 2009 02:02 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
How Portland’s alternative weekly newspaper was able to force Mayor Sam Adams to admit his affair with an intern, and beat the city’s prominent daily paper to the punch.

Weekly Paper Scooped Portland Dailies

The staff at the Willamette Week had a plan. Mark Zusman, the editor of the Portland, Ore., alternative newspaper would present a few questions to Mayor Sam Adams about Adams’ alleged affair with intern Beau Breedlove. Adams could either cooperate or face reporter Nigel Jaquiss, who had been compiled evidence about the scandal for 16 months.

It came down to Jaquiss revealing all his sources who had contradicted Adams’ adamant denials that there was any romantic involvement between him and Breedlove, now 21. Breedlove was allegedly 17 when the affair began; Oregon’s age of consent is 18.

Newsweek reports that the “good cop, bad cop meeting” came just a few days after an anonymous tip about the affair reached all newspapers in the city. Not wanting to get scooped, “Zusman decided to kick the reporting into high gear.” He and Jaquiss then had to weigh their options: publish what they believed was the truth without confirmation from Adams, or face the possibility of another paper breaking the story.

But just as they were preparing to publish what they had, Adams called, ready to cooperate.

Getting the story was a major accomplishment in itself, but was also notable as the much smaller weekly paper beat out the much bigger and more financially stable daily, the Oregonian. The Oregonian has earned a reputation for missing the big stories over the years, like the Sen. Bob Packwood sexual abuse scandal in the 1980s, reported first by The Washington Post rather than the biggest paper in the politician’s home state. “Now the big boys were getting their hats handed to them again,” reports Newsweek.

The state’s attorney general is currently looking into the alleged affair. Citizens who want Adams to resign spoke out during a recent city council meeting, and there have been protests outside city hall. A number of citizens, however, have rallied around the mayor, urging him to stay in office.

Adams is just the latest in an ever-growing list of mayors and other U.S. politicians caught up in scandal, and his falls within the two most common themes: sex and money.

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Background: America’s long history of mayoral scandals

As for American mayors in relationship troubles, one of the most recent scandals ended the political career of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was forced to resign and spent weeks in jail after he lied about an affair with one of his aides. That scandal included thousands of text messages, some racy, that he sent to his mistress and were later released to the public. Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and resigned in September.

Adams and Kilpatrick aren’t the only mayors under fire this year. Earlier this month, Baltimore’s mayor, Sheila Dixon, was indicted on 12 counts of perjury, theft and misconduct relating to a romantic relationship she had with a developer in the city, The Washington Times reported. As part of those charges, Dixon is also accused of using “gift cards donated for needy families to buy presents for herself around Christmas every year from 2004 to 2007,” the paper reported. The incidents in question allegedly occurred when Dixon was on the city council.

Dixon, like Adams, represents a first to her city: elected in 2007, she is Charm City’s first female mayor. She has also said she won’t resign.

Mayor Adams is hardly alone in dealing with a sex scandal while running an American metropolis. Almost two years ago, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco announced he’d seek treatment for alcohol abuse and revealed he’d had an affair with his campaign manager’s wife. Though some called for his resignation, he stayed on and was re-elected last year.

And the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigo, had an affair with a television reporter nearly 20 years his junior. That sensation came to light about six months after Newsom’s announcement. Villaraigosa, who was married or separated at the time of the affair, is still mayor of Los Angeles.

Last year, Newsweek examined both cases and concluded: “So maybe sex doesn’t kill, after all—politically, anyway.”

Mayors can weather other types of scandals. Marion Barry led Washington when the FBI caught him, on videotape, smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room. Barry defended himself by saying that the government and The Washington Post were conspiring to run him out of office. He was sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted of just one of the 14 charges he faced: possessing cocaine, a misdemeanor, according to The Post. Two years after the trial, he was elected to the city council, and became mayor again in 1994.

Related Topic: Past intern sex scandals

One of the biggest politician–intern sex scandals in recent memory brought down Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. He was accused of having a relationship with Chandra Levy, a young woman from his district who was in Washington, D.C., to intern at the Bureau of Prisons. She disappeared from Washington in May 2001 and the case captivated the nation in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks. Her body was found in 2002, and her murder remains unsolved. But according to The Washington Post, none of the investigators think Condit had anything to do with Levy’s death.

A more recent sex scandal involving young employees concerned Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican who was accused of sending sexually explicit messages to male pages, or teenagers who work at the U.S. Capitol. Foley was never charged with any crime, and has said he didn’t have relationships with the teens, but the scandal did cost him his congressional seat. Two years later, his successor lost the same seat after he was accused of having an affair.

The most infamous of all political sex scandals involving an intern, of course, is the affair between President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was impeached for lying about the relationship while under oath, but was eventually acquitted of the charges and finished his second term as president.

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