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Adams survives, but can he improve?

Our Opinion

Sam Adams has proven once again that his unyielding will to be Portland's mayor is stronger than the forces that might combine at any one moment to dethrone him.

But wanting to be mayor is one thing. Actually using the office to provide true leadership to move the entire city forward is another thing.

Adams last week learned that he had survived a second, somewhat anemic attempt to recall him from the office that he arguably won under false pretenses. The explanations for the recall's failure to collect enough signatures were many: The people behind the recall campaign didn't receive all the donations they expected. Some businesses and individuals who might have supported the recall effort opted out because they reportedly feared retribution from the mayor. And apathy among citizens - perhaps in contrast to Portlanders' activist reputation -seemed to make them indifferent to the entire issue of who should lead their city.

It's also entirely possible that a large segment of the population really isn't bothered by the fact that Adams, in order to win office, flat out lied to the public about having sex with an 18-year-old.

Progress can't wait until 2012

Whatever the factors behind the recall's failure, Portland is confronted with two and a half more years of Adams in office before he must stand for re-election. That's too long for Adams' critics - we're among them - to sit on the sidelines and simply grouse. It's also much too long for the city to wait for the type of leadership it needs on issues such as job creation, economic vitality, sustainability, homelessness, transportation, education, police accountability and many other pressing topics.

So what is the answer for Adams? And what is the right approach for those people who support a progressive, outcome-based direction for the city? We don't believe obstruction is the way to go. Looking forward, Adams' success will be judged synonymous in many cases with Portland's success - and everyone should be working for a better city.

But it also is hard to see how Adams ever will reclaim the promise that Portlanders saw when they elected him mayor in 2008. To even come close to recapturing that former place, Adams must be willing to transform into a better leader than he has been - either before the scandal or after.

Part of that responsibility is on him. The mayor must listen and cooperate to a greater degree than ever before. Rather than tackling sweeping initiatives all at once, he must be willing to achieve success in measurable increments that build momentum and propel opportunity for more achievement.

However, some of the burden for creating a better mayor falls on citizens and other public officials who must invest in Adams - for Portland's future sake - and help him improve.

Lead by listening better

Adams has a ways to go. The quality that has kept Adams in office - his sheer determination - also reveals itself in the form of intractability and an unwillingness to consider all viewpoints on topics as important, for example, as the Columbia River Crossing project.

If the mayor acquires a greater capability for accepting diverse voices and forging consensus - not just within City Hall, but without - then he will become the improved leader Portland needs.

In doing so, he may yet regain some of the potential to carry this community forward that he offered voters when he first ran for his office.