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Just surviving isnt enough for Adams

Our Opinion

By avoiding a recall election, Portland Mayor Sam Adams may have regained leadership legitimacy he lost in January when he admitted he lied to voters about having sex with an 18-year-old. But what's still not been recovered, and perhaps never can be, is the promise to quickly and significantly move Portland forward - a promise that Adams entered office with just nine months ago.

Since that week in late January when Willamette Week forced Adams to confess dishonesty about his relationship with teenager Beau Breedlove, Adams' leadership has been thrown off balance. He hasn't been the forceful and engaged mayor that many people had hoped for when they voted for him in the May 2008 primary election. He has hardly been persistent or even consistent in following through on multiple initiatives that began with his office.

The start-and-stop pattern of leadership that's become the recent norm for the mayor's office could be attributed to a number of factors - including Adams' typically frenetic way of doing business or a deteriorating economy that put the skids on a number of projects. But there is no doubt that uncertainty about Adams' future also played a role.

The early distraction of explaining his inappropriate personal behavior and, of late, worrying about the recall movement explains some of Adams' lost traction. Weakened community and political support does, as well.

How could anyone have faith in Adams' ideas - such as revamping the Rose Quarter with a new baseball stadium - if they didn't know for sure that he would be around for the groundbreaking? Such doubts, however, were put to rest this week when organizers of a recall campaign announced they had failed to collect enough signatures to force an election against Adams.

Still mayor, but what next?

Recall proponents now say they will try again, with the financial backing of unnamed supporters. But we don't believe a second recall attempt has any greater chance than the first.

Portlanders clearly have insufficient passion for unseating Adams. If they felt differently, the recall campaign would have been swamped with volunteers and people signing petitions.

We continue to believe that Adams' behavior - his lies and his inappropriate relationship with a teenager - was reprehensible. But for the next three years, he almost certainly will remain mayor. So the issue no longer is a matter of who will lead. Rather, it's a question of how Adams can restore respect and esteem to an office he tarnished. And how will he move this city forward at a most critical time.

Portland needs a focused mayor - someone who can have credibility with a Police Bureau, for example, whose union leaders have been critical of him. Or someone who can lead the charge for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River without having to equivocate in fear that he'll lose support from certain quarters. Portland needs a mayor who can attract jobs, create affordable housing opportunities and improve the community's safety and environment.

Success still possible

Portland has had such mayors in the past - most recently in the form of Adams' mentor, Vera Katz, who wasn't afraid to play hardball and push through projects she believed could transform her city for the better.

To get back in the game, Adams must do more than merely survive a recall effort. He now must make amends with his community and with other leaders - many of whom have held him at arm's length for the past eight months. It's up to Adams to figure out how he can once again work effectively with Oregon's congressional delegation and others whose support is necessary for the city to accomplish its goals.

Adams also must bring the city's focus back to what's important: moving Portland forward.

Adams may not be the mayor Portland thought it was electing in 2008. But a chastened and more humble Adams must now work harder and be ever more focused if he hopes to recover some of what he lost.