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A Change of Fortune for Politician
Only a few months ago, Portland, Oregon mayor Sam Adams was seen as a symbol of LGBT progress and being compared to Harvey Milk after becoming the first openly gay mayor of a major city. Now, by the time you read this, he may be out of a job.
What happened to cause such a sudden change in fortune?
Adams’s career may go down in flames as the result an of old relationship with a legislative intern with the too-good-to-be-true name of Beau Breedlove. The two met when Breedlove was 17 and Adams was 42, but Adams maintains they did not have sex until he turned 18. It was a short-lived relationship that ended in 2005.
Rumors had circulated about the nature of their relationship during his mayoral campaign, and Adams claimed he was simply a mentor to Breedlove. He eventually issued more emphatic denials, including taking out advertisements declaring himself the victim of a smear campaign based on homophobia, even though the person who raised the issue, political rival Bob Ball, is also openly gay.
After months of denials, last week Adams admitted the rumors were true and that he had ordered Breedlove to lie about the relationship. It also looks like Adams may have given a reporter who was investigating the story last year a well-paying job that she was unqualified for, so calls for his resignation are continuing to grow.
I don’t know if he should keep his job or not, but it’s an interesting, if tawdry, situation that touches on a couple of issues I’d like to mention.
Some observers have pointed to the 25 year difference in their ages as an indication that Adams lacks the self-control and decency needed to maintain his position, since he should have known better than to get involved with someone young enough to be his child. But intergenerational relationships are more common than you may think.
In our culture it’s not uncommon for adults to seek out relationships with people much younger than themselves. For some, it’s an ego boost to date a younger person, as it supposedly validates their desirability in a youth-obsessed world. For others, it is an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with a new generation, particularly if they don’t have children. In honor of Sam Adams, let’s call this a mentoring-with-benefits relationship. Whatever the motivations, you don’t have to look far to find examples of older people hooking up with younger folks. John McCain is almost 18 years older than his wife, and I don’t recall that being an issue during his campaign. It seems like every year there is a story about teachers and students falling in love, or at least lust. In the classic film The Graduate, the affair between the older Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson) and youthful Dustin Hoffman (Ben Braddock) is a major part of the story.
It works in reverse as well, with young adults seeking out affairs with older people. I have known people who felt like from an emotional maturity standpoint, they were more compatible with people 15 or 20 years older. Some use their youthful sexuality as currency, trading it for the material items or security of more established individuals. Some people satisfy a power trip from being sexual with an older person. Some just have a preference for older people.
Will people look at Adams’s sex life and determine he can’t be an effective leader? Recent history is mixed. John F. Kennedy remains one of the most popular presidents despite his affairs being common knowledge. Bill Clinton’s reputation has withstood the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Larry Craig is still in office. On the other hand, Gary Hart had his presidential ambitions ended by the revelation of his relationship with Donna Rice in 1988. Mark Foley was drummed out of office once his controversial communications with Congressional pages became known. And just last year, support for John Edwards evaporated after he admitted to an affair. The line that separates acceptable from unacceptable behavior in the eyes of voters can be very thin.
Finally, does the gay community stand to gain or lose anything if Adams remains in office? Some feel he should resign because he is making all gay people look bad, even if Breedlove and Adams were consenting adults. Unfortunately, members of minority communities are held to a different standard when it comes to perception. That is why there can be such a contentious debate over which images are presented to the media. As someone who was probably aware of the historic importance of his election, Adams had to have known that his relationship with Breedlove would be discovered. Whether the gay community is harmed or helped by Sam Adams depends on if people still consider him representative of all LGBT people, or just another politician whose ego got in the way of his decision making.
From “Blackout” for 1/26/09 by Anthony Rucker
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