Oregon Cities

Former Portland Mayor Sam Adams seeks seat on Multnomah County’s board

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A well-known and divisive Portland City Hall figure has set his sights on the Multnomah County Board. Sam Adams, a former Portland mayor and city commissioner who worked for two different mayors, officially announced his bid for a county board seat Tuesday.

Former Portland Mayor Sam Adams, center, pictured in 2020.

Former Portland Mayor Sam Adams, center, pictured in 2020.

Courtesy of Sam Adams

“The current dysfunction in Multnomah County urgently needs to end,” Adams said in a press release announcing his campaign. “I’m running to help fix this, and I have a track record of tackling big bureaucratic problems.”

Adams is running for District 2, a region encompassing North and Northeast Portland that’s currently represented by interim Commissioner Jesse Beason. Beason was appointed to the district in November after Commissioner Susheela Jayapal announced a congressional run. Beason, who previously worked for Adams inside City Hall, is not vying to remain in office. (Beason also sits on OPB’s board of directors.)

Adams said he’s joining the race to address the region’s biggest issues, most of which are the main responsibility of the county — like creating a detox center, improving the intake process for people needing social services, expanding mental health treatment, and ending outdoor homeless camping.

“Too much of the decision-making process at the county lacks focus, urgency, partnership and accountability,” Adams said. “The public wants and deserves more results.”

Adams has remained largely out of the public eye since January 2023, when he left a position as adviser to Mayor Ted Wheeler. Adams was hired in 2021 to help Wheeler tackle some of the city’s biggest crises, like homelessness and gun violence. The separation wasn’t pretty. After amassing nearly a year of internal complaints that Adams was bullying and harassing city staff, Wheeler said he decided to cut him loose.

At the time, Adams told OPB that he had submitted his resignation to Wheeler due to health reasons prior to the mayor’s firing, a move he called “a knife in the back.”

Adams’ political career inside Portland City Hall first crested when he was chief of staff to Mayor Vera Katz, a position he held for more than a decade and which vaulted into a seat on the City Council and, in 2009, the mayor’s office. His single term was defined by commitments to the environment, transportation and police accountability. It also was defined by a scandal: Not long after entering office, Adams admitted to lying about a relationship with a former state legislative intern who was 17 when they met. He’s said that the relationship did not turn sexual before the intern turned 18, Oregon’s age of consent. Adams was not charged with any crimes, and an investigation by the state attorney general cleared Adams of any wrongdoing.

After finishing his term, Adams left city politics until 2020, when he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Portland City Council.

While in Wheeler’s office, Adams worked on programs that required collaboration with Multnomah County leaders, like a plan to build large-scale outdoor shelters, now called “temporary alternative shelter sites” and coordinating regional garbage collection.

City staff have characterized Adams’ leadership style as fueled by intimidation and a “steamroller”-like attitude to people who stood in the way of his goals. This behavior could impact his effectiveness on the county board, a position that relies on strong partnerships with city officials. The job won’t require him to mend his relationship with the mayor, however, as Wheeler won’t be running for a third term in office.

Adams will be facing off against at least two candidates in the May primary election: Jessie Burke, hotel owner and chair of the Old Town Community Association, and Shannon Singleton, an advisor to former Gov. Kate Brown and interim director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services in 2022.


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