Hardly an exoneration

The Oregon attorney general's report on Sam Adams' relationship with a young man still leaves voters decisions to make about the mayor's future.

Considering everything, it remains impossible to describe Attorney General John Kroger's report on the sex scandal engulfing Portland Mayor Sam Adams as an exoneration of the mayor.

The report released Monday merely said there was no credible evidence that Adams broke the law. It's not yet clear why the report does not include $750 in cash payments Adams made to Beau Breedlove in late 2008, just before the story broke about the relationship, even though the AG's investigators reported the payments.

There are, of course, the statements of Breedlove, who said that he and the mayor kissed a couple of times when Breedlove was still 17 but that they waited until after his 18th birthday before they actually had sex.

Breedlove, the AG's people found, was not exactly a credible witness. The paid-for cover photo of a magazine called "Unzipped," a prior conviction of a felony involving deception and Breedlove's effort to shop the story around town made it hard to see a jury believing the young man's version of events.

Of course, we doubt many people see Adams as a paragon of good judgment and restraint just because he managed to wait a whole two weeks after Breedlove's 18th birthday before he had sex with him. But at least it's not against the law. There are plenty of people in public life who couldn't even claim that as an epitaph but, as standards go, we can think of higher.

Which gets us to another, and more important, point about all of this. Certainly, for the moment at least, the AG's report disposes of some of the concrete questions surrounding the mayor's conduct. The temptation is to take this inquiry, look it over and move on. But a higher standard is required on this, too.

Adams went public in January in an effort to pre-empt a Willamette Week story exposing his lies about the affair during the mayoral campaign. Those lies cost Adams public trust and the right to claim a public mandate from the lopsided election. We, and others, called for his resignation.

Now, it seems to us, Adams still must face fully informed voters before he can claim that leadership mandate.

The only real opportunity to do that soon is the recall effort that has grown out of this scandal. In theory, recalls exist to allow voters to remove elected officials for malfeasance or misfeasance in office.

Adams has conducted something of a campaign since January to show his competence and indispensability to the city, judging those things are really what voters care about. Considering the fits and starts of Adams' leadership since then, and the leeriness with which some public figures treat him, we're not sure he's made his point.

Nevertheless, in reality, voters define recall any way they choose. Some may see one directed at Adams as rejection of his understanding of integrity. Some may see it as a statement about gay rights or some other issue in which Adams has been a key figure. Some — as the growing number of eager potential mayoral candidates suggests — may see it as an opportunity.

Others may simply see the whole thing as a bother.

By all accounts this recall effort is an anemic thing right now, generating little interest and raising little money to conduct a credible campaign. But even if it fizzles, it says something about how voters view the whole thing and it remains the first chance for voters to decide Sam Adams' future on the merits.

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