Hard as I try to focus on music today — like the amazing Quasi show I saw the other week that showcased spellbinding, outlandish new songs ("Janet Weiss is a religion," someone exclaimed behind me); the Obamastock that many of us witnessed on inauguration night; or the awesome and relatively new band Explode into Colors — all I can think about is Portland Mayor Sam Adams, the first openly gay mayor elected in a Top 40 city. By now, you've probably heard the news: Mayor Adams admitted that he lied about sleeping with an 18-year-old intern named Beau Breedlove. (What a name! Sure, it's not quite Eileen Dover or Seymour Butts, but it's potent nonetheless.)
At least locally, reaction to the news has ranged from disappointment and anger to calls for Adams to resign to frustration that we care at all about a politician's personal life. There are also questions as to whether the affair would have mattered less or more if it were between a man and a woman. The most troubling question for many revolves around whether Adams is still being dishonest about waiting for Breedlove to turn 18 before they began any physical relations. My instinct says that Adams will resign (The Oregonian and Just Out have already called for him to do so), due mostly to the fact that the scandal and resultant chatter will become a huge distraction to both Adams and the city, thus impeding his ability to focus on the issues that really matter.
Selfishly, I'm annoyed that while the rest of the country rides a brief wave of optimism courtesy of President Obama, here in Portland — where we pride ourselves on being nearly impervious to the pettiness that mires other cities — we're stuck in an ethical quagmire, one that feels so... beneath us.
Portland is a highly self-conscious city — a meta-city, if you will — constantly in dialog with itself. The self-obsession, fomented by accolades leveled at us by everyone from The New York Times to Bon Appetit, is a product of our insularity and homogeneity, not to mention progressive politics that veer toward extremism because they're rarely tempered by opposing views. (During the last eight years, it was wasn't merely "I don't agree with Bush," but "Impeach Bush." The occasional McCain lawn sign or bumper sticker stood out as more than a simple difference of opinion. A recent Michael Pollan talk I attended felt more like a religious event than a lecture. Us Portlanders, we already know. Get it?)
Our little Northwest Eden was just waiting for a fall from grace. But instead of just getting Sam Adams out of office because he jeopardized his ability to be seen and trusted as an effective leader, we can't quite wrap our heads around the symbolism of the circumstances — that our liberal city's gay mayor might be setting not just the public's views of gays back, but setting all of us back, including our beliefs. In other words, how can we shape this story to fit our city's idea of progress? Perhaps, in the end, we can't.
Adams' confession reminds us that, though Portland might be exceptional, we're not the exception. Wake up, Portland, and smell the coffee you're likely already smelling; people still lie to get to the top. Our unofficial city mantra, "Keep Portland Weird," has finally been dismantled, but not at the hands of chain stores and suburbanites. Instead, our city's unique status has been compromised by someone we exalted, not only for his leadership, but also for his otherness and our ability to look beyond that. Now, we're forced as a city to feel what we fear the most: utterly, shamefully, normal.