As the clock strikes midnight tonight, Portland, Oregon residents will welcome both a new year and a new mayor.
Mayor-elect Sam Adams will officially be sworn in tonight, making him the first openly gay mayor of a top 30 U.S. city. Adams won the mayoral primary in May with more than 50 percent of the vote, allowing him to avoid a runoff against his nearest opponent.
The invitation-only ceremony will take place tonight at City Hall, while his public swearing-in ceremony will be held on Monday at a local high school.
Adams, 45, has risen on the force of his liberal and creative ideas, frenetic energy and legendary work ethic.
Although he didn’t campaign on diversity issues, most Portlanders probably know he’s gay. He’s prominent in the gay community’s well-organized national campaign for equality. He raises money for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and said he won’t stop fighting until gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are recognized as equal under the law.
Still, Adams rarely makes an issue of his sexuality, and his opponents in the May primary didn’t raise it.
And that’s just the way Adams wants it.
“I don’t want to be a gay mayor,” he said. “I do want to be a great mayor. There is no gay pothole and no straight pothole. They’re just potholes.”
Adams is truly a mainstream politician, said City Commissioner Nick Fish, a former labor and civil rights lawyer who lost to Adams for a City Council seat four years ago.
“He is focused on bread-and-butter issues: job creation, economic development, getting businesses to come here,” Fish said. “That is not the typical mantra of a Democrat in this community.”
Yet Fish said Adams’ sexuality does have a political impact. As with President-elect Barack Obama, Fish thinks Adams has broken a barrier in part just by being who he is. And that’s important, he said.
“If they knew nothing else about Sam as a candidate, they knew he was gay and that is a powerful thing to young voters and to liberals in general,” Fish said. “The movement for gay rights is the civil rights movement of our time. The movement for gay marriage is the equal rights struggle of our day.”