Sam shows up, again and again, he’s out in our community, he listens more than he talks, asks questions, offers ideas, takes feedback, respectful, gets things done, monitors progress, keeps at it.”
— Antoinette Edwards, Portland’s Office of Youth Violence Intervention,* Retired
As a kid, Sam grew up in the small coastal town of Newport, Oregon. The local economy was in transition: so many trees had been cut down that the logging industry had mostly collapsed. Sam’s father, Larry, a special education teacher, also worked as a commercial fisherman to make ends meet. But overfishing depleted that line of work. Sam’s father struggled with addiction issues. After his parent's divorce, Sam’s mother, Kara, became a single mom of four teenaged kids. With the help of public student family housing and food stamps, Kara obtained a college education.
At 11 years old, Sam started work as a newspaper delivery boy. He became fascinated by current events, reading each paper, cover-to-cover. As a teenager in a small Oregon town in the 1970s, Sam also struggled with his identity. He didn’t know other people who were gay and was bullied from a young age for being “a fag.” At age 16, he began living largely on his own in Eugene, going to high school there while working as a dishwasher, busboy and cook at Mr. Steak in the evenings and weekends.
This background is why Sam is so passionate about good public policy, helping those in need of a hand up, and fair treatment for all. Effective government programs like food stamps and subsidized public housing were part of the reason he had a place to live and enough to eat when his family struggled. Union-won healthcare was crucial to his father’s addiction recovery.
But unsustainable environmental policies were a major reason the fishing and logging industries had declined, devastating the local economy and the livelihoods of his family and others. Intolerance and bigotry made it much harder for him to accept his true self, and it held him back professionally and personally.
Sam Adams has worked as a county government intern, congressional aide, a campaign manager, mayoral chief of staff, a member of the city council, a Portland mayor, a nonprofit executive director, an environmental think tank leader of a global organization, a columnist, and a consultant. All this work has been dedicated to a common theme: making communities more educated, healthy, sustainable, prosperous and equitable for all.
In his free time, Sam enjoys spending time with his partner, Peter Zuckerman, along with writing, beekeeping, beer-making, gardening, and photography.