Youngest, first Asian American to serve on Oregon City commission

Clackamas County

Adam Marl was campaign manager for committee to recall former mayor from public office.

Adam Marl, the campaign manager for the effort to recall Mayor Dan Holladay, was appointed to the Oregon City Commission on April 29. (Courtesy photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Adam Marl, 20, made history this week by becoming the youngest and first Asian member ever on the Oregon City Commission.

“I’m looking forward to opening that door and keeping it open for others,” he said.

On April 30, Marl took the oath of office for a city commission seat vacated by Rachel Lyles Smith when she stepped up to become mayor. Marl managed the campaign to oust Lyles Smith’s mayoral predecessor Dan Holladay. Oregon City commissioners unanimously voted April 29 to appoint Marl to the open commission seat.

For the past three years, Marl has been a paid legislative intern for state Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond. Marl will graduate in May from Willamette University with a bachelor’s degree after studying politics and communications.

Marl said applying for the city commission vacancy was not a part of his recent post-graduation plans. Then some citizens encouraged him to apply, and he began to give the prospect some thought.

“I was humbled by their kind words, but immediately remembered that my age and position in life presented some serious hurdles to success,” Marl said. “As I reflected more, I realized I was selling myself short.”

In applying for the vacant commission position, Marl noted he already has established relationships with many regional elected officials. Raised in Oregon City since infancy after his adoption from South Korea, he graduated with honors from Oregon City High School.

“I have demonstrated my commitment to bridging divides as a community organizer,” he wrote to city commissioners. “Young people like me are used to hearing that we will make great leaders in the future, but as I see it, we are already leading. Therefore, it is imperative that our policymaking processes include a diverse array of voices who have a stake in our city’s future.”

Denyse McGriff, who made history in 2019 and 2020 by becoming the first person of color appointed and then elected to the city commission, said she had hoped women would be among the applicants for the lastest open seat, but the commissioners interviewed five men for the position. McGriff saw an opportunity to expand the panel’s diversity.

“We are in a critical juncture in the timeline of our community,” McGriff said. “We have some work to do as a community to help people understand that we want to hear all opinions.”

Marl acknowledged the potential risk of appointing a soon-to-be college graduate, but expressed his belief that elected officials will be justified in their decision to appoint him to the seat.

“I believe my proven track record of advocacy and involvement, coupled with my knowledge and love of our community, makes me uniquely suited to jump straight into the job on day one,” he said.

Marl became campaign manager for the effort to recall Holladay after Dara Kramer, Marl’s former eighth-grade English teacher, was impressed with an anti-Holladay speech Marl made in front of the city commission last June. Kramer introduced Marl to Oregon City resident Jesse Buss, who had been spearheading the recall effort and would later become the campaign’s legal counsel.

As campaign manager of the recall, Marl said he had to endure being targeted by the mayor, who called Marl “that Brown kid” or “the fake Republican.” Marl said Holladay even demanded that Marl be fired from working for the Republican nominee for state treasurer.

Marl faced political opposition from members of a Clackamas County Republican Party committee who voted to support Holladay remaining in office. While most of these committee members are from other areas of the county, Marl and the recall campaign enjoyed support from most Oregon City residents.

City commissioners, Holladay’s four mayoral predecessors, five school board members, the school superintendent, several former county commissioners and thousands of Oregon City voters signed the recall petition and overwhelmingly voted the mayor out of office.

Marl will fill the remainder of Lyles Smith’s term as commissioner through 2022. He would have to run for election in November next year in order to serve a full four-year term from 2023-26. Marl said he won’t be running next year in order to be able to put his full focus on serving as a city commissioner.

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