Brock Adams, a liberal Democratic congressman who became secretary of Transportation under President Carter and later gave up his campaign for a second term as a U.S. senator from Washington after a newspaper published allegations by eight unidentified women who accused him of sexual misconduct, died Friday. He was 77.
Adams died at his home in Stevensville, Md., after a struggle with Parkinson’s disease, said Ellen Globokar, who had served as his Senate staff chief.
Adams represented Washington state in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1965 to 1977, before serving two years as Carter’s Transportation secretary.
The Washington Post later characterized Adams’ years as secretary of Transportation as “uneven,” saying Carter officials “considered him lethargic in moving toward deregulation of airlines and other administrative goals.” A Wall Street Journal article called him the “biggest disappointment” of Carter’s Cabinet.
After resigning under pressure in 1979 and returning to private law practice in Washington state, Adams unseated Republican Sen. Slade Gorton in 1986. Adams, however, declined to seek reelection in 1992 when the Seattle Times published articles in which eight women said Adams had sexually harassed them.
The newspaper did not name the women in its front-page articles and said none of them had taken their accusations to the police. The paper, however, said seven of them had signed statements saying they would testify in court if Adams sued the newspaper and the eighth had promised to sign a similar statement.
From the early 1970s to the late 1980s, the newspaper reported, Adams had offered some of the women drinks or pills that apparently rendered them unconscious. One woman told the newspaper that when she woke up, Adams was taking her clothes off, and another woman said he raped her in her home.
Adams denied the accusations in an emotional news conference, saying his decision to drop out of the race was “not an admission of anything.”
“This is the saddest day of my life,” Adams said. “I have devoted nearly 31 years to public service. I care for people and have never harmed anyone. But it is not worth it to continue this campaign because of what it is doing to my family, myself and my supporters.”
The women’s accusations were similar to those previously raised by Kari Tupper, a former congressional aide who had accused Adams of drugging her and taking her to bed in 1987. The U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia concluded that Tupper’s accusations, which Adams denied, were without merit and did not prosecute.
The Atlanta-born Adams spent most of his childhood on farms in Iowa and Oregon. After graduating from high school in Seattle in 1944, he enlisted in the Navy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Washington in 1949 and, after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1952, he returned to Seattle to practice law.
He managed John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign in western Washington. When Kennedy took office, he appointed Adams to the U.S. attorney’s office.
After being elected to the House of Representatives, Adams rose to chairman of the House Budget Committee before becoming Carter’s Transportation secretary in 1977. In the Senate, he served on the appropriations, labor and human resources and rules committees.
Former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry, who succeeded Adams in the House, told Associated Press on Friday that Adams was “a caring person, very intelligent and very capable and always believing in the good things about government service.”
Washington state Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt told the wire service that Adams “was a giant when it came to addressing the complex transportation needs of the region.”
“He was instrumental in building up the aerospace infrastructure of this region, as well as our ports and our dominance as a trading center,” he added.
Adams is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; four children, Scott, Dean, Kokie and Aleen; a sister, Phyllis Hayes; and seven grandchildren.