A reader told me I suffer from "keyboard diarrhea." Unfortunately, my brain is about to explode with “I told you so," and I can't explain why quickly. Grab your mental TP.
Matt Tully had a fascinating column in the Indianapolis Star last Friday. But for the fact it’s Hoosier common sense and many people can have identical thoughts independently, I’d tell Tully that, while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, God also said, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” The jist of Tully’s column is that the Democratic Party “brand” is tarnished at the city-county level by a run of ethical lapses and public embarrassments. I've heard this “brand” idea before? Where was that? Oh, yeah. I’ve said it for the past three years to anybody who would listen.
The Marion County Democratic Party’s greatest failing is poor candidate recruitment (Ken Ackles, anyone?!?) that leads to embarrassing PR problems, which we follow up by a “circle the wagons” mentality that plays like cover up. And, because Marion County Democratic politics is seen through such a racial prism now, any allegation against an African-American elected official is met with defensiveness, whether the charge comes from inside or outside the party. In fairness, this response is caused, in part, by critics' phraseology. Have you ever noticed how Republicans use the phrase "thug" (which has prevalency in hip hop culture) to describe Andre Carson's followers? You never hear this phrase to describe the Congressman's white supporters, I assure you.
The latest news? An “ethics committee” (well, actually, two Republicans, as Paul Bateman resigned and Bill Oliver didn’t show up) voted to censure Monroe Gray and referred him for criminal investigation by Carl Brizzi.
The committee recommendations were a long time coming. Though the resolution to investigate Gray was sought in March of 2007, my own party sadly voted against an investigation twice. The investigation only passed on October 27, 2008, when the committee was made truly bi-partisan by a Sherron Franklin amendment.
But if the composition of the investigating body was the sticking point, this could have been addressed in March. Had the Democrats simply done then what they ended up doing anyway, they would have preserved their at-large city-county council seats and avoided back-handed compliments from Republican Party Chair Tom John.
Gray’s censure was based on his failure to disclose that his cement company was receiving money as a subcontractor for a major city contractor. This is the same company that has been the subject of several lawsuits, at least one default judgment (where a verdict is rendered against you because you don't even show up in court), and complaints for shoddy workmanship. Gray also suffered a major brain fade over 300 East when he told the Indianapolis Star that he knew nothing about the project, even though his wife, Teresa Gray, was a major investor. Does anybody breathing believe he really didn’t know?
The criminal referral is more troubling. Councilor Gray received a salary from IFD for...well, we’re not sure what he did for IFD, though critics say he was drawing a city salary to lobby the council on behalf of the IFD. We also know that Gray has was not willing to provide a single document – no e-mails, no meeting notes, no correspondence, no day planners – to prove his work for the IFD. The alleged charge, accordingly, is ghost employment. The fact Gray accepted this IFD “job” (and that he voted on a resolution to investigate himself) is terribly troubling.
For Bateman’s part, he resigned from the Committee after he found himself in a firestorm regarding a not-for-profit which is being investigated for a laundry list of financial improprieties. Word is that Bateman is fully cooperating with this investigation, so it is premature to paint him with ANY type of “criminal” brush. He is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. But how can you not paint him as being at least naive?
Paul Bateman is one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in politics. I’ve known him since he helped Pam Carter get elected in 1992 when he was working with the UAW. But I can’t change my approach because I like somebody. That's what gets us in trouble as a party.
When we let you wear the elected Democrat uniform, your obligation to avoid trouble intensifies. Your obligation to pay attention to what those around you are doing intensifies, in particular if you lend your name to their cause. NOBODY believes, “I didn’t know,” even if true. If you cannot handle that reality, DON’T run for office. You will quickly find yourself in a situation that detracts from what the rest of us are trying to get done for Marion County residents.
Tully used another of my frequent metaphors when he said the Marion County Democratic Party was becoming just like the Indiana Pacers. Let me finish the analogy for you since Mr. Tully didn’t.
Jamal Tinsley was shot at outside the Conrad Hotel. Was it Tinsley’s fault?
The public responds in unison: “WHO CARES!?!? It was 3 a.m., Tinsley was a wealthy celebrity, and he drove with a group of friends to a bar where the collective net worth of all the patrons was probably less than the value of one of the flashy cars in which he arrived. What did he THINK was going to happen?”
Nobody cares about the "fairness" of the situation when it comes to pampered players and politicians, except for pampered players and politicians. If you can't deal with THIS fact, don't run for office.
Smart political figures, like wealthy celebrities, do not put themselves in positions where controversy CAN follow. Are you listening, Ron Gibson? They don't associate with people who will get them into trouble? Are you listening, Councilor Bateman? As Gibson now knows, being exonerated of all criminal wrong-doing is NOT the public relations battle. AVOIDING the public relations battle altogether is the battle.
This is a lesson Doris Minton-McNeil needs to learn as well. I do not believe she will be charged with any criminal conduct, nor do I think she intentionally pushed the officer. But anybody who thinks that this is all that matters in politics is delusional.
And the “defensiveness” of which I spoke is best exhibited by a story making the rounds that the IMPD officers who went to Doris Minton-McNeil’s home were "out to get her." The true part of that story is that McNeil apparently met with the district commander for her neighborhood and said some not-too-kind things. But even if you buy the motive part of this story, SHE CALLED THEM. Am I supposed to believe that the officers who were dispatched by the 9-1-1 operator were able to hatch an elaborate conspiracy to make Minton-McNeil look bad before they even knew who she was? If so, that’s seriously quick thinking.
The truth usually lies in the middle. I’m told that Ms. McNeil tried to show the officer’s her business card because she did not believe they were taking her seriously. I can see that. But because McNeil was flashing her business card, who believes she didn't pull the "you can't arrest a city-councilor" card when they tried to place her under arrest. And as a city councilor, she has to know better than anybody the appropriate way to make a grievance about police conduct known. She could have NOT confronted the police, gone to the caucus and formulated a public response, and avoided this entire embarrassment for herself and every other Democrat in the county.
Anybody who heard the 9-1-1 tape (in which she says there is a “pedophile motherf-----” in her house) knows Ms. McNeil was very clearly amped up and/or intoxicated before police got there. Nobody who heard that tape will believe she was not confrontational with the officers in some way, even if they believe she didn't call them racists. Nobody who has ever hung out with an intoxicated friend will doubt that McNeil bumped into the officer by virtue of alcohol-related loss of coordination.
Ms. McNeil could have probably made this whole thing go away by issuing a public apology (without admitting criminal liability). Instead, she opted to put the entire caucus in the spotlight with her.
As for Councilor Bateman, while I doubt the criminal investigation leads to anything, only he KNOWS what it can turn up. If he knows there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING illegal or unethical, then by all means, Councilor, dig in and weather the storm.
But if anything questionable can materialize, Councilor Bateman should vacate now before every sordid revelation becomes "council business." Otherwise, the media will be there, photographing him and the caucus, just as they did with McNeil, and asking all its members for their position on "the Bateman matter."
In short, Bateman, too, decides whether his colleagues avoid the spotlight or get put squarely in it. Don't put them there, Councilor, unless you KNOW there's no way they can get burned.
All elected officials owe at least that to their party.