Thursday, September 10, 2009

Democrats Won't Clear Up Gray Skies

I love my county party. Anybody who says otherwise should expect words. But I am looking for someone - anyone - who has the cajones to make it act right. I started this blog because I was tired of waking up embarrassed by the latest idiocy of a D elected local official. Two years and 328 blog posts later, and the hits keep coming...

WRTV-6 reports yesterday that Democratic City-County Councilor Monroe Gray hasn't registered his automobile in three years. This follows the past two years, during which he received a censure for failing to disclose conflicts of interest, shut down an investigation of his alleged ghost employment, and was hit with a slew of lawsuits filed against his construction company. Oh, he also said he didn't know anything about the 300 East project, even though his wife was a principal investor. There's nothing illegal about that, but, boy, it sure tarnished his credibility across the board.

The Gray news follows a police report last month that Democratic City-County Councilor Doris Minton-McNeil, who was recently acquitted on battery charges, had a neighbor complain on a 9-1-1 call that she was intoxicated and nearly hit somebody with her vehicle. I'm not one who sides with police automatically, and I thought from the outset they exaggerated the battery charge. (As an aside, I would have loved it if Judge Christ-Garcia would have entered findings because I'm almost certain the element the prosecution didn't prove was intent. I bet the contact with the officer was the kind that happens when somebody hammered is trying to navigate through a crowded bar on the way to the bathroom).

I also wouldn't automatically rule out a police vendetta. But now I'm supposed to believe police co-opted a neighbor on the scam? Seriously, what kind of adult beefs with a neighbor to the extent the neighbor calls 9-1-1? Are we running a city or auditioning for Jerry Springer?

Here's my question. When does Democratic Party Chair Ed Treacy, Congressman Carson, the other Democratic members of the city-county council, or anybody else who wants to lead this city from the Democratic aisle say, "Enough is enough!" When do we stop enabling?

The notion that significant party heavyweights have not already asked for these folks' resignations, even if behind closed doors, is inexplicable to me, but I cannot find any evidence anyone ever has. (If somebody out there knows otherwise, feel free to correct me).

Mayor Peterson came close. He was livid, and he wanted to distance himself from Monroe. But some in Mayor Peterson's circle told him he couldn't because he would alienate an African-American constituency he was going to need on election day. By the way, how funny is it that the advisors were white guys? Also, anybody know how that strategy worked out?

Anyway, I wanted to see if any of our would-be mayors (Jose Evans, Brian Williams, Kip Tew, Melina Kennedy, and Joe Hogsett) would close the deal on a wayward councilor, so I sent them all inquiries on their Facebook accounts and/or to their e-mails to see if they would ask for McNeil's resignation either publicly or behind-the-scenes. (I would have kept the responses confidential if they said "behind the scenes," of course.)

Two never responded, and three offered comments that required a bit of "reading the tea leaves." For example, while not answering the question directly, Brian Williams reminded me that when former Colts Mike Vanderjagt got liquored up and said some things he shouldn't have, Peyton Manning called him our "idiot kicker."

Williams' remark serves the point nicely. That's leadership folks. Peyton could have had a private conversation with Vanderjagt, but he wanted to remind the public that Vanderjagt's conduct wasn't Colts conduct. Who is the quarterback for our team who will make that point publicly?

What makes it hard for any of these five to step up in a visible way?

First, for a lot of influential Democrats, Monroe Gray is like family and his associations run deep. If you call for putting him out to pasture, you alienate a multitude of political and business folk for whom he's done favors (and as many have done favors for him). Of course, you would get the gratitude of a staggeringly higher number, but you'd never know this because nobody will tell you out loud for fear of retribution. Politics is peopled with the self-interested and terrified.

Ms. Minton-McNeil is equally perceived as "protected." She was widely-regarded as the Congressman's favored choice for filling his former council seat. Anybody want to cross the Congressman when he's swinging the big bat in the mayoral slating contest? Didn't think so.

I know both Gray and Minton-McNeil are party "friends," and I generally subscribe to the notion that if you don't stand with your friends, you stand alone. But I've also heard the saying "with friends like these...."

Some may say, "They haven't done anything illegal, or seriously illegal. Let the voters decide. If the voters want to keep them, who are we to interfere with democracy!?!"

First, I can't be content with my party using "Anything Not Illegal" as it's guidepost for acceptable conduct. Second, the "let the voters decide" approach is so staggeringly naive that no serious person could say it if (s)he cared about his or her party. I don't want to rehash my "brand" speech, but a stain on one on the Democratic ticket is a stain on all.

Don't believe me? Ask South Carolina Republicans how they're doing waiting for Mark Sanford's term to end. Do you think their fund-raising is up this year?

Of all the mayoral candidates, the one whose response gave me the most confidence that he would take action was Jose Evans. He seemed most invested in reforming the image of the party. This makes sense because as a member of the council, he's probably tired of being in the WRTV B-roll for every scandal, and he's probably tired of fielding questions about whether he stands by scandal-plagued colleague x or y. It has to be exhausting.

Also, Jose is the only one who can ask for Monroe Gray and Doris Minton-McNeil's to step down without looking like a racist, though I'm sure some wouldn't be above accusing him of being a white sock puppet were he to do so.

Why would a call for a step-down be viewed in racial terms? Because the replacements would be uncertain, and while you shouldn't expect anybody to say this out loud, a core group of the Democratic movers and shakers in the African-American community have done a sterling job hoisting an unspoken edict on the Marion County Democratic Party, and it is this: no depletion of African-American political power. Were I a historically disenfranchised minority, I'd see this as both understandable and shrewd bargaining.

But what I'm talking about doesn't require a depletion of African-American political strength. It just requires better African-American talent. Were I Ed Treacy, I'd go through every poll book in Gray and Minton-McNeil's districts, and I'd find African-American replacements who I'd then vet on every conceivable issue. Once I was convinced of the reasonable likelihood they wouldn't humiliate the party, I'd commit every resource available to ensuring their victory. I would do everything I could to convince every African-American elected officer in the county - be it a township trustee, judge, auditor, state representative or state senator - that none of this was racial, and all of it was practical and prudential. I might even spread contributions to those elected officials to emphasize the point.

In other words, I'd put my money and organizational heft where my mouth was, and if somebody of another race came out of the woodwork to challenge the natural order of things, I'd put him or her down. You have to give something to get something, and getting rid of this bad PR will pay for itself three times over.

I've now heard repeatedly about a meeting of influential Democrats during which a suggestion was made (and, no, I'm not going to say by whom) to have Democrat PR experts and attorneys on the ready in case someone got into trouble again.

Tell me, dear IPOPA reader, isn't your reaction to this suggestion precisely the same as every other human being's reaction...except for some of those in the room that day? Weren't you thinking, "Wouldn't it be easier just to NOT get in trouble?" If so, welcome to the surreal world that is not very often, but still far too many times, the mentality of some key personnel within the Marion County Democratic Party.



Eclecticvibe said...

Let's run a well-qualified Green Party candidate against Mr. Gray. Ballot access for city-council districts is fairly easy, and less than 100 signatures would get you on the ballot. If anyone is interested in running, please contact me directly.

Chris Worden said...

Sorry, but not in this lifetime. My title was inflammatory to get attention. (I learned from Republicans that this kind of thing works really well). But I am confident that when my party realizes there are people who will speak up, it will do the right thing.

Russell said...

This is a great example of why I am pretty fed up with Marion County elected officials!

In a lot of places it is hard to get candidates to run because a district is so gerrymandered. This was the case when recruiting for the Senate races last year. When the seats are so stacked against the Dems it's hard to convince the truly outstanding people to run. We were fortunate enough to find some excellent candidates last year but there were also several excellent people that sat out.

This all makes me wonder why in the world we can't get decent candidates here in Marion County. Democrats have a healthy advantage but we can't get anyone to challenge those in office. For all the bullshit that Monroe Gray pulls, why is he still in office? The answer is because the party is still backing him, but my question is: Why is the party still backing him? There are plenty of times where any Democrat is better than giving the seats to a Republican, but that isn't the case here, a Democrat would still keep that seat so why isn't the party telling Gray to take a hike and getting someone in there that will not be such an embarassment? Why why why?

Jon E. Easter said...

I'm glad you wrote this IPOPA. Let's hope that some in our party actually read it. We need to hold our own people more accountable...especially when there appears to be a pattern of issues.

jabberdoodle said...

I think you are going to have to get rid of slating and have honest primary elections to really let the voters decide these things. In districts heavily slanted to one party or the other, the real decision is made at slating. And you have nailed the reluctance with the party leadership to challenge any incumbant, ethical woes or not.