Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can you help a mayor out?

I'd like to have been at the Forward Omaha staff meeting that birthed the bright idea of busing the homeless to vote early in Omaha's mayoral recall election . . . and then paying them $5 for "training" on how to canvass voters.

I really would have liked to be there. That kind of stupidity -- a public-relations
(at a minimum) gaffe of such complete idiocy that it almost makes one wonder whether the recall-istas have a point -- doesn't come around all that often. It's kind of like a total solar eclipse of dumb . . . you kick yourself if you miss it.

Anyway, the Omaha World-Herald, in this afternoon's paper, tells the tale of why Mayor Jim Suttle is probably as good as dead. And why Omaha is on the cusp of sliding from everyday, ordinary chaos into real chaos -- the kind where there are fistfights at City Council meetings and lawyers trying to figure out how a city can file for bankruptcy.

NO, REALLY. Read this and stand in awe:
A decision to bus homeless people to the election office by Mayor Jim Suttle's campaign has prompted an investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol and an apology from the mayor.

Suttle says his campaign will no longer bus the homeless to the election office on the same day they are paid $5 to attend a get-out-the-vote training seminar.

But Suttle says he stands by his decision to offer a ride to people in east Omaha who wanted to cast an early vote in west Omaha. But he says the busing plan should never have been mixed with the training seminar.

He says he did not know about the combination until after the fact.

“Unfortunately, someone from Forward Omaha decided to combine the dual efforts to assist voters and recruit election day workers. This was a mistake,” said Suttle.

The busing controversy ignited criticism around Omaha, amid reports from a witness at the election office that the homeless men and women were coached on how to vote and were paid $5 after — or before — they cast a ballot.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he asked the Nebraska State Patrol to investigate the incident, because he wants to ensure that people have confidence in the election process. “It seems to be a question of perception. It's important people believe in the process. If there isn't any impropriety, that's fine,” said Kleine.
ACTUALLY, I was once at a staff meeting where something that spectacularly dumb was floated. The only difference was that particular spectacularly idiotic brainstorm was allowed to eventually blow itself out before the public could get a hold of it.

You can read all about that one, at a radio station we'll call Pope FM to protect the guilty, here. Nevertheless, I'll give you just a little taste from the 2002 diary:

Honestly, I desperately want to give the station a contemporary, non-dyspeptic sound. I desperately want to reach out to young people. But in such a short time, you can only do what you can do with the resources you have. And you have to be deliberate in what you're doing.

Buying a Humvee, I don't think, can be described as exercising due deliberation.

That's right, ladies and germs, Don wants to get someone to donate the scratch for a Humvee -- the Pope FM Humvee -- which we then would have painted like the Vatican flag to play off the theme "The Church Militant."

I am the only convert left on the staff, and I can't convince these zealots how badly that might piss off people who have no clue what the Church Militant is. So much so that we wouldn't have the opportunity to explain it (and so much so that it might not make a difference when you do).

And then we will face the reaction of the Protestants. ;-) As a friend comments about such things, "Their zeal consumes them."

Apart from the PR-nightmare possibilities, I can think of a lot neater things $35,000 could buy instead of a used Hummer.

IN THIS CASE, like I said, the plan was allowed to quietly die despite the initial enthusiasm. Sometimes, the good Lord is just looking out for you.

And sometimes He's not. Enter Forward Omaha and its guy, Suttle.

It's amazing how self-absorbed some folks, some entire organizations, can be. It's amazing how unaware some folks can be.

You take a nasty, nasty recall battle. Add a seriously divided city. Throw in the Age of the Tea Party. Season liberally with an ongoing, severe budget crisis brought on by severe recession.

Add a bunch of homeless people -- some of them seriously down on their luck, others seriously chemically dependent, yet others seriously mentally ill. All of them not exactly civically engaged.

Round them up at a local homeless shelter to go vote early, if not often. Bus them out to the 'burbs to vote at the election commissioner's office. Make sure they vote the right way. Give them a fin for "training."

Doug Einung, 54, of Omaha stood in line with one busload of men and women for about 35 minutes Wednesday. He said the homeless were repeatedly urged to vote “no.”

“Everybody was getting directions from her, and she was telling them to vote ‘no.' And, some of them, they weren't paying attention. They'd get up close (to the voting booth) and one guy asked, ‘How are we voting again?' And she'd say, ‘No,' ” said Einung, who described himself as a conservative who supports Suttle's recall.

Einung said one of the men in the group smelled of alcohol.

But Einung said he heard no talk of money.

One homeless man, Michael Sergeon, had initially told reporters on Wednesday that he was paid $5 to vote. A few minutes later, Sergeon retracted his statement, saying he was paid $5 to hand out campaign brochures.

WHAT'S THERE to be misunderstood? More importantly, what is there in any of this to convince Omahans that booting Suttle, taking the budgetary hit from all those elections and reaping -- possibly -- the whirlwind wouldn't be an improvement over a mayor who puts his political life in the hands of the Keystone Kops?

To employ the lofty language of political science . . . holy crap!

Let's not even get into the persuasive art involved in some scruffy dude trying to hand you a "Vote No" brochure between requests for "anything to help a brother out" and a smoke.

No, I'm looking at the newspaper, and watching the local news on TV, and I'm starting to think I'm back home in Louisiana. Just what Omaha always aspired to.

The Mayor Suttle Recall Committee might have started the race to the bottom by hiring some champions of the world as petition circulators, but Forward Omaha may have just emerged a winner. This, of course, means Jim Suttle may have just emerged a big loser.

Well, I hear Louisiana's former governor, Edwin Edwards, is getting out of the federal pen. Maybe somebody can slip somebody a little somethin', bend a few Nebraska state laws and get him on the mayoral ballot.

Time to embrace the chaos, 'cause chaos is what we're likely to get.

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