History repeats itself: Lessons from the fall

. July 14, 2020.

Another day, another dollar. Or five hundred, or five thousand dollars.
     By now we assume you have all heard the sordid tale, if not all the details.  On a recent sunny day, four members of Toledo City Council were arrested by federal agents and charged with accepting cash and other things of value in exchange for their votes.  One of the four was also charged with extortion.
     District Four Rep Yvonne Harper, At-Large Councilman Gary Johnson, District One Rep Tyrone Riley, and At-Large Councilman Larry Sykes are charged with a variety of illegal acts, as is local attorney and erstwhile candidate for Chair of the Lucas County Democratic Party, Keith Mitchell.  The details, including five thousand dollars in cash exchanged in a magazine and hundred dollar bills slid across a table under a napkin, bring to mind another dark day in T-Town history. It was a bit over a decade ago that then-Councilman Bob McCloskey did federal time for accepting bribes. He also got thousands of dollars in cash, albeit in bulging envelopes sometimes left on his seat in Council chambers.

Lessons, learned?
     There are lessons to be learned here. Like, some folks never learn. McCloskey should have been a cautionary tale, scaring any would-be corrupt politician straight. But that lesson was apparently lost on some.
     Other lessons may not be so obvious. Which is why we’re here. These are the three biggest takeaways you may not have considered.

Takeaway number one.
     Everyone is definitely not doing it.  It would be easy to let the downfall of fully one-third of Council make you believe the old canard that all politicians are corrupt. That would be exactly the wrong implication.
     The recent arrests were the result of a two year FBI investigation, with at least two prominent local business leaders acting as FBI informants. The complaint goes all the way back to twenty thirteen.  Rest assured the feds left no stone unturned. They certainly grilled both informants, pumped them for information, and followed every possible thread.  The informants are likely cooperating under the threat of being arrested themselves. We’re certain they sang like canaries.
     If any other current members of Council were also “doing it,” we’d know. Ditto any member in the recent past. And other electeds, too.  Yet no one but the fallen four got accused.  The four arrests prove not that every politician is corrupt.  Instead they prove it was just these four that were “doing it.”

Takeaway number two.
   It’s not the money in politics that causes corruption, it’s the corrupt politicians.  Don’t get us wrong, it takes a lot of money to run a winning campaign. Depending on the position, there are signs to buy, literature to print and mail, ads to purchase, TV commercials to produce and air.  All these things cost money.
     But two of the fallen four are district reps. The size of their districts means their mailings are smaller, they need less signs, and they don’t have TV ad buys. It only costs several thousand dollars to run such a race.
     Riley allegedly got that much in one bungled magazine exchange. And none of it explains Harper allegedly extorting money for a third party.
     Nah, they didn’t need the money for political reasons.  Looks like a corrupt cash grab, pure and simple.

     Takeaway number three.
    Innocent until proven guilty is true in the criminal courts, but not in City Politics.  The four are accused of serious federal crimes.  Not convicted, not sentenced.  Accused.
    In the court they are innocent until the time they are proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be guilty.  But we’re not talking about the criminal case.  We’re talking about the stain they have brought to the public trust.
     Reading the details of the criminal complaint is jarring.  In it are multiple allegations of public corruption for personal gain.  Votes to change zoning not because it is best for the community, but because the vote went to the highest bidder.
     The public must trust that every Council vote is carefully considered by individual members, who cast their votes as they see fit based on the interests of the city and the surrounding neighborhood.  Not because it is in the interest of a fat envelope of cash on the other end.
     The four are still on Council, and have every right to continue to cast votes. Every future vote they cast will be questioned. The taint of the accusations will follow them, even if votes are cast with pure intentions.  They will no longer be able to conduct the business they were elected to conduct.
     Innocent or guilty, their political effectiveness, and careers, are over.  Until they resign or are otherwise removed, they are the lamest of lame ducks.