Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Avoid the guy in the stall

Memo to presidential candidates: Be more careful choosing people to help your campaigns.

Or at least check out their police records in Minneapolis.

When news broke this week of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's arrest for lewd behavior in an airport bathroom in Minnesota, few people were probably more embarrassed than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had made Craig co-chairman of his Idaho campaign. Romney may have cut his ties, but the senator's videotaped endorsement will linger on YouTube.

Romney isn't the only candidate to get red-faced by an ally.

In South Carolina, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's state chairman, state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, was indicted on federal cocaine charges in June.

And Florida Rep. Bob Allen, co-chairman of Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaign in the state, was charged with offering a male undercover officer $20 to perform oral sex in a park. Allen dug himself in deeper when he told police he was intimidated by the undercover officer, who is African American.

He told police he felt intimidated by a "stocky black guy" in the restroom and believed the man and other "stocky black guys" planned to rob him. He said he complied with a request for oral sex to avoid becoming a "statistic." A civil rights group called his comments insensitive.

Republicans aren't the only ones who have been burned.

California businessman Norman Hsu gave over $500,000 to Democrats over the past three years, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

On Wednesday, the L.A. Times reported that Hsu is the same man California authorities have considered a fugitive for 15 years, disappearing after pleading no contest to grand theft and agreeing to serve three years in prison.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

McCain's Mea Culpa Express

Fresh off his big win in the 2000 New Hampshire primary, John McCain was fighting hard in South Carolina. A win there might have catapulted him past George W. Bush to the Republican nomination. So he side-stepped one of the state's hottest issues: the Confederate battle flag flying above the capitol in Columbia.

"I don't believe it's the role of someone from outside South Carolina and someone running for president to come into this state and tell the people of South Carolina what to do with their business when it comes to the flag," he said at the time.

"Some say the flag represents slavery. But men fought for it under what they thought was a noble cause. I'd say it stands for heritage and sacrifice."

That was then. This year, McCain is on his Mea Culpa Tour.

In his new book, "Hard Calls," which profiles courageous decisions by people from Harry Truman to Reinhold Niebuhr, he writes about a hard call he didn't make.

"When I ran for president in 2000," he writes, "I took a position I knew to be wrong on a controversial public issue that had a moral component because I thought it might help me win the primary .... In addition to the fact that it did me little political good, it caused me to be ashamed of myself, and it's a little late in life to bear that kind of burden."

McCain has revisited his decision in a series of interviews. Here's what he told 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley:

PELLEY: Let me bring up another issue that surrounded South Carolina in the year 2000. There was a political issue, a local issue about whether the Confederate flag should fly over the capitol. You waffled on that.

SEN. MCCAIN: Yes, worse than waffled.

PELLEY: What do you mean?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I said that it was strictly a state issue and clearly knowing that it wasn't.

PELLEY: That's not what you believed in your heart?


PELLEY: What did you believe in your heart?

SEN. MCCAIN: That it was a symbol to many of ... a very offensive symbol to many, many Americans.

PELLEY: Why didn't you say that?

SEN. MCCAIN: I'm sure for all the wrong reasons.

PELLEY: And those wrong reasons would be what, sir?

SEN MCCAIN: For ambition.

McCain said much the same this month on NPR's Morning Edition.

"I'd call it a hard call that I didn't make," he said of the flag issue. "The hard call would have been said: This flag is an affront to people all over America, as well as in South Carolina, and it's not right to be there. I should've made the hard call."

My question: Will McCain's candor about 2000 make a difference in 2008? What do you think?

Friday, August 24, 2007

D.G., Lefty and John

Back in 1961, D.G. Martin was a scrappy guard on Lefty Driesell's Davidson College basketball team. One day they took the court to scrimmage a team of alumni that included a 40-year-old John Belk.

Martin, who went on to a successful career in law (and not-so-successful one in politics) recalled the game in a column he wrote after Belk's death last week at 87.

At the time of the scrimmage, Belk was a already a prominent businessman. He also had been co-captain of the college basketball team. In warm-ups, he wasn't impressive.
"But when the game got started," Martin writes, "Belk showed he was bull-headed and determined to take the ball to the basket, even if he had to run over me to do it. I responded with the most aggressive defense I could muster, arms waving, shouting, and stomping.

"Coach called time out and called me over to the side. 'Hey, D.G., ease up a little bit on John Belk. I don't want you to kill him.' It was the only time I ever heard Coach ask anybody to ease up."

Eventually, the word got back to Belk.

"When I saw Belk again, I went up to reintroduce myself," Martin wrote. "He quickly turned towards me, saying, 'So Lefty told you to ease up on me, huh. I should have known.' But he did not hold it against me or Coach. We were never together that he didn't bring up the story, and he laughed harder and harder each time."

Now, Davidson players take the court in the college's John Belk Arena, named for the man who became the college's biggest benefactor. Martin likes to think that Driesell helped cement Belk's affection for the college.

"While others are remembering and celebrating his 'amazingly effective' service in business and civic life," Martin wrote, "I will be thinking that 'easing up on John Belk' might have been the most important thing I ever did on the basketball court."

To read D.G.'s column, click here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The difference between 2nd and 3rd?

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback stopped in Rock Hill and put a positive spin on his 3rd-place showing in this month's Iowa straw poll.
"The winner of the (Iowa) caucuses in the last 20 years has come from out of the top three finishers in the straw poll," he told two-dozen Republicans at a Rock Hill restaurant. Then he headed off to Columbia.
On Monday, rival Mike Huckabee found a different reception in York County.

The former Arkansas governor, who finished second in the straw vote, spoke to an overflow crowd of more than 100 people in York, 60 at a Fort Mill sports bar and later hosted a fundraiser for another 150 at Knights Stadium, where he was to throw out the first pitch.

Huckabee and his supporters credit his Iowa showing with helping boost the turnout in York County. But he clearly had support there before Iowa. Earlier this year he packed a Fort Mill restaurant and finished second in a straw poll at the county convention.
He's had passionate supporters in York County. Now they're confident too.
"If we get our ground game going full steam and get people on board," we'll win South Carolina," said York County supporter Joe St. John.
S.C. Republicans plan to hold the "First in the South" presidential contest next year. It's currently scheduled for Jan. 19.

Monday, August 20, 2007

John Belk and the fountain of knowledge

As an Observer reporter, Susan Jetton covered then-Charlotte Mayor John Belk in the early 1970s. She heard the off-the-cuff remarks that left his listeners laughing or scratching their heads. She compiled a lot of them on her old Royal manual typewriter. The pages have yellowed, but Belk's use of the language -- what she and others called "Belkelese" -- is as fresh, if confounding, as ever. Some examples:

-- "Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle."

-- "You can't be unreasonable about something until you get the facts."

-- "I always get a little mixed up when I have to stop and think."

-- "You don't have to confuse me because I don't know enough about it to be confused."

-- "Charlotte is behind on its future."

-- "We've got a lot of problems. But we're working on 'em. And we're enjoying 'em."

-- "The Lord expects more of Charlotte than of other cities 'cause he tests us so much more."

-- "Public officials live in a glass house and must answer the front door. And you have to be dressed right."

-- "He can answer that better than I can ask the question."

-- "You give me the impression you're educated beyond your ability."

-- "We ought to decide where our problems are and implement our own."

-- (On striking sanitation workers): "They will be persecuted to the fullest extent."

-- (On Charlotte's police department): "(It) has more top-heavy people with longevity than any other department."

-- "If a bullfrog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass."

**** Got a favorite John Belk story?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Missed opportunities

Charlotte Democrat Beverly Earle has won seven straight elections to the N.C. House. But it's been a long time -- seven years -- since she's been in a competitive race. This week, the rust showed.

Earle, 63, is running for mayor against Republican Pat McCrory. It's her first race outside her district in north and west Charlotte.

When she filed last month, she made a brief statement but then brushed aside questions from reporters. In her first major public appearance as a candidate Thursday, she spoke to more than 60 people at the Uptown Democratic Forum. A friendlier audience would be hard to find.

Earle read a prepared speech that was mainly biographical. Then, answering questions, she passed up several opportunities to expand on her vision and plans for the city. How could Charlotte maintain itself as a world-class city? someone asked. Define world-class, she replied. What were the legal duties of the mayor? somebody else asked. "I can't tell you all the responsibilities," she said, adding that the mayor has to provide leadership and direction.
When thrown a softball by somebody blasting McCrory's leadership, she passed up an opportunity to score an easy point at his expense.

Running for mayor is different than running for a state House seat, especially when most of your elections have been unopposed. In a probable race against a guy who's won the office six times, that's something Earle will be finding out soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's not about the money (No, really)

Charlotte mayoral candidate Ken Gjertsen doesn't worry about raising money. Maybe that's not unusual for a guy who just saw his war chest jump by 800%.

Gjertsen is challenging Mayor Pat McCrory in the Sept. 11 Republican primary. As he talked about his campaign over a roast beef sandwich at uptown's The Sandwich Club today, the conversation turned to money.

McCrory has more than half a million dollars according to his last report. Gjertsen had $101.99. Since then, that's grown to a grand total of $800. The way he sees it, that's about enough. With a couple dozen volunteers, he's calling voters for what's expected to be a very low turnout primary.

"I think people need to keep their money," he said. "They need it more than I do.... We don't have the resources to run a big retail campaign, so we're not even trying."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

He's not in Kansas anymore

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback isn't under any illusions. Well, maybe some.

The Kansas Republican brought his campaign to a Rock Hill restaurant Tuesday. It was the same place former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney drew a standing-room crowd, and not far from where voters packed another restaurant to hear former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Brownback drew about two dozen. Some candidates, he said, have no problem getting attention.

"I have to stand naked on top of the Capitol to get on page 15," he said to laughs.

But Brownback also insisted that he's in good shape to win his party's nomination. To him, a third-place finish in last weekend's Iowa straw poll, which some major candidates skipped, was a strong showing.

So he's spending the next couple days stumping in South Carolina, where polls show him stuck at about 1 percent support among Republicans. That's behind almost every other candidate including Huckabee, who finished second in the Iowa straw poll behind Romney.

Brownback's pitch is to social conservatives. But it's hard to out-conservative a conservative Baptist preacher like Huckabee. And it's hard to outspend a multi-millionaire like Romney.

So stuck deep in the "second-tier," Brownback soldiers on.

In Rock Hill he spoke, answered questions and posed for pictures. He's personable with a sense of humor. Asked what he thought of the "Brownback Girl" video making the rounds on the Internet (click here), he threw back his head and laughed. When York County GOP chairman Glenn McCall introduced him by mentioning a couple of his Senate initiatives, Brownback turned to him and said, 'Thanks for noticing those things."

"I'm the tortoise in this race," he said later. "I've got to keep clawing every day."