Monday, June 18, 2007

It's the Math

Media Attache
By Dean Pagani

I was asked recently why political leaders, when they get into trouble, don’t simply resign? Why are they so reluctant to leave when their ability to credibly hold office has long since passed?

The occasion of the question, was the controversy brought on by the guilty plea of former state Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca to one charge of conspiracy to threaten.

I was being asked the question, because I have personally witnessed the rise and fall of several well known political leaders over the last ten years. From the moment their fitness to serve was called into question to the moment they finally decided to give up. The pattern is always basically the same for both elected and appointed officials.

The reluctance to leave is multi-faceted. First, no one really believes they are a bad person. When accused of wrong-doing our first impulse is usually to explain ourselves. Yes, Senator DeLuca admits to poor judgment, but he believes his intentions were honorable. He was trying to protect his granddaughter. Therefore, after admitting his mistake and apologizing for it, that should be enough. You would have done the same thing, right? “It’s time to focus on the business of the state.” Move on everyone, there is nothing to see here.

Of course it is never that easy. Politics is a competitive sport and the other side is always looking for an advantage. The second reason leaders resist resignation is because, by their very nature, they are competitive. They don’t run from a fight, they fight harder. So when Senator Edith Prague, Democratic Party Chairman Nancy DiNardo and the Hartford Courant called for Senator DeLuca’s resignation, they guaranteed he will stay at least a little while longer.

It’s hard work to win and hold political office. There is a lot of personal sacrifice involved. Someone willing to make that sacrifice does not give up at the first sign of trouble. There is also precedent to consider. Others have survived, why can’t I?

Senator Bill Finch got into an altercation in a bar once. He is still senator and he is running for mayor of Bridgeport. Ernie Newton was an admitted cocaine addict and he held on until he got caught taking bribes. Senator LeBeau once got into an altercation with a student. Senator Gaffey was accused of misusing funds from his political action committee. Let the senator with no sins cast the first stone.

A third reason to hang on is to avoid taking any action that might be perceived as admitting to a larger guilt. DeLuca pled guilty to a misdemeanor. It suggests that his mistake was the equivalent of a traffic ticket. No one quits their job over a traffic ticket, not even a truck driver, or cabbie. If DeLuca quits over a misdemeanor, then he must be admitting to something much worse. That’s a signal he doesn’t want to send.

Then there is the club that is political office. Politics is very much a social endeavor. You make friends, even with your opponents. When you get into trouble, your friends are reluctant to tell you it is time to go. Not to your face anyway.

Political leaders finally give up the fight when they see there is no other alternative. When they turn around and see they have no friends left. No one willing to stand up publicly and say, “He is a good man and I support him for as long as he wants to serve.”

As political consultant James Carville recently said, “It all comes down to the math.” If you have the votes you stay. Once you don’t, you leave.

Originally published in the Hartford Business Journal.


Anonymous said...

> As political consultant James Carville recently said, “It all comes down to the math.” If you have the votes you stay. Once you don’t, you leave.

Ahh, but don't forget about voter apathy. Oftentimes the math is there only because the voters keep voting the same loser back. Its truly amazing how "little", people care sometimes. Or what it finally "takes" before it gets their attention.

Anonymous said...

Sounds more like a baseball game to me. Some of these people are allowed,
one, two, three strikes before they're "out". And by then so much
damage is already done.