Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Leopold Needs to Go

I must admit, I haven’t been motivated to blog lately.  But when I saw the latest tidbit coming out of the scandal surrounding Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, I snapped out of my Jimmy Carter-style malaise.

Numerous press outlets are reporting that the ACLU, The Capital newspaper, and others filed public information requests seeking copies of the dossiers the Anne Arundel County Police Department had assembled on some of the county executive’s political opponents.

And, what they got back was mind-blowing.
It appears that the county’s police force was engaged in an aggressive research effort into the backgrounds of Leopold’s perceived political enemies.  While this really isn’t news – the initial round of news coverage about Leopold’s indictment referenced the dossiers’ existence – the materials yielded through public information requests illustrate the project’s depth, breadth, and scope.

One of the subjects of the investigation, Carl Snowden, had a dossier containing 25 years’ worth of research materials.

Former Anne Arundel County Councilman Tom Redmond had a dossier as well, even though he didn’t even realize Leopold considered him an enemy.

The initial round of coverage into the Leopold scandal focused on the salacious. But these public information disclosures have rightfully brought attention back to the serious.

Asking a county aide to change a urine bag – as Leopold is accused of having done – is reprehensible, not to mention disgusting. But a county executive using his own police department to wage a political dirt-digging campaign against private citizens? That’s downright scary.

We had presidents who used the FBI to investigate their political opponents, and whose legacies have suffered as a result.  

We even had a president – a pretty capable one, in my personal opinion – who had to resign because he clumsily used the White House to perform the same function.

As for Leopold, you’d think that a guy who likes to dress up like Lincoln would have learned the lessons of history.  

Unfortunately, Maryland has a pretty rich history when it comes to political scandal.  These scandals can be grouped into three categories.

First, you have the thieves – elected officials who wantonly stole from the public trough. Examples include City Comptroller Jackie McLean (who pilfered $25,000 in city money) and Mayor Sheila Dixon (who walked off with a handful of gift cards given to the city to benefit poor children).

The second, and largest, category is comprised of the cronies – politicos who used their positions to enrich themselves or their friends. 

Examples include Vice President Spiro Agnew (who took bribes as governor of Maryland),  Baltimore City Council President Wally Orlinsky (who extorted money from a company wanting to do business with the City), Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson (another bribe taker), Senator Ulysses Currie (sanctioned by the Maryland State Senate for taking $250,000 in undisclosed payments from Shoppers Food Warehouse), and Governor Marvin Mandel (convicted of mail fraud and racketeering, though the conviction was later overturned on a technicality).

Lastly, you have misadventurers – people tripped up by their own bad behavior or bad judgment. Robocallers Paul Schurick and Julius Henson immediately come to mind, as does former First District Congressman Bob Baumann, whose career ended amid a sex scandal involving a young boy.

If I were trying to place Leopold in the scandal hierarchy, I’d give him misadventurer status. Most of the allegations outlined in the indictment reflect a penchant for overindulgence, lust, and arrogance in Leopold’s character.

But the taxpayer-financed snooping by police is more sinister than the other alleged misadventures.

People deserve to know that their county executive is working for, and not against them. That same can be said of their local police department.  Leopold’s alleged misdeeds have undermined confidence in both institutions.  It’s a violation of the public’s trust on a fundamental level.
This is why he needs to resign.  I just do not see how a guy who used the police to investigate private citizens for political purposes can credibly stay in office another minute.

Unfortunately, if Leopold refuses to resign, then the Anne Arundel County Council has limited options. According to Section 404 of the county charter, the council can only remove him if he is convicted of the crimes for which he has been accused.
However, there is nothing stopping the council from passing a measure expressing a vote of no confidence in Leopold’s leadership – that is, except for the council’s own recent, well-publicized dysfunction stemming from its collective inability to fill a vacant council seat.

Still, it’s during times like these when leadership emerges from unexpected places.

I hope the council can come together and unanimously pass a resolution condemning Leopold’s behavior.  Their constituents are depending on them to set the squabbling aside and get serious about a serious situation.
Something tells me Leopold’s not going to go quietly. But getting a previously divided council to step up and speak in one voice may be the first step towards prying his recalcitrant knuckles off the doorknob.