Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts on John Leopold

Convicted Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold is an Abraham Lincoln fan, though I’m not sure if fandom is even the right concept. It’s more like a fetish. Anyone who’s seen the picture of him dressed in goofy Lincoln attire – complete with a frock coat, stovepipe hat, and a fake beard that makes him look more like C. Everett Koop in mourning attire than the nation’s 16th president – knows what I’m talking about.

Still, I have to wonder…if Lincoln’s enduring nickname is “Honest Abe,” what will the disgraced former county executive’s nickname be?

I’ve got it: Ol’ Pissbags.

There have been plenty of political scandals in recent Maryland history. We’ve had vice presidents taking bribes in the West Wing of the White House.  We’ve had people stuffing cash in bras and using state money to buy wedding gowns. We had a city comptroller who stole $25,000 from the city coffers she was elected to manage in order to finance her daughter’s hair stylist ambitions. And, of course, there was my own personal favorite: the robocall scandal.

But nothing quite as crass or low-rent as Leopold's pissbag politics. Think about it. County workers changing catheters? Sexagenarian mall parking lot sex? Vandalized yard signs? Police officers buffering one Leopold squeeze from another?

As Mike Tyson said in The Hangover, “Who does this sh*t, man?”

But in addition to the salacious, the Leopold saga had sinister elements as well. As I blogged a while ago, using the Anne Arundel County police to compile dossiers on political enemies is nothing to snicker about. Predictably, media coverage of the Leopold trial focused more on the tawdrier disclosures. But, from my perspective, this misuse of the police is the most serious, and dangerous, of Leopold’s misdeeds.

As for the rest of it, at times I had a hard time delineating the tacky from the illegal. So did the judge in the case, apparently. He acquitted Leopold on two charges involving clearly inappropriate behavior, and convicted him on two others.

Anyway, it looks like Leopold is headed for the door, as the Anne Arundel County Council is expected to vote to remove him from office when it meets next Monday. And, of course, Leopold awaits sentencing.

So what are the takeaways from the Leopold affair?

Well, elected officials – especially Republicans – need to conduct themselves in a manner beyond reproach.

I have always had mixed feelings about Leopold. While his electoral success was impressive, his behavior towards women was not.  Once he had a friend of mine – a statuesque blonde – cornered at a fundraiser, and I had to swoop in and rescue her. On another occasion, he pestered another friend of mine – an attractive brunette – in the State House.

When he ascended to county executive, one would have hoped he would have curbed these inappropriate behaviors. Clearly he did not, and it became his undoing.

Credible GOP candidates for statewide office are hard to come by. Republicans who make it to county executive automatically make that list. Indeed, many observers – including myself – speculated about a possible Leopold gubernatorial bid not long ago.

Through his own misdeeds, Leopold not only squandered his own future and reputation, he deprived an already floundering minority party an opportunity to hold the majority accountable.

Could he have won a gubernatorial race? I doubt it. But, the Democrats would have taken him more seriously than the GOP’s usual “red shirt” candidates (I mean that in the Star Trek sense of the term).

So, another promising political figure flames out, people’s cynicism about their elected leaders hardens (especially in light of the recent sagas involving Senator Ulysses Currie and Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson), Republicans are deprived of another credible candidate for statewide office, and the majority party continues to run amok.

Sounds to me like everyone loses.

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