Let's imagine that the whole Charles Wingate affair had happened 30 years ago. Here's how it would have been handled.
The chief of police would have quietly notified the mayor that Wingate had fraudulently used a city credit card. The mayor would have summoned Charles to his office and offered the offending council member a deal.
"Listen, Charles," the mayor might have said, "I know that you've been having financial problems. I know that you don't have a job, and that you're behind in your house payments. I know that you're desperate for money.
"You made a big mistake here, and if it gets out, there'll be hell to pay. You'll never get another job in this town -- you might even go to jail. And I don't have to tell you that it'll make Council look mighty bad. So we've gotta figure something out.
"Here's the deal: you resign from Council, and move to Cedar Rapids. My friend Bubba, the banker, has a brother-in-law out there who owns a lumberyard -- he'll give you a job. And we'll make it easy for you there's five grand in this envelope. All you have to do is sign your resignation letter -- here it is, all typed up and ready to go.
"Now, maybe you feel that you're innocent, and you can't go along with our offer. That's fine, but in that case the Chief here is going to have to arrest you right now, and take you off to jail. You know how old Judge Hoyt is about setting bail -- you'd have to come up with a big chunk o' change to get out, and the trial might not be for a few months.
"So don't you just want to get on with your life, and put all this behind you?"
Chances are, Charles would have taken the envelope, left town, and started a new life.
That was a different time. Nowadays, mayors and police chiefs hew strictly to the letter of the law. There are no more cover-ups "for the good of the community," no more threats and intimidation from the mayor's office.
And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it's just as well that we get to witness this surreal legal process, wherein Wingate is indicted and tried for no less than five pizza-related felonies.
A few days ago, attending a high-spirited farewell party for a pal who quit the daily for greener pastures, I had occasion to schmooze with some of the G's reporters. The estimable Rich Laden simply stated that Wingate ought to resign from Council, cop a plea to a misdemeanor, leave town and start a new life.
As far as I could tell, no one at the party wanted this sorry piece of Kabuki theater to continue for the next several months. Reporters do their job, and if it entails exposing the failings of the powerful, that's usually just fine. But this pathetic affair is more about delusional self-destruction than institutional corruption.
Somebody needs to tell Charles Wingate the truth, so I guess I'll take a shot at it.
Charles, when you decided to run for office, you asked for my advice. I gave it, just as I would to any aspiring pol. I thought that you were a smart, capable guy, who might have a nice little career in local politics. But you have screwed up, royally.
Charles, nobody believes your story. Your enemies didn't just fabricate this; Lorne Kramer and Jeanne Smith don't play those games. And don't demean yourself by playing the race card; that's utter BS. You've stepped into some deep shit; lying, posturing and pretending to be a big shot isn't gonna get you out of it.
Stop living in a dream world; realize that you're broke, unemployed and in trouble. No one's going to offer you a pleasant, six-figure job with a corner office and a secretary; you've gotta start over again.
Look, I know how it is when you're broke, and living on the edge, just trying to get through each day -- I've been there, and so have a lot of others. Come clean, resign, get outta Dodge. Find yourself a job -- a pay-the-rent, working-class job. You'll be a lot happier. And remember, there are plenty of second acts in American lives.
Before you know it, you'll be running for Council in another city, ordering pizzas for your campaign workers, and, lesson learned, paying cash.
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