Saturday, December 31, 2011

Troy Mayor Janice Daniels shows how to be vulnerable to a scandal

In my previous post about Troy, I discussed the rejection of federal funding for the Transit Center. There was something else in the report from the New York Times I quoted.
The transit fight is not Mayor Daniels’s first brush with controversy. Earlier this month, it was revealed that she posted a message to her Facebook page last June, after New York State approved same-sex marriage, stating, “I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there.” In an interview, she said she regretted the online comment.
This quote plays right into a narrative that opponents of the Tea Party in general and Janice Daniels in particular already have for Tea Party candidates. In fact, combined with the rejection of the money for the transit center, it satisfies many of Nate Silver's criteria for a good political scandal. Let me walk through Nate's questions and their answers for these two outrages.

1. Can the scandal be reduced to a one-sentence soundbyte (but not easily refuted/denied with a one-sentence soundbyte)?
In the case of both events, the answer is yes. For the Facebook quote, it's "Troy's mayor makes homophobic comment about New York on Facebook." For the transit center decision, it's "Troy makes man-bites-dog choice by turning down federal money." Neither of them can be refuted in a sentence. Both happened. For the Facebook status update, the response was that Mayor Daniels was sorry she used the word "queer" and deleted the status. Yeah, but that's a non-apology apology, as she didn't disown the homophobic anti-marriage-equality sentiment of the entire comment. Also, she was still running for mayor at the time and should have known better. As for refusing the federal money, she's turned that into a statement of principle. In programming terms, she considers it a feature, not a bug. That's not a refutation at all.
2. Does the scandal cut against a core element of the candidate's brand?
Yes to both. Turning down the federal money undercuts the case that the Tea Party's ideas about fiscal responsibility will be good for business and local economies. As one could read in the New York Times article, they're not. In the case of the Facebook status, it undercuts the idea that the Tea Party is primarily about fiscal issues, not social ones. Both of them also reinforce the next point.
3. Does the scandal reify/reinforce/"prove" a core negative perception about the candidate, particularly one that had henceforth been difficult to articulate (but not one that has become so entrenched that little further damage can be done)?
Both scandals play into pre-existing negative ideas about the Tea Party in general and thus can be used against her in particular. One I mentioned earlier is that the Tea Party isn't really about fiscal responsibility, but about social issues. In other words, they're composed of typical social and religious conservatives who are disguising their main concerns under other garb. The other is that the Tea Party is composed of people who aren't fit to govern; in other words, they're "not ready for prime time." While both narratives have been well-established for the Tea Party as a whole, they haven't yet been confirmed for Janice Daniels and her fellow Troy Tea Party council members until recently. Now that they're being established for her and and the rest of the Troy Tea Party, they're very dangerous.

The most damaging scandals I've seen over the past 40 years have all happened when a politician confirmed an already existing and widely known negative narrative about them while people were looking for evidence of it. Richard Nixon had long been suspected of being crooked. When Watergate happened, and he said "I am not a crook," that was the end of him. People found that he was acting in a criminal manner (although he ended up being paranoid and power-mad, not blatantly corrupt) and he had to resign. Bill Clinton was widely rumored to be a skirt chaser. When he was caught womanizing, he was impeached, although he managed to hang on to the presidency. Kwame Kilpatrick had a reputation for being immature and corrupt. When he was found to have been texting a mistress on the city dime, he ended up leaving office and going to prison.

Now, Janice Daniels isn't in the league of these disgraced politicians, but she has managed to damage the Tea Party brand and confirm people's suspicions about the movement not once, but twice. Watch the third time be a charm.
4. Can the scandal readily be employed by the opposition, without their looking hypocritical/petty/politically incorrect, risking retribution, or giving life to a damaging narrative?
I don't know about how the opposition in Troy can manage this without looking petty, but I suspect petty goes with the territory, at least for the Facebook quote. Google Santorum if you don't believe me. Somehow, petty hasn't been a problem for that crusade. On the other hand, turning down the federal funding for the transit center seems like a much more solid issue by this criterion. When the local Chamber of Commerce is displeased with you, then any cover from business is pretty much gone.
5. Is the media bored, and/or does the story have enough tabloid/shock value to crowd out all other stories?
Oh, yes. Both of these stories have gone viral, especially if the New York Times is covering both in one article. Furthermore, New York Magazine covered the Facebook quote, linking to my friend Sharon's blog Keep Troy Strong. Also, the following cartoon appeared in the Georgia Voice, which Sharon at Keep Troy Strong has also posted.

She also was named Worst Person in the World by Keith Olbermann, which is also posted at Keep Troy Strong.

That's not all. The Atlantic has just named her actions in The Dumbest Local Politics Scandals of 2011.
[W]hen you really want fantastically stupid examples of politicians behaving badly (and let's face it, we do!), nothing compares to the dimwitted antics of this year's nominees for Outstanding Achievement in Dumb Local Politics Scandals. Without further ado, 2011's pointiest pinheads:
Troy, Mich., Mayor Janice Daniels: We already knew that Troy's Tea Party Mayor, Janice Daniels, is refusing to accept $8.5 million in federal grant money for a multi-modal transit hub for her town because, as she's been quoted, "The City of Troy cannot afford this $8.5 million of free money." But Daniels got her young administration off to rocky start late this year when an anti-gay post she had written on her own Facebook wall over the summer finally went viral: "I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there," read the missive. Daniels has since apologized for her use of the word "queer," but not everyone in Troy is buying her sincerity. A petition to demand her resignation has been making the rounds. Daniels says she'll do no such thing.
Congratulations, Mayor Daniels. You've shown how to become a textbook example of how to become the victim of your own political scandal not just once, but twice. You may not be resigning yet, but mark my words. The third time will be the charm.


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