08 October 2009

A political object lesson

Not-yet-sworn-in city councillor Sheilagh O’Leary got off to a very rocky start to her political career on Wednesday as she called Open Line Show host Randy Simms to give him an on-air lecture for comments he supposedly made yesterday.

Right off the bat, O’Leary displayed some questionable judgment since she effectively embarrassed Simms on the air.  Had he done something, she could have taken the route of calling him off air.  Simms would have then had the chance to offer a mea culpa on his own, thereby saving a huge amount of face.

As it is, O’Leary put Simms in a corner and he responded according.  The exchange was heated with Simms at one point referring to O’Leary’s comments as bullshit.  O’Leary evidently wasn’t prepared for any push-back and as the thing went on her voice got evidently more tight.  In places she came across as condescending and, contrary to her denials, as an advocate for political correctness of the worst possible sort. 

It’s not where she’d want to be at all politically, as many of the comments on the Telegram story would attest.  Outside of a very small and very narrow group in this town, O’Leary’s attack on Simms will seem to many to be off base and poorly handled.  Most of those those who voted for her may wind up wondering what they got for their efforts if this is the way she goes off right at the start.

And they’d be right.

Those of us who heard Simms’ comments initially could not have taken offense at them.  Anyone who has listened to Simms would understand his sense of humour.

But you don’t have to take the word of your humble e-scribbler.  The Telegram was good enough to give the entire exchange:

“There are two men and five women. Oh, my son you have my sympathy (laughter). You and Gary are not going to get your way on anything, you know that don’t you (laughter). It’s just going to be like being at home, buddy (laughter). We’re being nasty to your lady councillors aren’t we (laughter). No, you’re going to have a good crew out there.”

The problem for O’Leary comes from the fact she got her version not from the horse’s mouth but from a local blog.  They didn’t link it but here’s the post from Signal:

“Five women and two men on your town council? My sympathies go out to you, buddy. You’ll never get anything done; it’ll be just like home”

Big difference when you make the edits, isn’t it?

Sheilagh didn’t take the minute to double check the information or to call Randy and give him the chance to back down on his own.

She launched into him live, on the air and without warning.

Bad move.

It’s a political object lesson for the newbie councillor in how to handle issues and political relationships.  This is especially the case, as here, where the thing involves someone who is potentially a very influential and supportive ally in provincial politics. 

You see, the couple of people who gave O’Leary this story may have been heartened by her call but in the long run this sort of thing can damage the chances of achieving their goals.  An experienced politician might have handled it differently. 

An experienced politician would have recognised that it is far more effective and far more desirable to have Randy Simms promoting – for example  - getting more women involved in the elected side of politics.  There may be other issues on gender or access where Simms’ support would carry a lot of way. 

It isn’t a question of compromising principles but rather of sacrificing a first blush and admittedly amateurish impulse in order to achieve a larger goal.

O’Leary  - understandably – made the noob mistake.

The sensible thing for her to do would be to call Randy publicly and sort the thing out quickly.

And the next time think before picking up the phone to a call in show.

Oh yes, and here’s a big one.

Find someone she trusts who has more experience in politics who she can rely on for advice.  She’s at the start of what could be a long and promising political career.  If she settles in, that will be the case.

O’Leary’s voters were looking for a Shannie. If she does more of what her voters heard on Wednesday, they might wonder if they instead got a politician more along the lines of …shall we say… the opposite of Shannie.  And Heaven knows St. John’s had enough of that kind of politics before it got a better paying job.