Yesterday, long, LONG time commenter Tim Levier alerted me to a local political foofaraw in Denver with significant ethical implications. I would have never heard about the story otherwise, and I am very grateful for this: please, everyone, try to make such tips a habit.
Incumbent mayor Michael Hancock and the challenger, Jamie Giellis, both Democrats, are headed to a run-off in a little under three weeks. Three days ago, Giellis found herself unable to say what the letters NAACP stood for during a radio interview (“This was falsely reported in some media sources as “she didn’t know what the NAACP was”). A few hours later, Giellis’ campaign advertised a “tacos and lowriders” fundraiser at a Mexican restaurant. Smelling blood, the Hader Gotcha practitioners did a deep dive and found that ten years ago, Giellis asked in a tweet why so many cities “feel it necessary to have Chinatowns.”
This was referred to by local wags as winning the the “Triple Crown” of race-related gaffes. Her reaction was to close public access to all of her social media accounts and to refuse to answer media questions. Finally an intrepid reporter cornered her (AT the “tacos and lowriders” event), resulting in this cringe-producing interview:
- None of the gaffes were as consequential as they are being made out to be. I hate pop quiz gotchas like the NAACP question; they reveal nothing. Personally, I have always had problems remembering names while introducing family members and close friends under pressure, like at weddings and funerals. It doesn’t mean I don’t know who they are. I also am notoriously bad at acronyms. When I worked for ATLA, I was always calling it “The American Trial Lawyers Association” when the real name was “The Association of Trial Lawyers of America.” Big deal. The NAACP has persisted in maintaining a gotcha trap, including in its name a monicker that the NAACP will declare is racially insensitive when a white person uses it: “colored people.” I don’t blame Giellis‘ brain from clutching and saying to her, “No that CAN’T be right” when she was asked about the initials during a broadcast interview.
The Chinatown question is a true “gotcha”—it was tweeted ten years ago, when Giellis had only a few followers, and is the kind of random, silly thing people sometimes send outon social media just to spur dialogue, like the kids in “A Stand By Me” debating the deathless question, “Mickey is a mouse, Donald is a duck, Pluto is a dog. What’s Goofy…? OK, the Mexican restaurant fundraiser name was throwing bones to the perpetually offended, evoking ethnic stereotypes. That was a self-inflicted wound, but really just a scratch.
- Where Geillis disqualifies herself from serious consideration as a candidate for anything more challenging than dog-catcher are her responses in the interview. The journalist, to his credit, concentrates on her reaction to a crisis, which was to destroy the evidence. She never answers that question, resorting to Authentic Frontier Gibberish and doubletalk about learning processes and how anyone can make a mistake.
Apparently she hasn’t learned yet the importance of transparency, taking responsibility for her words and actions, and being able to answer a fair question clearly and honestly.
- Her failure to have any persuasive answer to the Chinatown matter, even knowing that she would be asked to explain it, is damning. “I don’t know what I was thinking” is not a defense. An answer that would have shown her skills in a positive light: “It was just a spontaneous question sparked by the fact that we don’t have “Italiantowns” or “Greektowns,” and lazy on my part. There’s a historical reason Chinatowns sprung up, and I should have Googled it ten years ago. I know why now. Do you want me to explain to your audience why so many cities had Chinatown’s right now? Do YOU know why?”
That’s how I would expect a competent politician to address the issue.
- The interview reveals her as a typical pretty/handsome-faced candidate lacking serious skills or a genuine argument for being handed a leadership job. The Democratic field for the 2020 Presidential nomination is crawling with this flourishing species, as are the halls of Congress. Any citizen who listens to Giellis’ lame, facile,sputtering answers and comes away with the conviction that “Gee, this woman will make a terrific mayor!” epitomizes voter incompetence and the Achilles heel of democracy.