Article originally published on Technorati as “How to Lose an Uncontested Election“
A singular moment has arrived in the Seattle suburb of Renton, Washington. Renton may become the first city in America to have a cartoon character elected mayor on a write-in initiative.
History’s pivotal events have a way of starting small and snowballing.
A police officer in Renton became disgusted with the dishonest clique that runs his town. He was frustrated with mismanagement and pervasive obstructionism. He saw police officers promoted to leadership after engaging in serious, sometimes criminal, misconduct. He grew tired of the cronyism, waste, and self-service.
He was living an experience familiar to many public servants; you’ve got to go along to get along. A corrupt leader cannot gain leverage over a virtuous subordinate, and a brick house is unwelcome in a city of glass.
Even before the search warrant was stayed, the administration began destroying records. From KIRO’s Chris Halsne:
“Several witnesses to the event tell us, it was well known around the internal affairs department as one of the biggest ‘shredding parties’ the Renton Police Department has ever held.
Using the Washington Public Records Act, court records and confidential police sources, Halsne has determined some of the purged information was used in a presentation to a judge in the cartoon case, even though the department knew the files were already destroyed.
Other shredded files included dozens of confirmed disciplinary actions and investigative files that punished Renton officers for actions like stealing, using excessive force, abusing their authority and committing other acts of misconduct. None of the 49 files will now ever see the public light of day. That includes the real internal affairs records that were the basis of some ‘jokes’ and parody skits, created by Mrfuddlesticks.”
“The City of Renton will host a free document shredding event on Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Sam’s Club parking lot, 901 South Grady Way from 9 a.m. to noon, or until the shredder is full.”
Supporters unconnected to Renton, and therefore not vulnerable to employer sanctions, produce a constant stream of new parodies. The copycat cartoons are meant to publicize the matter, embarrass the administration, and most importantly, deter further persecution of Renton employees.
As it happens, Mayor Law is up for re-election November 8, 2011, uncontested on the ballot. The grassroots campaign to write in Mr. Fuddlesticks (now referring to the sarcastic police officer in the cartoons, rather than their publisher) as a protest vote against Mayor Law is small but committed.
An internet message board has been established to provide a free speech platform for Renton employees and their supporters. Great care was taken to protect anonymity; the servers are housed privately and IP addresses are not logged. Thus if a search warrant is obtained, there is nothing to be found. Circumstances demand that the participants’ identities be shielded, so it is left to the reader to discern who is credible.
“Anonymous poster: I campaigned for [Mayor Law] but after… talking to friends who are firefighters I would not even be able to look him in the eye without getting sick today. Fire department employees are all threatened [with firing] if they even talk about the mayor… One did say that what is posted [on the anonymous message board] is the tip of the iceberg.”
“We’d like to inform you that due to repeated or severe violations of our Community Guidelines your YouTube account runfuddlesticksrun has been suspended. After review we determined that activity in your account violated our Community Guidelines, which prohibit spam, scams or commercially deceptive content. “
There was no commercial content on that page. There was no spam. The only “deception” was many people claiming to be Mr. Fuddlesticks in a sort of new millennium “I am Spartacus.” There was nothing on that channel other than free speech advocacy and criticism of Renton’s administration.
After appealing to YouTube, the page was reinstated. Apparently anyone can flag a YouTube account for closure, so there is no way to say for sure who did it. However, Run Fuddlesticks Run has posted numerous accounts of threats and offers of bribes from “guild [union] members” who apparently believe s/he is Sergeant Marsalisi, which s/he denies.
Consider the following quote from an August 15, 2011 Renton Patch article by Jenny Manning:
“Patch: What if the [Mr. Fuddlesticks] video’s creator is not a City Employee?
Mayor [Law]: The big issue with the public is the perception that if ‘Joe Q’ citizen takes a shot at the police, or takes a shot at public officials that we’re going to go after them on a First Amendment basis, that they don’t get to be critical of us. That’s so far from the truth, its almost silly. … We never would have gone after a private citizen, they have the right to say anything they want.”
The frequent discussion of strongarm tactics against city employees stands in stark contrast to this June 28, 2008 article from the Renton Reporter, entitled Renton relaxes under leadership of new mayor:
“Today, a certain serenity seems to have fallen over the city, a counterpoint to what was perhaps the most contentious mayoral race in recent memory last fall.
Maybe it’s also that political honeymoon most new mayors get to enjoy. Or maybe it’s just a matter of the personal style of the man who presides from the seventh floor of City Hall.”
Anonymous posters weigh in about the role of the two local papers:
“Anonymous poster: Mayor Law is nothing more than a thug and a bully. He uses his insider status as a “newspaper man” to manipulate the local press into printing puff piece after puff piece and when an upstart like Renton Patch was actually covering this story he called them aside and let them know that their access to city hall was contingent on them getting things “right” (meaning they must be consistent with hizzonner’s take on the story).”
“Anonymous poster: Mayor Law is running unopposed… because he has the local media as the press office for his campaign. His supporters will cut off advertising dollars to the Patch and they have made that known. He is on the payroll of the Renton Reporter.”
According to Renton Reporter Publisher Ellen Morrison, Mayor Law is not on the payroll and has no ownership interest in the paper. Ms. Morrison stated that while Mr. Law founded the paper, he sold it “seven or eight years ago.” While that may be true, the Renton Reporter never seems to criticize or challenge Mr. Law. From the same article:
“For sure, the man has no ego, something that’s rare for politicians. He readily admits he doesn’t like the pomp and circumstance of the Mayor’s Office, something that feeds the ego of other politicians.
‘I am not that way,’ he said.
Occasionally, however, he needs a little coaxing.
‘Sometimes, we have to literally push him out the door,’ said Jay Covington, the city’s chief administrative officer, who for nearly 20 years has worked for four mayors, starting with Earl Clymer.”
The Reporter presents a portrait of a humble and reticent man hiding in his office. Dozens of anonymous posters, however, describe Mayor Law having his personal vehicle outfitted with over $40,000 in lights, sirens, tactical and fire service gear on the taxpayers’ dime.
Many posters state that the Renton Fire Department has someone assigned at each station on each shift to intercept Mayor Law and prevent him from assuming incident command — a role for which he is in no way qualified. This following an incident at a five-alarm fire where Mr. Law reportedly drove up in his personal vehicle using lights and sirens, dressed as a firefighter, and created havoc for trained emergency personnel.
If true, this is a highly unusual arrangement, and Mayor Law reportedly went to great lengths to make it happen. A document request on this subject is pending.
“Anonymous poster: I work in an auxiliary position in a neighboring jurisdiction and the stories about Denis Law arriving on the scene in full regalia, with lights flashing and siren blaring, to assume incident command are well known all over the Puget Sound region.”
“Anonymous poster: It is far worse than a sick joke, it is why he is running unopposed. With [Renton Reporter's] Dean Radford campaigning for him full time no one could hope to raise the cash to compete. That is why… some news outlet [needs to] expose what this idiot has done to the reputation of the City of Renton and especially the Police and Fire Departments. The FD has their people pretty well cowed into silence, that is scandal in and of itself.”
“Anonymous poster: If the stars ever were aligned, or the cards [perfectly] dealt, or the perfect storm… right in front of you, this is it… [An] election, with an UNOPPOSED and INEFFECTIVE mayor is here… If there ever was a time, this is it. I do not believe it will happen again anywhere as it can happen here and now.
Truly, this is set as if it had been planned for decades, and the time is now.”
“Anonymous poster: A real person would defeat the magnitude of absurdity the City of Renton has accomplished this year in regards to a cartoon character. Having that same cartoon character take any votes away from the unopposed mayor is the unique and possibly first occurrence of such a thing happening anywhere on earth.”
With the election a few weeks away, any challenge is a Hail Mary pass. The Mr. Fuddlesticks write-in campaign is an unfunded campaign backed primarily by people who are not at liberty to speak publicly and can only donate anonymously.
“Anonymous poster: Since Mayor Law is unopposed, not voting for him is the same… as voting for him. So, toss the vote of confidence and vote for Mr. Fuddlesticks. I would assume the entire election… or the votes cast for Mr. Fuddlesticks [would be] null and void. But if Law “won” only by tossing out Mr. Fuddlesticks’ votes, then he truly lost in the worst way possible.”
Mr. Fuddlesticks will surely get some votes, and may win. Regardless, Denis Law will serve another term as mayor of Renton. It remains to be seen how many will write in, or what percentage would be perceived as a rebuke rather than a prank.
Viewed as a microcosm, the dynamics of media, citizens, city hall, first responders and the justice system are telling. Anyone concerned about governmental transparency, police corruption and brutality, or prosecutorial overreach should be taking notes. Renton is hardly the only place in America where first responders seeking moral high ground are set upon by their own.
Are we, as a nation, circumspect enough to reconsider the role of our media, and how it affects our public safety and civil rights? This local election, which would ordinarily go unnoticed even by many residents of Renton, could serve as a clear diagnosis and a road map back out of our decline, if enough of us choose to notice.