Can’t we just let the angry mayor story drop? Hope for the best, go back to reporting on other things and at least wait until something new happens to rip off this scab?
We’d like to, but we can’t. The mayor’s apology implied that his outburst on Blaber was just due to his fractured relationship with Blaber, but we knew before that there were several other incidents. If journalism — real journalism, not the mindless quote regurgitation and mendacious PR work so much news reporting has degenerated into — means anything, it means holding people in power accountable for what they do while on the public dime.
The narrative that took root among his many defenders holds that Gallo had a bad day when he blew up at Blaber, that it was an unflattering but understandable outburst of temper. In fact, as the stories we gathered in the article testify, Gallo has serious issues of temper that impact his dealings with employees and the public. People can make what they want of those issues. Some people will say its no big deal, some will be outraged. We can’t control that, but we have a responsibility to correct misperceptions, including the one that the behavior heard on the Blaber recording is an outlier.
Yeah, but so? Consider: the city’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending and eventually paying out a lawsuit based on poor treatment of city employees. Legally speaking, there are few things more “actionable” than the chief executive of a city, the guy charged with enforcing workplace standards, behaving in a manner that violates those standards. City employees are public servants paid with public dollars. The public has a right to know and have a say in their treatment.
Further, Gallo’s making threats of arrest or other legal sanctions is also a liability. The mayor is not a cop. When a regular citizen says, “I’ll have you arrested,” it’s a figure of speech. When the city’s chief executive, head of the police commission and the police chief’s boss, invokes his position and says, “I’ll have you arrested,” it raises the specter of the kind of abuse of power that is both foreign and offensive to American traditions and sensibilities. Again, that’s the talk of tyrants, not democratically elected officials.
The mayor is the public face of the city. That face should not be red-faced with rage. Public outbursts like the one at the Independence Day celebration put Kingston in a bad light. The prospect of having to deal with an unpredictable mayor given to fits of rage, with an outlook that emphasizes the punitive and lingers on grudges, may feel empowering to Kingstonians fed up to here with a city government viewed to be unresponsive and self-serving. But it’s not a comforting prospect to those looking to invest in the city, people who look for professionalism when they evaluate where to drop their millions.
So, how can the city and Gallo, married to each other until at least Jan. 1, 2016, move forward? He could simply say that that is who he is and he’s OK with that — certainly there are those who see no problem with the occasional public harangue directed at a street vendor or city worker. Alternatively, he can acknowledge that his past behavior has at times reflected poorly on the office of the mayor and not served the city’s best interests, which he did to some extent in his Blaber apology. He can make a commitment to reining in his temper and treating everybody with a level of respect befitting a public official, using his undeniable energy and talents to lead by inspiration rather than terror. What he can’t do, must not do, is hide behind a wall of cowed employees to shield his behavior from public scrutiny and make their lives a living hell.