How can my friend stay clean while vanquishing a dirty opponent?
October 6, 2018 11:40 AM   Subscribe

My friend, a young, media-savvy local political figure, is battling for for changes that would make both her and her nasty, old-school, street-fighting opponent more accountable to their shared constituency, On paper, she has much more legitimacy than he does. However, he is fighting her tooth and nail, deliberately undermining the work of his own organization and slandering her and her supporters in an effort to protect his own privilege. How can she expose what this guy is doing without stooping to his level? What are the risks she might not be aware of in dealing with something like this ? Personal experiences are very welcome, as are other resources.

My friend needs to keep her supporters focussed on her positive message while also subverting/undermining this man's message. Among the negatives she needs to communicate are: he's out of touch with the constituents, doesn't respond to their needs, and hasn't done so for at least a decade; he's been mobilizing his staff to work against the interests of his own organization; he's been using funds and resources to his own advantage at the expense of his organization and constituency,; he misrepresents the views of the organization to others; and he works less than half time.

For legal reasons, she's unable to call any of this out as the cronyism, open contempt for his own constituents, deliberate obfuscation, etc. that it is. She can, however, make it visible indirectly.

Although a lot of his resistance stems from simple older white male entitlement and the fact that this privileged dude has had his own way for many years, my friend fears being painted as agist (chichis not the case her camp contains many other responsive and dynamic individuals of all age groups). The obvious gender dynamic is, well, obvious, and is being addressed by others. It also leads him to drastically underestimate her determination and support, which is one of her huge advantages.
posted by rpfields to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: "which" is not the case, argh...
posted by rpfields at 11:45 AM on October 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

She can’t both focus on her own positive message AND personally call attention to his misdeeds. That won’t work - if she’s saying negative things, then that’s what will get talked about, covered by local press, etc. the classic way to deal with this is that she stays positive and then there’s an attack dog who goes negative. But that’s a pretty risky strategy, especially on the local level. It’s hard for her to stay clean this way.

I’d challenge whether or not she needs to go personally negative at all. Yeah, he sounds like a dick, but it’s hard to see how this would help her cause, unless it forces him to resign or something. Which is pretty unlikely unless he’s actually embezzling money or something.

It might help if you tell us more (without too many details of course) about the nature of the fight. Are they running against each other for public office? Are they two elected officials on different sides of a policy debate? Are they not elected officials at all? It might help us give you better advice if we understand what’s at stake and who they are trying to persuade.
posted by lunasol at 1:04 PM on October 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

For legal reasons, she's unable to call any of this out as the cronyism, open contempt for his own constituents, deliberate obfuscation, etc. that it is. She can, however, make it visible indirectly.

Sorry, I have no idea what this means, and it's a pretty important part of the question since it specifies what she can or cannot do. Can you clarify?
posted by phoenixy at 3:21 PM on October 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

my friend fears being painted as agist (chichis not the case her camp contains many other responsive and dynamic individuals of all age groups). The obvious gender dynamic is, well, obvious, and is being addressed by others

all she has to do to avoid the appearance of ageism is never mention his age. don't know why it would come up in any of her policy proposals.

and also, she should never try to argue that she can't be ageist because she has some old people on her side. this will be very embarrassing for her and will convince nobody. it will also make it ridiculously easy for him to make the corresponding argument that there is no "gender dynamic" because he claims female support. these are not valid responses to a suggestion of bias.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:42 PM on October 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

She needs someone to do for her what Giuliani does for Trump, i.e. say the things she can't say. Someone to post on social media, if that's a thing in this context, and to makes sure the press is aware of the other guy's bad behavior.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:45 AM on October 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Following up to answer a couple of the questions: she's an elected member of a small municipal council and he's one of the senior (over) paid staff. He's done what he wants for years without much oversight and doesn't welcome the fact that the new group of councillors (including my friend) are engaged and expect him to actually implement their decisions rather than his own.

The council has a very pro-staff harassment policy in place (normally a great thing!) and this guy has a pattern of using it to his advantage. If he files a claim against my friend, she would have to hand over this particular file to someone else, which would limit the effectiveness of her campaign. So, she is treading very carefully and trying to rise above his numerous personal attacks on her, and avoid calling him out directly, at least until this particular file is closed.
posted by rpfields at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2018

Who is in charge of hiring and directing staff, and what’s their take on this?
posted by michaelh at 5:23 AM on October 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Re hiring and directing staff, that's a complicated question. The senior staff, including this guy, are hired and directed by the Council, who support my friend, albeit with one or two exceptions. The other staff are hired by this guy, who has spread a bunch of misinformation about this particular issue and how it will affect them, creating a huge amount of unnecessary tension.

The Council has been pretty passive in regard to operating issues for a long time, and has mostly taken this guy's word for everything. That's changing, and a large part of this guy's issue comes from the fact that he no longer has rubber-stamp approval for everything.
posted by rpfields at 1:01 PM on October 8, 2018

Ah ok, I see. This is a pretty complicated situation - has she consulted an attorney about this? Ideally she could work with the city/town attorney but only if she knows that person will stay out of the fray, which is not always the case.

I think the best course of action here is to put politics aside and put the work at the center: set expectations for him with specific deliverables (and dates associated with those deliverables). Get him to sign off on those. Follow up with him regularly. As much of this as possible should be documented. Keep politics out of it - it's not about his personal thoughts on policy changes - it's about him doing the job he's paid for.

The members of the council should be working hard to build relationships with other staff members as well. If they're only hearing from this guy, and he's pouring poison in their ear, that's not great. But if other staff see the council members as partners in policy change they want to make, that could be beneficial to everyone.

That also reminds me of something: the system may be set up so that the council members make policy decisions and the staff carry them out, and that may seem fair because the council members are elected, but in reality, staff always have a lot of hand in shaping policy. If the council has typically been distant and passive, there may actually be legitimate frustration from staff beyond the issues with this guy. Do staff help write policy/legislation? Do council members seek them out for their expertise? Do they treat them like close partners in making the city run as well as it can?

Again, this is a way of putting the work at the center - the work of both the council and the staff is not to control the process but to make their community better. There have to be ways they can work together to do that.

Finally: your friend also shouldn't allow herself to be out on a limb here. This is the whole council's responsibility.
posted by lunasol at 4:56 PM on October 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

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