April 13, 2010 9:33:00 AM
Birney Imes - [email protected]
The other day over a late lunch I asked my friend Amos C. his thoughts on the city hall dustup between Mayor Robert Smith and Councilman Kabir Karriem.
Amos asked me not to use his real name. Not that he''s timid or without learned opinions; years ago, he was active in the politics of a large southern city. Being relatively new to Columbus, he''s trying to keep a lower profile.
"This is much ado about nothing. It''s a pimple on an elephant''s ass," he said.
"Could I have a bowl of the mushroom and chicken soup with my salad?" I asked our waiter.
"This was a personal confrontation outside the course and scope of their employment," he said. "It is a personal matter."
"Will you hold the bacon on my salad," I said.
"Give me his bacon," Amos said.
"But, Amos, these are public officials. As representatives of our city, shouldn''t we expect them to be on their best behavior at all times?"
"This is one of our problems, not affording these people private lives," he said. "Look, you have a couple doctors get into a fight on the golf course; are you going to bar them from practicing medicine?"
"Surely you think they should levy some sort of punishment on themselves," I argued, knowing where this was going. "Maybe a month''s pay cut. After all, they are voting to suspend and fire city employees who misbehave. Wouldn''t it be the height of hypocrisy to not punish themselves?"
"I don''t consider a personal confrontation a punishable offense. I''m sure punishment for Mr. Smith is the shame and embarrassment.
"I''m not sure (Mr. Karriem) is regretful," he continued. "You don''t go to City Hall at 9:30 without the intent to provoke. He knew the mayor was tired and busy. Really, the idea of a public official working at 9:30 is impressive."
In case you''re wondering, Amos C. is solidly in Mayor Smith''s corner.
"Aren''t you being a little hard on Karriem?" I asked.
"My question to (Mr. Karriem''s) brother is, was the post office open at 9:30 and did he get his package mailed? Amos said laughing. "I wonder what their mother thinks of all this."
"So you think we should just get over this and go on," I asked, "without punishing anyone?"
"Frankly, if you want to punish someone, you should punish our legislative delegation for the way they acted over name change for The W. I was embarrassed. I would almost rather punish them for neglecting their duty."
Since we appeared to be moving away from City Hall, I asked about the widely publicized squabbling between Lowndes Supervisors Harry Sanders and Leroy Brooks.
"The Harry and Leroy thing is much worse because it is a public meeting where they are supposed to be performing services on behalf of the community."
"Do you think race played a role in public perception of this?" I asked.
"Look," Amos said, "If this had been two whites, we would not be saying, ''What do you expect.'' This kind of thing enables those who are so inclined to say that."
"But, doesn''t this kind of behavior reinforce long-held stereotypes some whites have and fear?"
"I''m sure Mr. Smith grew up in rough circumstances," he said. "This is a learning experience; I''m absolutely certain that he''s sorry it came to this, and that''s a plus. So he has some weak spots; God bless him."
"Where do we go from here?" I asked.
"It''s probably healthy that these two guys had this physical confrontation," he continued. "If you had a boil, you know how it feels when it finally pops -- it can begin to heal. This might have been the mildest eruption we could have hoped for."
Said as only Amos C. could have said it.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.