Friday, May 26, 2006

Behold: The power of...

...the Forward Button.

I’m really not sure what to say about this. Sure, it’s just a gossipy story (all the best ones are) and there’s nothing really to analize, but I’d be foolish not to at least dig in and see what happens. Right?

A spat over a seat at a charity buffet may seem a minor thing - except when the primary protagonist is the Republican candidate for Howard County executive and the angered party is a Republican with friends in the candidate's political backyard.

The e-mail fueled fuss that was labeled a "misunderstanding" by Christopher J. Merdon, chairman of the Howard County Council. He called it "an unfortunate situation that was taken too far" and said he had apologized. He refused to discuss it further.

But several members of the exclusive Cattail Creek Country Club in western Howard are furious at Merdon, as much for his e-mails the day after the incident as for anything else.

"I think he thinks he's a little bit above us, which is not a good way to be if he wants our votes," said Susie Lanuza, a fellow Republican who was involved in a testy e-mail exchange with Merdon. "He's supposed to be one of us."
Naturally, the local Republican bloggers have taken to blaming the press, blaming the Cattail Creek members, and even trying to indict Ken Ulman (in a roundabout way) in this whole mess. The fact is the blame for this incident starts and ends with Merdon, and he knows it. He apologized. There’s no need to do so for him.

But what sparked this incident? Sun Reporter Larry Carson, following the train of emails, fills us in.
Merdon was a guest at the 11th Albright Foundation golf tournament and silent/live auction at the country club in heavily Republican western Howard on May 8. With more than 300 participants through the day and just 165 seats at tables, "there are no reserved seats," said Stephanie Albright, whose family foundation has given $1.3 million to groups that help needy children.

Lanuza said she, her husband and eight others were sitting at a table when Merdon approached and accused her husband of taking his reserved seat, rejected their entreaties and then angrily walked away.

"He came over and tapped my husband on the shoulder and said, 'This is my table and my seat.' We said, We're so sorry; we'll eat really quick.' We didn't notice the napkins on the backs of the chairs," Lanuza said.

"He huffed away, mad," she said. "It just left a really bad feeling."
Not really the way you would expect a candidate to act in a public setting, but he is entitled to anger over the fact that someone took a seat upon which he clearly called “fives”.

Now, if Cattail Creek were more like Vegas -- that is, if what happened there, stayed there -- we wouldn't be talking about this. But it ain't, and we are.
Things got worse the next day when Lanuza received an e-mail invitation to Merdon's free campaign picnic May 13. She took the opportunity to e-mail the general campaign address to complain about her interaction with him at the charity event.

"His high-horseness was really uncalled for and not taken very well. Just thought someone should know. Oh, and no, we won't be at the picnic," she wrote.

Well, she certainly could have phrased her displeasure better. But this is surely not the worst barb Merdon has received via email. Politicians, I’m sure, get this stuff daily. Heck, even I’ve gotten some pretty nasty emails – and I’m just a punk with a blog.
The following day, she got a reply from Merdon.

"It is common courtesy to have a seat reserved when there is a napkin on the chair - as was done throughout the room. That courtesy was not extended to me. It says more about the people who sat in those seats then it does about me."

"I am glad you won't be at the picnic. I want my guests to enjoy themselves and not have to interact with rude people who do not recognize common courtesy," the candidate wrote.

Lanuza was outraged, she said, and forwarded the message to friends, who have now forwarded it to dozens more GOP voters in western Howard.
Um, some would say that sending hasty, angry emails to those who once supported you is also considered rude (and not a good political strategy to boot). However, rudeness, like a lot of things, is in the eye of the beholder or, rather, the affronted.

Of course, you can always say “she started it!” But, trust me, that never works.

After cooling off – and probably getting an earful from some of his close supporters – Merdon admitted that he didn’t handle this situation very tactfully.
Merdon later sent another e-mail apologizing, both for his message and the entire incident.

"I was stressed out yesterday due to exhaustion of being on the campaign trail and working through the county budget," he said. "When I saw your e-mail, I reacted the wrong way."
Although I’m glad to see that he apologized, the fact that he was “stressed out” does little to justify his reaction. He is, after all, desperately trying to win the chance to have what is perhaps the most stressful job in this county. Also, as I’m often reminded by my better half, stress is no excuse for acting like a jerk.

Finally, don’t well all know by now that you never write something in an email that you don’t want the entire world to read? It’s just too darn easy for someone to hit that forward button.


hocoblog said...

No one is trying to defend Merdon. He made a mistake which I point out plenty of times on my blog. I am disappointed.

However, I am also disappointed in how the Sun treated the story. You saw my comments. Nothing further to add.

I wouldn't drag Ulman into this. He confronted someone at a public forum. The person denied what he accussed her of and he moved on. That was the end of it.

Anonymous said...

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