Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mayor: "What's in it for me?"

Federal prosecutors rested their case Friday in the corruption trial of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, after Thursday's dramatic testimony from a city subcontractor, Dan DeBardelaben:
The businessman told jurors how, on three separate occasions in 1999, he delivered thousands of dollars in cash bribes from city contractor Samuel J. Barber Jr. directly to Campbell, who was then Atlanta's mayor. Barber, a computer contractor, wanted a multimillion dollar contract to be sure the city's systems were prepared to handle rolling over to the year 2000, a change many experts feared would cause havoc.
DeBardelaben, a subcontractor for Barber, testified that when he asked the mayor about the project as the two headed for the golf course that spring, Campbell responded: "What's in it for me?"
As a signature phrase, it's not quite as good as "Bitch set me up," but not bad.

It is important to keep in mind that no fewer than 10 people have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the Atlanta corruption case, among them contractor Herb Timmerman, strip club owner Michael Childs, and city officials Fred Prewitt, Larry Wallace and Joseph Reid. Unfortunately for the prosecution, a key figure in the case -- Campbell crony Rickey Rowe -- died of diabetes before the case could go to trial, and so the jury has heard only second-hand accounts of Campbell's interactions with Rowe.

Campbell may yet win acquittal -- I've predicted from Day One that no Atlanta jury would ever convict him -- in which case he would be repeating a pattern established by other Democratic mayors in New Orleans (Morial), Chicago (Daley) and Philadelphia (Street). In each of those cities, numerous people close to the Democratic mayor have gone to prison on corruption charges, while the mayor himself remains at large. This is similar to the pattern seen in the Clinton administration: several of Bill and Hillary's associates served time on various charges, but the First Couple themselves never faced any legal consequences beyond the temporary suspension of Bill's Arkansas law license. The big dogs play, the little people pay.

Media accounts vary widely on whether the prosecution established Campbell's guilt during the past five weeks. The Associated Press says:
[S]ome watching the trial say the only thing proven so far is that Campbell's years in office from 1994 to 2002 were marked by a high-rolling, jet-setting lifestyle, sometimes involving women outside of his marriage.
"You got a lot of smoke, and not a lot of fire," Atlanta defense attorney Bruce Harvey said. "Everybody's out front taking money and at least using Bill's name in vain. But there's been very little, if any, connection to Bill."
(Atlanta residents will recognize Mr. Harvey as the ponytailed lawyer who always turns up to defend guilty-as-hell people in any case likely to get TV coverage. Campbell was smart not to hire Bruce Harvey -- Atlanta's version of Mark Geragos -- which leaves the legal gadfly free to provide press commentary.)

But while Harvey takes a dim view of the prosecution's case, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's reporters see things differently:
He's been portrayed as a married man who lived the double life of a playboy. As a gambler who played $500-a-bet blackjack for hours. As a man who spent more than one-fourth of his eight years in office out-of-town, traveling with a variety of people: attractive young females, city contractors, campaign supporters and friends. He went to Paris, New York, Miami. He went to major sporting events. He gambled at out-of-state casinos. And almost all of his activities were paid for in untraceable cash. ....
The prosecution has made a compelling case. Government attorneys have called witness after witness — including some of Campbell's closest friends and a couple of former friends — to testify that extorting bribes and illegal campaign contributions from contractors who wanted city business was routine.
It's an amazing story: Atlanta is one of the fastest-growing major metropolitan areas in the United States, headquarters for such corporate titans as Coca-Cola and Home Depot. Campbell was the city's mayor when Atlanta hosted the Olympics in 1996, the same year he was a speaker at the Democratic National Convention -- he re-nominated Al Gore -- and was one of the names bandied about as a possible running-mate for Gore in 2000. At his trial, in addition to all the testimony about high-rolling, jet-setting and bribe-taking, there has been testimony from not one but TWO mayoral mistresses, including a beautiful TV news anchor. All in all, the kind of glamorous, high-profile case the media usually can't resist.

Yet ... has anybody seen any national TV news coverage of the Campbell trial? And does anybody imagine this trial would be a non-story on the major networks if the playboy ex-mayor was a Republican?

But my prediction of an acquittal (or at least a hung jury) for Campbell may be in jeopardy, due to a disturbing fact brought out during the trial:

Another witness this week testified that the mayor scalped four tickets to one of the most famous games in Atlanta sports history: The fourth game of the 1996 World Series between the Braves and the New York Yankees, in which Jim Lyritz hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning to tie the game, which the Yankees went on to win en route to the Series.

He sold the four $75 tickets, which were paid for by his campaign, for $2,000 — to a Yankee fan.

If the jury recommends the death penalty, you'll know why.


P.S.: Ann Woolner of Bloomberg News has an excellent column about the Campbell trial, pointing out that "it's hard not to notice what a heel this guy is in his personal life." Hmmm, who does that remind me of?

UPDATE: Thanks to Peach Pundit and Basil's Blog for the linkage!