Political patronage is as old as our current conception of democracy itself. That’s because there’s nothing necessarily wrong with awarding jobs to friends and supporters upon taking office — those who have continually offered their support, after all, are also capable of offering sage advice and grounding a candidate once they’re elected.
In the case of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s friend and former staffer Wayne McDonald, however, lies an important lesson: Don’t appoint friends to political or advisory positions unless you’re confident they’re both capable of doing the job well and positive that they won’t paint your administration in a bad light. McDonald, Hancock’s college classmate, was dismissed from his position as the mayor’s “special projects” coordinator after allegedly sexually harassing a female Denver police officer with whom he had a professional relationship.
McDonald now plans to file suit against the city to clear his name, but neither that potential litigation nor the circumstances surrounding McDonald’s dismissal were sufficient cause for Hancock to end their personal friendship, according to a recent report at Westword.
From Sam Levin:
McDonald is a longtime friend of the mayor; he was appointed as a “special projects coordinator” but fired in May, after allegedly making inappropriate comments in front of a female Denver police officer. His legal team has filed a notice of claim, and plans to file the official lawsuit in the next month or so. In addition, his attorney, Anne Sulton, has also filed an Ethics Board complaint, on view below. Sulton says he asked for an investigation before he was fired, and is now requesting one via the upcoming lawsuit and the ethics complaint.
But questions of unemployment benefits are not the only concerns Sulton raises when she is asked to respond to the mayor’s comments.
“I know that since my client has been fired, [Hancock] has been calling [McDonald] and his wife and sending text messages to my client,” she said.
In our brief chat yesterday, Hancock told us he has not spoken to McDonald in a while, and that may be true, Sulton said, pointing out that to the best of her knowledge, McDonald has not responded to any of the mayor’s messages.
“I think it’s highly inappropriate for the mayor to be calling the man’s wife and sending texts to my client,” she said.
By Sulton’s estimate, the mayor has reached out to McDonald and his family at least three times with texts and calls — mostly in the immediate aftermath of firing him. When pressed on the matter back in June, Hancock told reporter, “We’re still friends.” [POLS Emphasis]
This story has always contained an element of the absurd. A close friend of the mayor’s, appointed to a relatively senior position within the administration, allegedly harassed a female police officer. It’s a compelling story for a lot of reasons, chief among them is the fact that Hancock should’ve dealt with this issue on a personal level. Nobody knows went on behind closed doors, but if Hancock had made a personal appeal rather than assigning two functionaries to tell McDonald, as Levin reports, to resign or “be fired,” there’s a good chance the latter could’ve left with both his personal and Hancock’s professional reputations intact.
Unfortunately, the time for personal appeals was over the second McDonald was forced out of his job. Hancock may believe that he and McDonald are “still friends,” but they aren’t. Their “friendship” ended when their professional involvement did. Setting aside the lawsuit, McDonald became toxic to the administration when he was fired for inappropriate conduct. Even if Hancock would like to stay friends, he certainly can’t do it publicly without calling into question his rationale for hiring McDonald in the first place. It’s an unfortunate reality in politics that sometimes “friends” get in the way of governing. That’s certainly the case here.
No matter how guilty Hancock felt about having to let his friend go, or rather, having his staff let his friend go, he should not have attempted to communicate with McDonald after the fact. Period — no texts, no phone calls, no e-mails. By staying in touch with his old college pal, Hancock directly links himself to what should otherwise be a personnel issue.
Reaching out makes Hancock look like a guy reluctantly forced to end a relationship with an old flame: “Listen, you can’t work here anymore, but we can still be friends, right?” Hancock almost seems guilty for what he had no choice but to do.
If Hancock wanted to keep McDonald as a friend, he shouldn’t have hired him in the first place. This far in, however, he can’t simultaneously maintain the friendship without jeopardizing his image as mayor.
That would seem like common sense to most politicians, but with Hancock, it’s just another piece of evidence that he hasn’t yet figured out what he should and should not do in his position.