Sometimes the best way to deal with an ugly personal slight is just to get over it. That's a lot easier said than done, but New Orleans City Council president Jackie Clarkson proved last week why this newspaper once compared her to the legendary Lindy Boggs, who will always rank as the most gracious politician ever to have served Louisiana.
I refer to Clarkson's decision to rise above the childish — and churlish — descriptions of her in emails between fellow Councilwomen Stacy Head and Shelley Midura. Although a protracted court battle continues over the release of hundreds of thousands of City Council emails, a select few of Head's emails were posted online briefly last week by attorney Tracie Washington, who sought the emails via a circuitous (and much disputed) public records request last December.
The legal wrangling over the emails raises tricky collateral issues, including whether Mayor Ray Nagin's administration wrongfully released them to Washington in the first place, but there should be no doubt that most of the requested emails are in fact public records — including those between Head and Midura in which they diss Clarkson behind her back like a couple of catty teenagers.
In one exchange, Head calls Clarkson an "ASSS" (sic) and a "disaster." She adds, "I am so tired of her old time politico bs I can't stand it." Midura replied in kind: "I know — Jackie just literally pays lip service to us, and it ain't workin anymore."
No doubt Washington, who may face an attorney disciplinary inquiry over her release of the emails while their potential disclosure was still being litigated, selectively posted exchanges that could do Head (and possibly Midura) the most political damage. Then again, no one held a gun to Head's head and ordered her to write that kind of garbage — and then transmit it via a taxpayer-provided server.
Council attorney Steven Lane, who represents all seven councilmembers in the court fight over release of the emails, tried to put the best face on it last week. He told The Times-Picayune, "I think most people can appreciate that from time to time people will send out e-mails they wish they hadn't."
I think most people can also appreciate that public officials ought to know better than to use public servers to send snarky messages about their colleagues. Ever.
If the release of Head and Midura's private comments reveals something embarrassing about their judgment, Clarkson's public reaction the next day spoke just as loudly about her character. "I'm too busy for it to bother me," Clarkson told The Times-Picayune. "It's like water on a duck's back. It's over. Let's get on with rebuilding our city."
Clarkson added that Head has apologized to her and that Midura had tried to contact her — and that apologies were not necessary.
That, of course, is the gracious thing to say, but in truth, public apologies from Head and Midura are absolutely necessary. Not just to Clarkson, but also to the citizens of New Orleans, who deserve to have their public servants focusing on public business rather than private grudges.
As the senior member of the council — and the member with the longest political resume — Clarkson occasionally has to play the role of being the grownup in the room. Publicly and privately, she also delights in her role as a mother.
This time, she has to be the adult and the mom to a pair of unruly junior colleagues. They would do well to take a lesson from her.