The Tampa political scene is still buzzing about WTSP’s Noah Pransky’s comprehensive and damning report about the working relationship between Mayor Bob Buckhorn and consultant Beth Leytham.
Undoubtedly, Pransky — already a George Polk award-winner — will collect a cabinet’s worth of trophies and accolades for his work.
(I have a few problems with the story, including Pransky’s questions about whether Leytham should “register” as a political consultant ((there is no such requirement)) and his reliance on the paint-by-numbers quotes of academic Dr. T. Wayne Bailey of Stetson University.)
While there will certainly be a great deal of discussion about this story — it was even the talk of the Governors Club in Tallahassee on Tuesday night — let me offer a few quick thoughts.
The first is: Somewhere in North Florida, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is smiling. Sure, the Democratic congresswoman may be drawn out of a competitive House seat, but if her ambition really is to run for governor in 2018, Graham’s is a direct beneficiary of Buckhorn being taken down a notch by this story. Add to this report the continued scandalous news coming out of Miami Beach — where Mayor Phillip Levine is also a possible 2018 contender — and Graham’s prospects are improving without her doing anything.
But back to Tampa, where it’s inexplicable how Buckhorn and Leytham, two of the savviest operators in politics, could handle this situation so poorly.
My armchair quarterback advice to Buckhorn is that when he’s asked about his relationship with Leytham, he should go ‘Clear and Present Danger.’
That’s a reference to the 1994 Harrison Ford movie based on the Tom Clancy novel about a president who launches a covert operation against a drug cartel that has murdered his close friend. It turns out that friend was caught up in the drug business, an association that could develop into a scandal for the president.
POTUS’ advisers suggest he distance himself from his friend, but Ford’s character, Jack Ryan, offers different advice:
“l would go in the other direction.
lf a reporter asked if you and Hardin
were friends, l’d say ”good friends.”
lf they asked if you were good friends,
l’d say ”lifelong friends.”
Give them no place to go,
nothing to report. No story.
l mean, it’s no sense in
defusing a bomb after it’s already…
…it’s already gone off.”
Beth Leytham is no drug kingpin, but she has brought unneeded scrutiny on the mayor. But it’s silly for Buckhorn, as he did in the interview with Pransky, to not embrace her.
If asked if Leytham is an adviser, Buckhorn should say, “She’s my top adviser.”
If asked if Leytham is involved in his campaign, Buckhorn should say, “Absolutely, she’s one of the best minds in the business.”
If asked if Leytham is a good friend, Buckhorn should say, “lifelong friends.”
As for Leytham, her interactions with Pransky have me wondering if she really is in the crisis management business. Because her management of her own crisis is a reminder of why attorneys accused of a crime should not represent themselves.
It’s this answer that has me particularly concerned:
“I don’t get, honestly, what is the big *expletive* deal about me,” Leytham asked 10 Investigates following the station’s first interview request on Aug. 17. “I’m a single parent. I live in Seminole Heights. My car is a 2008. It’s not like I’m living some lifestyle…I’m 5’2.” What the *expletive*?”
Never in the history of journalism has a reporter, when questioned by a subject ‘Why is this news?’, has the reporter slunked off back to his editor/producer and said, “You know what, the subject of investigation is questioning whether or not said investigation is really news, so I’ve decided not to pursue this story.”
That’s never happened. Leytham should know that. It’s PR 101.
Leytham needs to call on one of her colleagues in the crisis management industry, have them represent her, and stop acting like she’s smarter than everyone else in the room. She might even be, but her attempt to bluster Pransky only served to motivate him.
What’s really tragic about this whole affair is how it is a distraction from the incredible progress taking place in Tampa. And Buckhorn is responsible for a lot of that. It will be interesting to see if the story of the Tampa Miracle can be fully told or whether the mayor will get bogged down in this scandal.