Saturday, March 29, 2008

Campaign tactics question Moran's fitness to be mayor

To understand what's to follow, let me illustrate something that could happen to any of us in everyday life.

Suppose the brakes on your car failed and your car sailed through a stop sign and collided with another car, injuring the driver.

As a responsible driver, you have insurance and you notified your insurance company about the accident.

That leads to a common legal struggle to determine whose fault is the accident and how to apportion liability for the other motorist's injuries.

The other motorist says you were responsible because you were driving your car and, regardless of the bad brakes, you ran the stop sign.

You say, "Wait a minute. I wasn't driving recklessly. I just got that car a few months ago and those brakes are fairly new. They should have worked. I think the manufacturer is responsible because the brakes were supposed to work."

The automaker says, "It looks like the master cylinder failed. We bought that from another company. They should be responsible."

And so goes a typical legal battle over who is responsible for what seems to be a fairly straightforward accident case.

Fast forward to the Kenosha mayoral election where Pat Moran placed ads blasting his challenger, Keith Bosman, over an alleged "lawsuit" over water damage to a neighbor's condominium.

The ads, which appear in the Kenosha News and on WLIP, convey the impression that Bosman is some dirtbag because a water leak from his condo damaged one owned by an elderly neighbor who had to move out while repairs were made. The ads claim that Bosman is being sued because of this.

Let's sort this out.

First, there's no lawsuit. A lien was filed. At some point there could be a lawsuit but a lien isn't a lawsuit. A lawsuit is commenced when a complaint is filed. So far, none has been, thus the claim Bosman is being sued is false. A lien is filed to protect someone's potential interest.

Second, the fact a suit is filed doesn't mean a person is guilty of the alleged wrongdoing. There could be, as in the case of the defective brakes mentioned above, a search for who is at fault and, if more than one source is, then the fault under Wisconsin's landmark comparative negligence law has to be appropriately apportioned. This doesn't happen overnight.

Third, to convey the impression that Bosman is a scumbag who dumps on an elderly neighbor is flat out sleazy. It may also be a crime. According to Wis. Stat. s. 12.05: "No person may knowingly make or publish, or cause to be made or published, a false representation pertaining to a candidate or referendum which is intended or tends to affect voting at an election."

The case law interpreting this section pretty much allows election puffery such as name calling or distorting voting records. The current mud bath going on between the two state supreme court candidates is a good example of this. As distasteful as it is, it's not against the law.

But the line gets drawn when the allegations tend to impugn the other candidate's personal character and reputation, i.e., Candidate A saying Candidate B is a deadbeat who doesn't pay his child support.

It's one thing for Moran to blow smoke and call for an ill-defined "new direction" but it's another when he tries to denigrate Bosman's character with a false accusation.

While Keith Bosman isn't Mr. Excitement and certainly not without flaws, he hasn't resorted to the sleaze Moran has in this campaign. Bosman could have touted how Moran was chastised over showing a gun he kept in his office to a group of visiting students when Moran was mayor. Bosman could have lawfully placed ads calling into question Moran's financial qualifications because Moran's business went bankrupt. To his credit, he didn't. (And, to be fair, when third-party rumors about the bankruptcy began circulating, I rose to Moran's defense.)

I used to like and have a lot of respect for Pat Moran. The way he has conducted his campaign clearly indicates that something's wrong with this man that he has to stoop to such sleaze is order to build his candidacy. He is simply not qualified for any elected office.

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