Sunday, April 13, 2008
Kesting's Speech Was No Apology
By Laura Armstrong
Like many of you, I read with interest in Friday morning's MDJ about Democrat Commissioner Annette Kesting's scheduled news conference on the Marietta Square.
After her shocking public comments defaming county employees with whom she works, I felt it was important to go and see what she had to say in person. Maybe I was expecting another typical politician's non-apology, or a statement that she would not run for her District 4 seat again in light of personal tribulations. Whatever Ms. Kesting was going to say, I wanted to hear it directly, unfiltered, so there would be no doubts in my mind if ever the time came to write about her.
Kesting began her remarks early and spoke quickly, projecting a garbled mix of victimhood, earnestness and downright defiance.
She read from a prepared speech, claiming early on that "dirty politics" had brought her to this place. Blaming journalists and political enemies for her travails, she spun her politician-as-victim story, strangely comparing herself to President George Bush, yet never explaining the racially charged remarks she'd made at a recent church appearance other than to repeat they'd been taken out of context.
Now there's an original excuse.
Her audience was small, mostly reporters and a few activists. Political party support wasn't obvious, if it was there at all. Notably, a half-dozen courthouse employees, white women, walked over after Kesting had started, and it was obvious to me they might have a role in this drama.
Before Kesting's presentation was half over, I struggled to keep the ever-important media poker face. My jaw had literally dropped. This elected official had publicly disparaged the race and religion of private individuals who are not in the political arena, and all but named them by identifying "the third floor" of the courthouse. Her initial explanation, that her racial remarks were intended to motivate others, didn't quell negative publicity. And now she was justifying her gaffe by deflecting and claiming a conspiracy.
Within minutes, Kesting concluded her prepared remarks. Almost as an afterthought, she added, "I would like to apologize for (sic) the ones that I have offended in my speech at Pleasant Grove."
She exited abruptly, leaving three members of a Cobb-based civil rights organization still at the podium to interject their agenda into the story.
This group, the New Order, first attracted my attention when they heckled Kesting at one of her earliest town hall meetings. The relationship changed, they revealed, when they "got to know" Kesting better.
I asked New Order CEO Gerald Rose if he's now formally advising her; he affirmed they will support her through the controversy, and his associate added they'd be supportive of "anyone who's being discriminated against."
During their remarks, I couldn't help but notice the irony of the ladies quietly listening on my right, the real-life working women whose reputations Kesting damaged first and foremost, the slander now glossed over by media and the New Order.
Their side of the story remains untold; they don't want to make things worse. But I suspect Kesting's public excuse-fest on Friday did just that.