GOLDMAN: Food fight gets messy as ex-chef ‘threatens’ Governor McDonnell

Posted at 9:12 AM, Apr 24, 2013

by Paul Goldman

Has the time come for Governor McDonnell to eat crow?

As Richmond Times Dispatch top statehouse news hounds Jim Nolan and Olympia Meola reported, the former chef at the Governor’s Mansion is fighting back hard against four counts of having embezzled property [food and stuff] while on the job.

When first hearing about the case, I thought to myself: What the heck are the governor’s people thinking, in terms of their guy’s image?

Let’s think of the situation in what I like to call “200-proof politics.”

That is to say: Think like a campaign manager, or a top political strategy person. No Reverends, Ministers, Priests or Rabbis need apply. It is not your job to do justice, or root out injustice. Your job is to elect your client playing in the rules, which means you can go right to the edge – even lean way over – if need be. And winning depends on image to a large degree. What voters see, is what you are.

The Point Being: There is ZERO CHANCE of the criminal case against the former Mansion Chef helping the reputation of Governor McDonnell.

Moreover, the charges against former top Virginia food guy Todd Schneider are not exactly a big meal criminal wise for the prosecutor, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office.

This being an election year, I understand how Cuccinelli might want to be seen as a tough-on-crime AG, surely worth a few votes to his underdog campaign.

But Earth to Cuccinelli: Throwing the cook book at Mr. Schneider isn’t exactly going to be seen as some Dirty Harry prosecutor who is starring down the bad guys in an iconic “Make My Day” move.

Let’s call it like it is: On the scales of 200-proof politics, you have NO REAL UPSIDE politically if you convict the guy, but you do HAVE REAL DOWNSIDE RISK of what might come out at the trial. Or in the motions leading up to the trial.

Case in point: Mr. Schneider’s lawyers have made motions to find out how much food and stuff and silverware the McDonnell children might have been taking from the Mansion for their own partying and the like.

This is just the beginning if you ask me.

The Governor and his wife are already in hot water because they have tried to effectively stonewall the media on their having taken a big $15,000 gift from a controversial local business guy to help pay for a daughter’s wedding.

For some reason which escapes my 200-proof political brain cells, the governor has been so unforthcoming on the issue that it is now a $1,500,000 problem in terms of bad publicity. It will be $15,000,000 worth of bad MOJO by summer time if he refuses to change course.

One might expect such refusal to face reality from say UnDoctor Shonda Harris-Muhammed, the Richmond School Board member who refuses to apologize for claiming an education degree she didn’t have. She doesn’t have a clue about politics.

But a governor has a post-doctorate in the field.

He should know that if you refuse to do some kind of mea culpa, even if insincere, the problem keeps getting worse. The media, the public, wants to hear you plead guilty to something. It isn’t about the sentence, it is about penance.

THE GOLDMAN 200 PROOF BOTTOM LINE: The lawyers for Mr. Schneider are cooking up a menu of embarrassments for the McDonnell’s and their children.

Legal eagles Steven Benjamin – who I know personally – and his partner Betty Layne DesPortes are aggressive, smart, and very able advocates for their side of the game.

That’s their job, and they don’t strike out without swinging the bat. You pay a criminal defense lawyer to put on a defense. The system only works if they do.

In politics terms, this first round of motions aimed at the food and beverage antics of the McDonnell children are just the opening shots in the battle. This is just a breakfast snack. The main meal is still in the oven.

Two hundred proof wise, this is a  “Chicken McNugget” case. It could not come at a worse time for the governor’s image.

Schneider’s lawyers are making it plain: if we can, we are going to put the McDonnell life-style on trial to the extent it helps our client.

Let’s cut to the chase: The ex-chef’s lawyers have, politically speaking, threatened the governor.

MY ADVICE TO HIS EXCELLENCY’s AIDES: Get a message to Mr. Cuccinelli that they would consider it a big political favor for the AG to make a plea deal to end the case.

The solution is easy.

First, eat some crow on the $15,000 gift, and call for a Special Session of the General Assembly to pass new laws to help clean up the money side of politics. This will close that part of the loop. Next, as I say, get the AG to help close the other loop.

Is it really worth throwing away three years of work to build a solid political image for what is no real money to a governor and no real “tough on crime” street cred to a guy who wants to be governor?

For gosh shakes, this amounts of a food fight: there is no room for penny ante players at this level of the game.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR.  His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity.  Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.