Friday, April 07, 2006

McKinney and Personal Security

When I was a kid, Wilson Goode was mayor of Philadelphia. He is infamous for his role in the Osage Avenue fire and MOVE incidents of the 1980s. He was also known for surrounding himself with security everywhere he went- his “entourage.”

He had the obligatory city cops and aids, but he also had at least five or six private security consultants with him at all times. In 1987, my high-school class was muscled out of the way when going through the Broad Street entrance to City Hall by this entourage. While I was just a punk kid with a clip-on tie, the size and demeanor of his security is a lasting impression of Philadelphia politics from my childhood.

Which brings me to Cynthia McKinney (D- GA).

I had no idea what the security arrangements for U.S. Representatives are or how necessary they are… so I did some checking.

On a normal basis, “regular” Representatives are not provided with security.

But, is it “normal” for Representatives to employ private security? I called six Representative’s offices (3 urban/Dem. and 3 suburban/GOP). One office said that the information was “classified.” None of the other five Representatives employ private security.

But, do Representatives NEED security? Four of the five offices that would talk to me about security acknowledged that being an elected official carries with it a definite loss of privacy. However, none felt that security was ordinarily necessary.

So, why does Rep. McKinney feel the need for an uncommon level of security?

Maybe the answer lies in the District that she represents. Her website describes her District thus:

“The District is majority Women (51% overall!). The District's ethnic diversity includes groups from all around the Asian Pacific Rim, from Central and South America as well as a growing African population. The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau figures list the population of the Fourth District at 744,717. The district, on average, has enjoyed an 8% growth rate. The median household income is $36,523 and the median family income is $42,177. While many persons in the district are doing well economically, 10.7% of the district's population live below the federal poverty line and 7.6% of all district families live in poverty.”

Review of suggests that Rep. Chaka Fattah’s District (D- PA) is similar in demographics and economics to Rep. McKinney’s. (His website does not include similar information to that available on Rep. McKinney’s website. Instead, it includes links to schools, social organizations, events, and the like.) He does not employ private security.

(For the record, I am not suggesting that this limited review is dispositive, I am simply offering it as a comparison. It could be that Rep. McKinney’s District has a higher incidence of threats against public officials and such. But, on its surface, the perceived need for private security seems to be disconnected from legitimate security concerns.)

It is not an earth-shattering idea to suggest that a public official’s “need” for security is based, almost entirely, upon perception. That perception may be based upon experience (Wilson Goode’s experience as a political activist in the 1960s and during the Frank Rizzo era for example) or upon information not available to the general public. However, I am suspicious of people who feel the need to erect barriers, where others in similar situations see no such need. In “regular” life such persons are labeled as “paranoid.”

This is not a quality to be admired, even if it does reflect the subject’s particular experience. In a public official, this quality can be downright dangerous.

Public officials, particularly in executive positions, have a tremendous capacity to misuse govt. resources. In legislators, there is a serious danger that one’s paranoia will lead to “extreme” reactions. On the one side we have Nixon and Wilson Goode. On the other we have Ted Kennedy and McKinney- Executives whose actions are informed by experience received through a defectively paranoid lens -Legislators whose marshalling of public opinion is tainted with a narrow, bigoted perspective.

At the end of the day, what is wrong with McKinney is that she perceives the world to be stacked against her and hers. Everyone who disagrees is an enemy. I worry about such officials- sometimes they strike out at their protectors with their cell-phone and, sometimes, they drop “incendiary devices” on rooftops.


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