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Judicial Restraint?

By PA

Fort Wayne Reader

2007-08-19


This issue’s cover story gives you the lowdown on the latest setback for the Matt Kelty for Mayor Campaign, so we’ll forgo detailing the nine-count criminal indictment against the Republican candidate. We’ll also defer comment on the all the possible political ramifications of that development. Our main story does an excellent job examining both.

So, what’s left for PA to say? Just this: seeing Matt Kelty in handcuffs was over the top. Don’t get me wrong. Political Animal isn’t faulting Indiana’s NewsCenter for capturing and airing the video - the station did an excellent job getting that exclusive. The question is whether the Allen County Sheriff’s Department did the right thing in following its normal procedure in an anything-but-normal circumstance.

In all due fairness, Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries’ hands were as tied as Kelty’s manacled mitts. The normal procedure in transporting a defendant from the courthouse to booking is to handcuff the person and put him/her in a squad car. To do otherwise with Kelty would have opened the department to complaints of preferential treatment.

However, the situation was special. Whether you love him or hate him, we should all agree that Matt Kelty is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and we try not to punish innocent people in America. But in this special situation, Kelty was punished - even though unintentionally. What worse punishment could there be for a candidate for public office than to be escorted away in handcuffs in full view of the media and public? And yes, the video has already been posted in YouTube.

As far as the entire legal proceedings, Kelty’s diehard supporters say this is all just a witch hunt. Who are the witch hunters? Some accuse the Democrats. Others accuse the Republicans. In any case, Kelty remains blameless in their eyes. However, Kelty detractors - their comments posted on various blogs and feedback polls on local TV and radio - argue that Kelty has no one but himself to blame. Regardless which side is right, or whether the truth is where you often find it in an issue this contentious - somewhere in the middle - the spectacle of Kelty being led away in handcuffs marked a sad day for local politics.

Can Kelty rebound from the impact of his arrest video and glum mugshot? Anything is possible. That’s easy to say but hard to believe in regard to Matt Kelty’s chances of becoming the next mayor of Fort Wayne. His inditement will continue to be the elephant in the room for the rest of the campaign by the elephant who never forgets.

Democratic opponent Tom Henry wisely and compassionately refrained from piling on during a previously-scheduled news conference that happened to occur the day after Kelty’s indictment was announced. “Don’t speculate. Don’t prejudge,” Henry urged citizen in regard to his opponent’s legal woes.

Given the grave nature of the charges against Kelty, PR expert Steve Cebalt of Bottom Line Public Relations (who is not connected to either campaign) points out that Kelty has a lot more at stake than an election. As a result, Kelty’s dilemma has transcended being a public relations issue. At any rate, there are no great answers public relations-wise in a situation like this, Cebalt says. However, Cebalt adds that most voters don’t harbor ill will against a candidate when he or she is down.

“No one wants to kick him while he’s down. His opponents aren’t piling on,” Cebalt says. “That says much about our community.”

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