Writer shares internal conflict about breaking mayor story
by Staff Writer
“What makes my marriage any different than anybody else’s?”
That was the question posed to me by Mayor Chris Montgomery’s wife, Lisa, on Tuesday, Jan. 4, less than an hour after I confronted her husband about a slew of questionable e-mails between him and another woman on his town e-mail account.
Her question is more than fair.
In fact, I spent the first 24 hours or so after discovering her husband’s e-mail exchanges trying to come up with every justification I could to ignore the story that had played out in the public documents.
I e-mailed four members of the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Government and all the professors in the political science department of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte listed online, trying to find out why we publicly discuss political officials’ private affairs.
When the holiday break apparently hindered a response from them by press time, I turned to old media reports on the private betrayals of public officials like Mark Sanford, John Edwards and Bill Clinton to find out what prompted the media coverage of their affairs – besides, of course, the sensationalism that seems to drive the mainstream media.
I didn’t find a satisfactory answer to the question of what makes public officials’ private matters fair game for public debate. What makes them different than private citizens?
Does voting them into office entail an open-door policy into their private homes?
“Do y’all want to know how many times we have sex, too?” Lisa Montgomery asked Tuesday.
Referring to the discovered e-mails between her husband and another woman, Lisa said, “a lot of this I’ve known about. I know he has talked to her, and I know how this has become.
“It sort of hurts me that you think it’s necessary to publicize it,” she said. “I don’t know why our private lives have to be made public. Everybody struggles.
What makes us different?”
Though I struggled myself to find a black-and-white answer to that question, it really boils down to something quite simple. Chris Montgomery, Lisa’s husband, is Mooresville’s mayor. He repeatedly participated in intimate conversations with another woman over public e-mail, which was entrusted to him by the people of this community to perform our business. He used public equipment, often on public time and from his public Town Hall office, to carry on the relationship.
Should we hold him and other public officials to a higher standard than the common citizen? Some believe we should. Does an elected official’s personal character determine the kind of leader he is? Some people believe so.
But others believe that people in general are simply hungry for scandals and sensationalism – and political leaders are often the victims.
“People love to see people fail,” Lisa Montgomery told me Tuesday. She said when her husband became mayor, she told him: “People are gonna be out to get you. They’ll stab you in the back as quick as you can turn around.”
But just as I don’t believe a person who cheats on his spouse is necessarily a bad political leader or that an extramarital affair, alone, is newsworthy, I also don’t believe it’s fair to blame “people” – i.e. the messengers or political opponents – for a public official’s egregious behavior.
At the end of the day, this story has little, if anything, to do with Montgomery’s personal life or marriage.
Instead, it’s about a mayor who has demonstrated a flagrant and careless disregard of the public’s trust. And when that politician engages in such a behavior in a public arena, on public time, using public equipment, he has no one but himself to blame for the scrutiny such behavior invites.