Before trying to manipulate the press, it is a good idea to understand the press.
At 4:05 p.m. Monday (two-and-a-half hours prior to the Rapid City Council meeting) I received an email from Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Wright. Attached was a two-page vitriolic attack on Mayor Sam Kooiker regarding the Presidents Plaza project and a message saying he intended to read it during the council meeting.
The email was sent to me and to reporters or news directors from three television stations.
First, it is important to understand that I am not a Journal employee. John Lee McLaughlin is the city hall reporter. It was inappropriate for Alderman Wright to try to use me in an attempt to bushwhack Mayor Kooiker, or anyone else for that matter.
When I saw that none of the people above were included in Alderman Wright’s email, I forwarded it to them so they would have the same advantage as the television stations. Here’s a clue: I don’t write every Wednesday for the television stations. I write for the Journal, and I am loyal to them.
After forwarding the email to Journal newsroom management, I forwarded it to the mayor asking for his response, which is what any reporter or columnist would do. The mayor did not respond to me prior to Monday night’s meeting.
During a break in the meeting, another alderman told me there was a plan to table the item after Wright spoke and before Kooiker could respond. That didn’t work. Alderman Steve Laurenti asked Kooiker to explain his position on Presidents Plaza before Wright’s turn to speak.
Kooiker was prepared for the upcoming attack and provided a detailed explanation of where he stood. He said he has always supported the project, and he is satisfied with the existing agreement between the city and Presidents Plaza. He said he wishes the project would proceed without further political chaos.
Wright, on the other hand, was visibly shaken that Kooiker had foiled his ambush. “This is truly amazing, because someone leaked what I was going to say tonight, apparently to the mayor. Tragedy. A lesson to be learned,” he said. Indeed.
He then went on to read the lengthy and angry attack. If asking the mayor to respond to a personal attack in which Wright stated the mayor had “cheated” Rapid City citizens, then I am guilty of “leaking” the plan. Had I not forwarded his email to the Journal and the mayor, the paper would have good reason to terminate this column.
It should be noted that Presidents Plaza developers Hani Shafai and Pat Hall wisely remained silent.
Wright has appeared obsessed with Kooiker since he exposed fraud at the landfill that happened under Wright’s watch. Plan on Wright to run for mayor next year.
We’ll assume he’ll have learned the lesson he spoke of Monday night: Next time, don’t include the press in cheap, underhanded political conspiracies.
Michael Sanborn lives in Rapid City. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed by this freelance columnist are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rapid City Journal.