Legendary journalist H.L. Mencken put it best: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
So do we want more Kylon Middletons or more Harry Griffins? The answer is about a lot more than which guy spent last Saturday night in a county jail and had his sad-sack mugshot in the newspaper, and which did not.
Nobody takes a good mugshot, and Griffin is hardly the only politician to be charged with driving under the influence. He’s not even the only Charleston City Councilman to be charged with DUI in the last year. Councilman Karl Brady at least had the humility to admit he made a mistake; by the time he got around to pleading guilty and paying a fine no one even noticed.
That’s not Harry’s way. Griffin, 26, says he is falsely accused, and he could be. He declined two sobriety tests after getting stopped in Berkeley County, and he has a better than decent chance of beating the rap with the help of a good lawyer.
Whether declining those sobriety tests is the example an elected official should be setting is another question altogether. Consider: The same night Griffin was arrested two Berkeley County cops and a firefighter were injured in two accidents involving suspected drunk drivers on I-26. Should those drivers Be Like Harry and refuse sobriety tests?
In his 3½ years on City Council, Griffin is best remembered for “Cardgate,” the faux scandal involving a city business card for the mayor’s wife, and for being too cozy with the Proud Boys. He ran for mayor for about five minutes, announced he wouldn’t seek reelection and then changed his mind. He was a strong voice against fill-and-build development, a good thing. Now you can add a DUI arrest to the highlight reel of his first term.
It was just a few months ago that Griffin was the accuser, not the accused, taking to Facebook to call Middleton a liar and “a man who potentially has a significant amount of criminal allegations.” Middleton, a lifelong pastor and educator who was elected to Charleston County Council in November, responded by denouncing Griffin as “immature, a racist, a white supremacist ... a bigot.”
“He put my life in danger with his dangerous rhetoric,” Middleton told Quintin Washington is a recent videotaped interview. After Griffin’s arrest last weekend, Middleton doubled down, demanding (again) he resign.
In February, just as Middleton was ruffling feathers on County Council over the obscene payday for departing county attorney Joe Dawson and challenging the council’s culture of doing almost everything behind closed doors, Griffin posted an eight-minute video outlining a slew of charges against Middleton. Was the timing a coincidence? I think not.
Deep in the gutter, Griffin produced an envelope he said contained a 7-year-old police report alleging Middleton assaulted a man when he was a school principal in North Carolina. It’s the kind of theater Joe McCarthy made famous in the 1950s when he waved a list of names of 205 supposed communists. McCarthy didn’t name a single name that day, and Griffin didn’t mention the North Carolina case was dismissed as meritless long ago.
Griffin said Middleton was evicted (he wasn’t) and said he was charged with writing bad checks (he was, 25 years ago, and he made restitution, less than $200 in all). Griffin offered petty questions about Middleton’s resume: Did he really graduate from high school at 15?
“It is time for you to practice what you preach, Rev. Middleton,” said Griffin, speaking somberly into the camera. “You have lied to us long enough. It is time for you to tell us the truth.”
The truth is this is the kind of garbage that no one else in town but Griffin would traffic in. He said the video was in response to Middleton’s call last year for his resignation during the Proud Boys flap. (Middleton was joined by a cast of thousands demanding Griffin’s head at the time.) Griffin also didn’t mention Middleton beat his dad, Darryl Ray Griffin, by 10 points in last fall’s County Council election.
“He jeopardized the life of my son and my own life,” Middleton said in the “Quintin’s Close-Ups” interview. “There were white supremacists calling us off the hook. We were threatened. We had to move out of the house right here in Charleston.”
Added Middleton: “I am a constituent in his district. ... His conduct is deplorable. I cannot believe he’s representing anybody.”
Griffin is young, pugnacious and undisciplined. While City Council has a new code of conduct, this is best handled by West Ashley’s District 10 voters in November.
A Trump wannabe, Griffin won’t be easily unseated in a heavily Trump district, but it might be good for everyone, Griffin included, to send him home to grow up a bit.
Steve Bailey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @sjbailey1060.