First, what exactly is a tempest in a teapot? Basically, it’s froth. It simmers, it bubbles, it boils, but the heat is contained in a small vessel, and in the end serves up little more than a modest cup of tea. This is how I think we should assess the “concession” drama in the District 3 council race. First, a reporter wrote excitedly that candidate Ellen Cochrane, a surprisingly strong contender, had conceded. She had dropped to third place and in a post to supporters she sounded as if she had done the math. She had. But she did not concede.
A voter called her. “My wife says you didn’t concede, but I want to be sure,” he said. She told him she didn’t, and wouldn’t till all votes were in. Others asked the same or similar questions and she gave the same answer. Still others called to tell her they refuted the concession rumor. My question is this: why didn’t the Bee reporter who wrote the article call her first to check the facts? He is paid to ascertain accuracy. He could have picked up the phone and clarified the issue permanently. Instead he assembled a story based on assumptions.
He did return her call when she called the Bee editorial department, then left him a message from Hawaii. “If you weren’t sure about my intentions, why didn’t you contact me?” she asked. His answer was that he discussed the matter with colleagues, political consultants, and someone from the News and Review. Now. Is it persnickety to suggest that News and Review colleagues might know a bit less about a subject than the subject herself?
More years ago than it is polite to tell, I took a few college journalism courses from Ms. Miriam Young, a fastidious lady with a mitigated Texas drawl. Ms. Young would tolerate no shortcuts. “Go to the source, go to the source, go to the source,” she would say. Our reporter might have profited from that class. The old fundamentals still apply: go to the source. Was the candidate premature in her statement? Yes, decidedly. Hers was an unsophisticated, issue-oriented, grass-roots campaign funded entirely by small donors who were District 3 neighbors and property owners. She had no high-paid consultants to advise her about political protocol or strategy. She was not part of the insider city bureaucracy. But the concession tempest is not the big story of her campaign.
The big story is this. Though she entered too late to secure endorsements, she made neighborhood preservation and quality of life prominent issues. She had a brave idea. She had gumption. She had a small team who believed in her, and trusted her vision. She answered questions frankly, then explained how she arrived at her conclusions. She didn’t dodge, duck or equivocate. One woman said, “I never met a politician like you before.” Neither had we. We liked the candidate she became: a principled advocate for the under-represented, a force for a clean vote and ethical politics. A great many people from East Sacramento, River Park and South Natomas responded to this and supported her. How she pulled this off in an election where developers finance candidacies and the traditional media anoint themselves kingmakers is the real story. The big headline from District 3 should read, Neighbors Have Champion. Everything else is a tempest in a teapot.