Candidate Mike Savage demonstrated shockingly bad judgement by paying himself a $10,000 monthly stipend from his campaign funds, and now critics will with justification accuse mayor Mike Savage of being part of an elite that's out-of-touch with how regular people lead their lives, and who will have a conflict of interest every time council deals with business related to one of his campaign contributors.
The Chronicle-Herald reported on the payments this morning, and quoted Savage defending them:
“I’m not ashamed of the fact that I needed to earn an income,” Savage said, adding that he’s the sole earner in his household.But Savage was asked directly about campaign finances during his "Mike chat" on October 11, nine days before the election, and he did not reveal payments to himself (at the 38:00 mark":
Savage, 52, said the monthly stipend matched his base salary at a private-sector job he held for about a year before he left to begin serious campaigning this summer. [....]
Asked why the stipend arrangement wasn’t made public earlier, he said he wasn’t trying to withhold such fiscal details of his campaign. He said he told reporters about the situation when they asked this week.
“You don’t discuss your campaign in public during an election,” Savage said. “You don’t talk about how much you’re spending on signs or how much you’re spending on advertising, you don’t talk about the details of the campaign (and) the strategy of the campaign. If I had been asked, I would have been very honest with people and told them.” [emphasis added]
(HOST) BRENDEN SOMMERHALDER: This question is about your campaign, and this is a question about how many people are paid on your campaign? [laughs]As mayor, Savage will be presiding over a city government that rules over 400,000 with an average annual household income of about $40,000. Many of the most important issues facing government—the St. Pat's-Alexandra school issue, a large chunk of the people who regularly use transit, for example—involve people who make far less.
MIKE SAVAGE: We have two—well we have one person who is paid, that's my campaign manager, and we pay people gas or little things here or there to do aspects of the campaign. We have one campaign director that's paid.
SOMMERHALDER: And I'm a proud volunteer. [laughs]
For most people, and especially for people at the lower end of the income spectrum, changing jobs is a major life move, made with trepidation. Very few people have the luxury of quitting one job and maintaining the same income while they look for another.
Savage, however, seems to think he's entitled to maintain his income, even when not on anyone's payroll. That's a luxury few can match, and puts him in a tiny elite. The fact that his income over the last few months came, essentially, from large development companies and other high-income Haligonians demonstrates that there are two economies, two ways of life, in this town: one for the special and connected, one for everyone else.
By paying himself a hefty 10K per month out of the campaign, Savage is sending his constituency a clear message: "I ain't one of you."
Savage defends his payments by, in effect, saying he's special and deserving: "he’s the sole earner in his household," explains the Herald. Most households have two people working full-time, to help meet ends, so Savage is already removed from the everyday life of his constituents. But to assume that he should be protected from the fears of income loss and uncertainty between jobs because, well, because he's Mike Savage, brings in another level of removal.
I'm reminded of two council candidates this past election. Gail McQuarrie, a bus driver who ran in District 2, and Tom Lavers, a firefighter who ran in District 11, were required, by law, to give up their city jobs, and therefore their incomes, while running for office. I talked to two other city workers who wanted to run for office but didn't, because they couldn't manage the loss of income. McQuarrie and Lavers probably lost about $8,000 each, plus the cost of paying into their health and retirement funds, to run for office. The non-candidates decided that was too costly. These are the kinds of decisions everyone else has to make, when contemplating running for office.
Blue collar workers have one set of issues to deal with, and Mike Savage has another.
And yes, this is exactly the point, and directly relevant. You do not get to pay yourself 10K a month from you campaign fund, unless you get big money contributions from people like you: people with a sense of entitlement, who play by a different set of rules than we rabble.
This is what is problematic with Savage's campaign contributions. He has defined himself, his expectations from society, what he is due, by being part of the economic elite of this town. For Savage, his station in life is primary, and the duties of a candidate or a mayor secondary. This looks a whole lot like how Peter Kelly behaved.
I've talked about the potential conflicts of interest related to Savage's campaign contributions before. But the biggest conflict is one of attitude: developers and business owners are in his small social circle of the economic elite, the source of his income when he's looking for work, while city workers, the people in public employee unions, the people who take the bus and go to office jobs, the staff at restaurants and so forth, are in a different class and don't deserve that special treatment.