Saturday, December 29, 2007

Oh, Now He’s Sorry

The supposedly inadvertent disclosure* of emails from Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal suggesting he’s been carrying on with his executive secretary has proved a satisfying holiday diversion---much better entertainment than, say, driving through River Oaks to “look at the lights.” Any story that includes an extramarital tryst involving a high elected official and returns Lloyd Kelley** (bad ’90s flashback!), the not-so-lovable Irish cop from the east side, to the public stage … well, as Rosenthal himself might say in another context, We are truly blessed.

Ordinarily we aren’t exercised one way or another by anything an elected official does behind closed doors (short of pedophilia and/or heroin addiction). We figure his or her rich and rewarding private life is his or her business and no one else’s. But in Rosenthal’s case the media intrusion into his extracurricular activities is wholly justified, if only on the grounds that this longtime pillar of the Second Baptist Church has exuded a very thick air of sanctimony throughout his public career.

But there’s the more tangible question of whether putative gal pal Kerry Stevens’ $75,000 salary is out of line for the work she does---a point Chronicle birddog Matt Stiles endeavored mightily to prove in Saturday’s newspaper (although the figure doesn’t seem that outrageous)---and the even more tangible question of why Stevens is allowed to use a taxpayer-funded county car that she can fill with taxpayer-funded county gasoline. The last perk bugs us: Stevens is a secretary and presumably must only drive to and from the courthouse in connection with her job, unlike, say, an investigator for Rosenthal’s office who has to get out and about. We’ll be thinking of Stevens next time we gas up at our neighborhood Hugo Chavez gas station.

We hate to have to be the first to point out the obvious, and we’re sure the principals would strenuously object, but it would seem that Stevens is the walking definition of a “kept woman.” Here’s the chronology, as supplied by Rosenthal before he clammed up: He and Stevens had an affair back in the ’80s when both worked in the D.A.’s office and he was married to his first wife, although the relationship did not cause the break-up of that marriage. Since then he’s taken a second wife, a special agent for the FBI. After winning election in 2000, Rosenthal elevated Stevens to the executive secretaryship and, at least until very recently, was sending her such icky-poo professions of amore as “The very next time I see you, I want to kiss you behind your right ear” and “I always want to see you. You own my heart whether you want or not.” The “kiss you behind your right ear” line suggests a certain old-school gentlemanlyess, but you’ve got to wonder about a politician who’d convey such sentiment via publicly funded email, especially in light of the way elected officials’ electronic missives are FOI’ed right and left these days.

Rosenthal has said he’s sorry, and his apology included the somewhat cryptic suggestion that his public embarrassment is part of God’s plan:
I also understand that sometimes things happen for a purpose. This event has served as a wake-up call to me to get my house in order both literally and figuratively.***
Yeah, the D.A. sounds remarkably like many of the criminals he's prosecuted over the years: They’re always sorry after they get caught.

* How did the judge “accidentally” unseal the emails? Wasn’t he a Reagan appointee?
**Another question: Hadn’t Lloyd Kelley been married three (or four) times back when he was an elected city official, and wasn’t he once accused of having a fling with an underling in one of his offices (or it was strongly implied that he had …)? Maybe we’ve confused him with some other ex-official.
***We’re not sure what this means, exactly, but if Rosenthal needs help getting his house in order literally we’ve got some time on our hands right now and would be available for housecleaning duty at $50 an hour. We realize this is higher than a professional firm would charge but we’re fast, organized and speak nearly impeccable English.

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