Integrity Must Supersede Political Loyalty

Integrity is the single most important ethos the public has a right to expect from anyone who participates in the political arena. Beyond party and philosophy, it is the one essential element of governance that each of us must insist upon when doing the people’s business.

Too often our divided politics or the perceived power of an individual has prevented the body politic from speaking out against obvious corruption. Due process is essential for our legal process. But flagrant acts of corruption, abuses of power and illegal activities need to be addressed as soon as they’re recognized.

Josh Koehn of Metro News deserves a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative journalism that led to the criminal charges filed against Supervisor George Shirakawa, who resigned on Friday. Koehn’s exposé ran on Sept. 26, 2012. This was the beginning of the end for the supervisor.

Make no mistake, it was good journalism that broke this story. Reporters followed up on leads and public documents, emboldening investigating agencies. The District Attorney diligently followed up, but the mechanisms in government designed to prevent or catch corruption failed at every level.

The Mercury News was the first to call for the Supervisor’s resignation. Those who always opposed Shirakawa politically were more than gleeful to jump on the bandwagon. Some good government folks—Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone and former Supervisor Blanca Alvarado—raised their voices in opposition to the illegal acts of the Supervisor.

But much of the body politic remained largely silent. Community leaders from all walks of life, regardless of party or philosophy, should have condemned the obvious acts of corruption and called for the supervisor to resign.

By failing to speak-out, many of these leaders exacerbated the already prevalent public opinion that all politicians are corrupt. It’s hard to blame the cynical when an elected official flagrantly violates the law for so long with no detection, despite systems in place designed specifically to thwart the very acts that occurred. And when Shirakawa was finally caught, blame was placed on the systems rather than the individual who violated his oath.

Dante said, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, preserve their neutrality.”

Another group of people were some of Shirakawa’s friends and supporters who had a noble but misguided sense of loyalty. Like most enablers, these folks thought they were helping, but they did neither their friend nor the public any favors by defending the indefensible.

In politics, a friend, aide or consultant is often privy to personal private information. People are human and sometimes make mistakes. If tasked with correcting the error without public embarrassment, that is part of the job. However, covering up illegal activity, enabling a pattern of unethical behavior or any breach of fiduciary responsibility to the public is not part of the job. Integrity means that you stand up for what is right when it is difficult.

Shirakawa was at one time my client, a political ally and, most importantly, a friend. But when the facts became clear he had violated the public trust, that interest had to supersede those relationships. His constituents deserved to hear the truth and so did he. There was never going to be a happy ending to this story for him.

In his book Blind Ambition, John Dean tells the story—with immense pain—about having to tell the truth about President Nixon, for whom he served. He served jail time himself for his own role in the Watergate cover-up. But Dean ultimately recognized that his “boss” was really the people of the United States, and that Nixon was simply his manager.

It is a lesson for all who seek public service. Regardless of party, philosophy, personal interest or political fall-out, the public interest must come first.

Santa Clara County is fortunate to have a majority of leaders whose integrity is unchallenged, including the remaining members of the Board of Supervisors. And negative events can sometimes produce positive opportunities. In fact, two of the most ethical women in San Jose are the most common names mentioned to replace Shirakawa in the District 2 seat.

If such representation does come to pass, the residents of district two will ultimately have Josh Koehn to thank.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

15 Comments

  1. Geo will never see the inside of a jail cell. He’s got a high profile attorney and the beginnings of a victim defense, as he “suffers” from depression and gambling addiction – I imagine most crooks get depressed when they get caught.
    Geo will get an ankle bracelet for a few months, and will “suffer” at home, probably watching porn and devouring junk food. Then he’ll resume his lucrative lobbyist business. And oh, BTW, he’ll get his (hefty) public pension and lifetime free healthcare. Wow, he’ll think twice before he commits another felony, huh? 
    Note: Why did Geo give up so abruptly, with just a whimper?

  2. As you quote Dante in this article Rich, for whom in the Inferno does Mr. Alighieri reserve the 9th circle of hell?

  3. The body politic in Santa Clara County wasn’t simply silent on Shirakawa’s misdeeds but they were apologetic for him.  Even now on social media, after the public knows the truth of his theft of public funds and misuse of political donations, after his own admission of guilt there are those that are lauding his leadership and good works.  I wonder if they also laud the accomplishments of Hitler other than the small matter of the Holocaust. 

    Shirakawa’s cronies who stood by him and did not call out his misdeeds, who did not raise their voices to champion the public interests rather than their own corrupt friend’s personal gains should be ashamed and should re-examine their own so-called leadership ability.  From his disgraces chief of staff who laughed it up when Josh Koehn first confronted them for the article (about the campaign filing misdeeds) to acting chief of police Larry Esquivel to Councilman Xavier Campos who hungrily gobbled up many a free-lunch at tax payer expense.  Maybe Campos feels he owes George loyalty since he let Campos hide out in his office when he escaped the MACSA shame by giving him a job. 

    If my friends commit a crime, whether it be robbing a bank, assault, embezzlement or drunk driving I don’t say well except for THAT they’re a great person and that is exactly what too many of Gluttonous George’s buddies are still doing now.  It sickens me the way that they expect others to not even question his character. 

    You are right Mr Robinson, without integrity a public leader is worthless.  Too many of these so-called leaders have revealed themselves by their continued loyalty to the thieving ways of Shirakawa.  The east side has suffered enough and it is down right shameful that it came at the hands of one of our own.  There isn’t a place hot enough for Shirakawa and his crew.  Unfortunately Cindy Chavez is also a part of that gluttonous and self serving, entitled crew.

  4. I absolutely agree that Josh Koehn deserves all the credit for the exposing of Shirakawa however Shirakawa himself is responsible for his own downfall.  From the September article until Friday’s resignation George denied, denied and denied and even worse he blamed, blamed, blamed. 

    Josh Koehn, SJ Inside and the Metro deserve the respect and thanks of the public.  Well done!

  5. Richard,

    Things have gotten way out of control, and it is time that things change! It is very easy to write about George, without addressing the REAL issues here. It’s easy to polish over the apple with pats on the back for those who “exposed” this horrific situation. The difficult part is RESOLVING the problems that caused this in the first place to ensure vital changes occur, so that this doesn’t happen again.

    I don’t agree with all the perks politicians receive while in office. I don’t think tax payers should be footing the bill for cars, hotels, food, travel, etc. Tax payer money needs to go to REASONABLE salaries, resources, and services to the public. Let the elected, or the event organizers foot the bill for these ridiculous trips.

    I also think there needs to be limits on campaign contributions, and how that money is used by the candidate. It seems only the well off, with the biggest name recognition run for office and win.

    There are plenty of good, integrity ridden people who would serve us better, but who are never taken seriously, or don’t stand a chance in an election because they don’t have the kind of media coverage, or outrageous financial backing that it takes to run. Why should money, media coverage, or name recognition be the deciding factors in a race/election?

    The media has a part in this nightmare too. They tend to endorse well known candidates, just like you have done in this article, and hinder unknowns from ever standing a chance of winning. I say “equal time,” for all candidates should be an absolute MUST have in elections to level the playing field.

    The press attacks a candidate, ONLY when they smell a story, and then claim to be serving the best interest of the public. It makes me sick because many times they help put these folks into office. The press gives passes to these politicians even when THEY know something is amiss. 

    Our system, the way it stands right now, enables and fosters politicians to engage in the arrogant feeling and practice of power, fortune, fame, and a sense of entitlement. These politicians begin to think they are above the law, and they FORGET who put them there. They forget that we the “public” employ them, and that they are accountable to “US!” 

    When tax paying citizens object to the behaviors of elected, or the expenditure of our money, politicians ignore them, and try to justify their actions using these BS policies and procedures that keep them safe from public scrutiny. The God’s honest truth is that our system is set up to fail because it does NOT focus on integrity, or accountability to the people who elect them, or pay them through our tax dollars.

    The voters are to blame too. They keeping voting in candidates who are used to the “good life.” I wish they’d educate themselves before voting, or not vote at all. They deserve what they get when they vote in the status quo. They need to demand excellence and that’s what they’ll get.

    As to George, my thoughts and prayers are with him. I did ask him to resign privately, but I never got a response back from him. I think he took so long to resign because SOME of his friends and supporters encouraged him not to. Some encouraged him to use race, sports, forgetfulness,and his good deeds as excuses for his bad behavior, and gain sympathy and support for his wrong doings. 

    Losing a powerful ally, selfishness, losing a free ride, denial, friendship, entitlement, their own agendas, everything BUT integrity and loyalty to a friend in trouble put George in this situation as well.

    A TRUE friend tells you when you are doing well, and they tell you when you are an idiot. A true friend stands by you while you go through hell and back, and they don’t make excuses for you, they just stand by you. They don’t desert you when you fail or make mistakes. Let’s see how many of his “friends” go visit him in jail, and are there when he gets out.

    And finally, the REAL issue of addiction needs to be addressed here. We all suffer from it in some way, or we know someone who does. Turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to addiction can be dangerous, or can even lead to death.

    We can either learn from our mistakes, or we can continue on doing something that doesn’t work. I hope we use this as a lesson so that it doesn’t happen again.

  6. I love the way you spout a litany of things that almost no one would disagree with.  Stuff Josh Koehn is a great journalist.  Stuff like politicians should be honest, and when they aren’t honest, it’s bad.  And so on and so forth.  Then when you have your readers ready to agree with whatever is next, you drop a line like:

    In fact, two of the most ethical women in San Jose are the most common names mentioned to replace Shirakawa in the District 2 seat.

    Excuse me?  On what basis are you making a claim like that?

      • Fair enough, but what am I supposed to think about your December 13 article on Cindy Chavez?

        ”… Is Cindy Chavez running for Mayor? Is she positioning herself for Supervisor?

        “The simple truth is Chavez made the decision to leave the South Bay Labor Council and focus solely on Working Partnerships months ago. But due to her high profile status, she decided to wait until the November elections were over, so as not to disrupt the political campaigns she was trying to help.

        “Sometimes people in public life do things for altruistic reasons, sometimes leaders make decisions for just the reason they state in public.”

        http://www.sanjoseinside.com/news/entries/12_12_12_cindy_chavez_sblc_working_partnerships/

        So are you surprised now, or were you telling a little white lie then?

    • Excuse me?  On what basis are you making a claim like that?

      They wrote him a big fat check .  Paraphrasing Gilbert Godfried from Beverly hills cop when Axel Foley came in pretending that he had a bunch of unpaid parking tickets”

      “This isn’t a bribe… Just something in this hand, to make you forget about all those “Ethics” issues in your other hand”

      BTW Rich, your buddy loveland?  Unanimous Jury, Guilty.  You can add violent offenders to your list of clients along with thieves. Kind of weird that Gilroy City councilman Perry Woodward defended him.

      You need a better metric of peoples ethics than, “They paid me”

  7. Who the hell is Buddy Loveland?  I have no idea what you are talking about—and based on your first paragraph—you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Not everybody who gave George a check or was associated with, befriended or supported George was or is unethical.  On the contrary, many were victims of his crimes. 

    S Randall

    As for my Dec. 13th blog.  I do not believe now nor did I believe then that her actions were in preparation for any future political office.

    I also believe she was surprised that George resigned. 

    I am also stunned at the level of malevolence directed toward her by people who don’t know her,  given her tremendous history of service to our community.

    It’s crazy.

    • Rich,

      When you as a friend of Ms. Chavez write:

      “The simple truth is Chavez made the decision to leave the South Bay Labor Council and focus solely on Working Partnerships months ago…”

      Most would assume you had discussed this matter with Ms. Chavez to make such a definitive statement. To now say you were just writing what you “believed” is very odd.  In the future, you could help readers of SJI by specifying when your column is just idle speculation.