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Life used to be simple for a politician.
As a candidate you raised money, mapped out an aggressive campaign strategy that was geared to win, carefully tailored your media message to garner enough votes to win, served in office, voted to advance the interests of your constituents, used your communications staff to tell the voters what they want to hear, run for re-election, win and repeat this process every 2-4-6 years. Specifically, as the incumbent, in Washington, Trenton or City Hall, you gear your speeches and press releases to your voting audience and donors and all this eventually helps increase the odds for a successful re–election. You went from one event to another, knowing your target audience and told them what they wanted to hear. On the rare occasion that a videotape or microphone, or a reporter (you need to look hard to find this endangered species) was around, you said something safe and neutral for fear a glib moment could be caught and reported.
The monitoring and accountability of politics has evolved greatly and continues to evolve faster and faster each day. It is scary as new technology has allowed nearly everyone to have a small computer with video/audio capabilities, crystal-clear 10-megapixel cameras in the palm of their hands, Ring security systems streaming video right to your phone, Alexa/Google Home always listening to your conversations, digital footprints from Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, and location services on our phones that track our whereabouts. There literally is nowhere to run to and hide anymore. And if that isn’t enough, and you have the means or resources, you can find out a person’s habits by looking at credit card statements and EZ–Pass records.
In the past, it took a legendary meltdown, abusive or irresponsible behavior, out and out bold face lies, to defeat an otherwise invincible incumbent or derail a surefire front runner. Now all it can take is a cell phone picture from college, a Facebook post, a re-Tweet, or a really good campaign tracker to bring about the end of a career – sometimes before it even starts.
As elected officials, you are in perpetual fear of that “gotcha” moment, and as observers we live for those same “gotcha” moments.
As time goes on, and we get comfortable, we forget that nowadays the camera is always rolling:
1. Mitt Romney famously was caught on a leaked video at a private fundraiser saying that 47% of people will vote for Barack Obama because they are dependent upon government.
2. Joe Biden’s recent comments that “poor kids are just as bright just as talented as white kids.”
3. Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood audio recording
4. Andy Kim being repeatedly asked by a campaign tracker his position on ICE during the campaign – the guy repeated the question for nearly 8 minutes hoping to catch candidate-Kim in a “gotcha” moment.
5. Harry Kumburis caught on a Ring Doorbell camera looking for vote-by-mail voters 2 hours AFTER the election was over.
In the past we had to wait for information to come out to know that Attorney General Zulima Farber showed up at the traffic stop of her boyfriend, now we have dash/body cams and OPRA requests that let us see raw footage of traffic stops.
For the younger readers, there was a show back in the day called “Candid Camera,” which caught unsuspecting average people in candid moments of honesty/raw emotion. This usually involved preparation, willing participants, and typically a flimsy plot. This day and age, every elected/appointed official or candidate needs to be acutely aware that he or she will be held accountable for every word, gesture, shrug or movement – conscious or otherwise.
Because if you’re not careful, anybody with a cellphone can become Warner Wolf and say “Let’s go to the videotape!”
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman Kevin O’Toole is the former 40th District State Senator.