The Indy 500: On women, candor and politics

I received an email last night, its subject line reading “Dumber than I thought.”

It was from a political consultant in Denver whom I’ve known for years and is not a mincer of words. Given that there seem to be as many political consultants as CBD entrepreneurs in town these days, he agreed that I could write about our back-and-forth without risk of identifying him.

This consultant has used words far worse than “dumb” in reference to things I’ve written over the years. But yesterday, the object of his disappointment was Jamie Giellis, the political newcomer who’s challenging Mayor Michael Hancock in Denver’s June 4 run-off election.

I wrote a profile of Giellis yesterday in which she spoke candidly about things like ambition, infertility, and throwing a stack of papers on the floor after getting chewed out by her former boss.

What irked him was her candor about all that, and about having beaten herself up over a string of controversies last week related to her awareness – or lack thereof – about certain racial issues. He called her “naive” for admitting that she has been “kicking herself” for those controversies.

“That’s ridiculous,” I wrote.

He went on to list candidates he has worked with, major league ones, and times they were tempted to speak frankly or contritely about a misstep or fallibility, only to be told by this big-name crisis management consultant or that big-name spinmeister to shut up and keep quiet. “Wisely,” he added.

So, I asked him, you tell clients thumbs down on honesty and authenticity?

“Yeah, both,” he wrote. “Especially for a woman.”

This angered me enough to phone him rather than emailing to hear his sexist twist on the old adage, “Never let them see you sweat,” that’s something more like “Don’t, if you happen to be female running for office, show self-doubt or emotional vulnerability in public. Ever.”

I yelled at him. He laughed at me with the smugness of a white guy who earns about five times more than I do for working about five times less.

I asked if he was working for Hancock. He said no, but that he had in the past.

I asked if he was voting for Hancock (the “Dumber than I thought” comment about Giellis being what I figured was a tip-off). No, he told me, Giellis.

We got off the phone and I couldn’t sleep, thinking about the last thing he told me: That Giellis had “said too much” and “that’s a problem.”

I wished I had called him back to say no, that confusing candor for naiveté and vulnerability for weakness are the problem, and that the problem is that candidates still listen to consultants like him and that people are still voting for those candidates.

So I phoned him before writing this. He said he’d call me back because he was on his way from advising a presidential contender and boarding a flight to advise another.