It’s been a long and interesting campaign for Mayor of Rapid City this year. Early on, I think conventional wisdom was that Mayor Sam Kooiker might have a tough go of it this time around. I’d talked to people that thought that “Sam fatigue” had set in, as it does for many multiple term officials, and that Steve Allender was an attractive alternative.
What a difference a few months make.
Sam has always been known as a hard working campaigner who has faced tough and well-funded competition. And this election hasn’t been any different. But the last month has seen a slow motion imploding of the Allender effort, and in it’s latest effort this morning, we have a double-barreled helping of Allender coming off as a jerk.
Allender’s slow motion implosion has come partially as being the victim of his past, as well as events taking place. At the same time we had a high profile firing of a Rapid City nurse for some pointed, and quite racist statements against Native Americans made on you tube, Rapid City residents were widely reminded of Allender’s involvement in a lawsuit having been accused of such highbrow humor with a Native American police officer as asking him if his sandwich was a “slab of lab.”
As noted, it became part of the debate over who should lead the community of Rapid City, which over the course of the last six months has been roiled with accusations of racism. Coming on the heels of the hospital incident, reminder’s of Allender’s past have not helped him.
But is isn’t all circumstance. Some of his problems are quite unforced errors.
This morning, residents were served up a double dose of what they could expect from an Allender mayoral administration who has been trying to shed his past, claiming it was in his past. Except it didn’t portray him in any light that he should want to be portrayed:
It’s the end of an hour-long interview, and Steve Allender has been rigidly formal, sharing his belief that he is the kind of strong, proven leader who as mayor can move Rapid City forward and improve how government works.
But suddenly, some of his dry, pointed humor seeps out. He slips into an impromptu impersonation of Mayor Sam Kooiker, his opponent in the June 2 Rapid City mayoral election, who Allender feels has run a dirty, personality-based rather than issue-based campaign. So, in a moment he clearly saw as more humorous than heartfelt, he mocks the mayor’s propensity for sappy-sounding public statements like “I love people” and “I love serving people.”
Allender, a 53-year-old retired police chief in Rapid City, is in his living room with a reporter and photographer. From the kitchen, the candidate’s wife, Shirley, hears him launch the attack and calls out a sharp, “Steve!” in admonishment.
He laughs and changes the subject, but the moment aligns with an emerging portrait that’s been revealed by the spotlight of his sudden entre into politics: There’s only one version of Steve Allender, and he says what’s on his mind, both in pursuit of positive change in the city and while leading its top law enforcement agency, but also for the sake of a laugh or to make a point on controversial topics.
Read that here. And part two of his downhill snowballing to unlikeability:
Allender’s advertisement appears to intentionally misspell & mock Kooiker’s name to a much less flattering “Kookier,” as if to imply he’s unbalanced, a comment at the level of an elementary school insult. Between his mocking Kooiker in the article, and mocking him in the advertisement, Steve Allender comes off as a jerk in this morning’s Rapid City Journal.
I’m sure I’m repeating it for the umpteenth time, but one of the things I was taught long ago in political campaigning is that people decide to vote for you in stages. First, you have to get them to know you. Then, you have to get them to like you. And finally, then you have to earn their trust. Then, a candidate will have earned the voter’s affirmative nod on election day.
Most candidates don’t get past the “know” stage. But, in this case, having been police chief, he’s going to enjoy a high name id. The problem Allender faces is that whether intentional or not, he’s done nothing to dispel the fact that far too often, he sounds like a dick, as opposed to someone you want to put in charge of your safety, your government departments, and how your taxes are spent.
Mayor Sam Kooiker knows how to roll with the punches, and get a few jabs in on his own when he’s in the heat of a political race. But, no one would ever accuse him of racial humor, belittling people, or openly mocking them to try to win an election. He just gets out and works hard.
Allender had an opportunity to take the high road by campaigning and outworking Kooiker, but instead went down a path that… well, I’ve never seen a winning campaign make fun of the other person’s name and mock the opponent’s sentiment. As things roll into the last week of the election, I’m not hearing from anyone that they expect Allender to win.
Not that Kooiker is expected to give his victory speech yet. I suspect he’s going to talk about what he wants to do with a new term, and keep going door to door. And not mocking his opponent.
In fact, he may not have to mention him at all at this point.