Missing e-mails, an important issue reported well in Gazette

November 20, 2009
By

I believe John Ruch’s reporting on Michael Kineavy’s missing e-mails [JP Gazette, Nov. 6] has been superior to that of Boston’s daily papers.

At public appearances during the election, Mayor Thomas Menino performed a jaunty imitation of a stand-up comedian. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world—least of all about the apparent failure of his chief aide to save his own e-mail correspondence, as required by state law. The routine even included jokes about missing e-mails.

The mayor’s take on the e-mail problem was, “Well, it’s the political season.” In other words, small fry will take shots bespeaking little more than their ambition, and magnanimous leaders such as himself just have to put up with it. The Globe and Herald largely left this assertion unmolested—encouraging the public to accept it.

That was unfortunate. Elections mean challengers do their best to point out incumbents’ shortcomings. The press has a duty to define the potential dimensions of “political-season” charges.

Mr. Kineavy’s offense, if it was one, was one of two things: If he double-deleted his e-mails in contravention of state law, but with no evasive intent, it was a relatively minor infraction—evoking, perhaps, the memory of Leona Helmsley. Only little people have to save their public e-mails.

The mayor’s top aide and alter ego should have known what his duty was, especially when publicly reminded about it. A fine and (by my lights) his resignation would be the appropriate penalty.

On the other hand, if Kineavy deliberately deleted e-mails he had reason to believe were part of a federal criminal investigation of the bribery cases of former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, and/or of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner; and if, in order to conceal the role of the Mayor’s Office, he replaced his hard drive after the Globe sought his correspondence, it would be a very serious matter—a municipal Watergate—with jail time for anyone convicted of obstructing a federal criminal investigation.

By pointing that out, I do not foreswear the presumption of Mr. Kineavy’s innocence. But from Watergate itself we learned that public crimes are seldom unobserved, solitary acts. When the press elucidates the stakes, the complicit may start to “sing” to save themselves. But if the press doesn’t do its job, public corruption will often win.

The simple thing for an innocent mayoral administration to do would have been to give Secretary of State William Galvin all the recovered e-mails he requested. Instead, for weeks, the city only listed some of Kineavy’s e-mails, without including the messages themselves. Galvin, who has been dealing with the shortcomings of Boston’s Election Commission for most of this decade, got publicly fed-up. On Oct. 24, he turned the case over to Attorney General Martha Coakley for possible prosecution.

The election came and went, with the public largely left in the dark. Like Watergate, it will play out after the election. One hopes it is a minor scandal or none at all. But congratulations to the Gazette for telling the story more effectively than the big boys.

David A. Mittell Jr.
Jamaica Plain

The writer is a political columnist.

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