The Partisan: The apology I never saw coming An odd footnote to politics Monterey County style

Christian Schneider | Photo, Royal Calkins

OPINION |

By Royal Calkins

When the local press corps heard that Christian Schneider was back in town to run another campaign earlier this year, the reaction was predictable and largely unprintable. When his candidate lost, we thought perhaps we were done with him, and we were good with that. But now he is back, this time with an apology for the way he acted. I, for one, am unsure how to react.

It might be best to simply accept the apology and move on—and let him move on. But he makes excuses for his tirades and suggests in his missive that he still has scores to settle. If he thinks there is a future for him within the political machinery of Monterey County, he underestimates how much harder he must work to truly make amends.

Schneider is well known in media circles but he likely needs some reintroduction to most others.

Schneider emerged on the Monterey County political scene four years ago, helping Steve Bernal pull off an upset victory over incumbent Scott Miller to become sheriff. Schneider had risen up out of Southern California, where he had been involved in some of the nastiest campaigns in San Diego history. His M.O. continued here in a rip-roaring campaign in which Schneider and accomplice Brandon Gesicki used every trick in the scoundrel playbook to convince voters that Miller was a bad guy and that the terribly unqualified Bernal was the better choice.

It wasn’t just underhanded campaign tactics that made Schneider so memorable, however. It was the way he dealt with reporters and editors. When he didn’t like what was being reported, or even what was merely being asked, he lost all restraint. He didn’t just call up and complain. He called up and yelled and screamed and cursed and threatened. And, then he’d call back and start up again. As I recall, there might have been a restraining order along the way.

Like a weed, he re-emerged for the June election this year. He represented another unqualified sheriff’s deputy, Scott Davis, who was challenging Schneider’s candidate from four years ago, Steve Bernal. Not unheard of but unusual, campaigning against your former boss.  It surprised no one that it was a rotten race of finger-pointing and teeth-gnashing. With Schneider on one side and Gesicki on the other, what else could it be?

It was a lose-lose affair and, just for the record, Schneider’s guy lost. Big time. Schneider blamed the media, of course, and on election night he sent out a round of text messages and emails to make sure everyone understood their crimes.

Here’s one of the ones he sent me (unedited).

“Well Royal, now its my time to have some fun with you. You just plain old fucked up. I don’t even know at this point what you wrote. But you are going to get a glimpse of what having my attention feels like. And hey, way to be used like an idiot by a coordinated effort by Republicans. You are so fucking dumb you didn’t even see how they played you or did you do it willingly? Really nobody is that fucking stupid to not notice how bad they were used, right? You had to be in on it.”

It went on from there, a little worse, but you get the idea. There were others later.

And now, this week, comes another email from Schneider, not so personalized:

“Dear media peoples:

I am writing to apologize for my emails after election night where I misunderstood the vote total. They were taunting, obnoxious, and below the standards I expect of myself professionally and a poor reflection of who I am.

I was under extreme duress from events leading up to and including election night. What you couldn’t have known is that a close family (friend?) was suffering in his last days and passed that weekend. Half my family is Orthodox Jewish and I was unable to attend his funeral in time because I was dealing with election issues. I regret this, it gave me pause to reflect on what I was doing and what occurred during the election.

It took some time to reach this point. But if I ask others to be credible and accept responsibility then I should not put myself above these standards and instead lead by example. It’s not that people don’t make mistakes it is how you react after you make them.

So please accept my apologies, I reacted poorly and embarrassed myself. I own my mistakes.

After this break I feel more grounded and have started to regain my sense of humor. Some of you who know me, know despite sounding like a bit character from the Sopranos, I am idealistic bordering on Pollyannaish. Regrettably my sermons can be unpalatable when not seasoned properly with a peppered dash of irony and plated with a garnish of whimsy.

For that I am also sorry, because politics should be joyful. I believe in civic empowerment through joy because anger is not sustainable. While being skeptical is critical, sarcasm and cynicism are hallmarks of a lazy and corrupt system.

Too many apologies these days sound like a ‘sorry, not sorry’ by displacing blame. I don’t want the sincerity of my words to be lessened by calling out others bad behavior. There will be a time and place for that. Accept my words unencumbered.

Know this, I believe in the craft and vital importance of journalism in our society serving often as the last bastion in the face of inequity. It is an honorable profession and those who choose to work in it have special place in society, our civic system, and are entrusted with an immense power.

History has shown us that akin to our legal or political systems journalism also needs to be handed a mirror, examined, and revitalized; this process is the apogee of progress.

Some truly bizarre events occurred this past election. I plan on staying and addressing them. I must, it’s symptomatic of my comical idealism. I am sure you all understand.

Some may view me as the saddest clown performing at a Vaudevillian show, but know my actions are my own and like my mistakes I solely own them.

If anything, it may pique your morbid curiosity watching the clown strapped in for a knife throwing act; spinning in the Devil’s grin.

Shklovsky proposed in ‘Art as Technique’ (1917),  the import of making something strange to penetrate an audience’s prejudice, critical, and empathetic response.

Consider my apology your ticket to the show.

Respectfully

Christian Schneider”

If the apology is a sign that Schneider is truly dealing with his demons, then I wish him well. The right thing, the adult thing, is for me and others to accept the apology with grace and to expect nothing but good to follow. If it is something else, the demons will surely let us know.

SPEAKING OF INTEMPERANCE

Howard Gustafson, the foul-mouthed Marina water board member well known for talking before thinking, has discovered Twitter, the favorite sounding board of his hero, Donald Trump.

The Weekly’s Sara Rubin has recently updated Gustafson’s record by reporting on some of his latest electronic rantings, including referring to African-Americans and Latinos as “human debris” and to Barack Obama as a “black bitch.”

Despite a record of such utterances, Gustafson has maintained his seat on the Marina Coast Water District board of directors, an elective body with an outsized role in regional water politics.

It would be too depressing to rehash the Gustafson record from over the years, but here’s the point: He plans to run for re-election in November. I suggest that the good people of Marina do what they must to make things right.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

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