There’s a well-known maxim in public relations that says, “Never punch down.” It means, don’t attack a lesser-known person, because you’ll look like a bully. You’ll also draw attention to your antagonist’s complaints, just by responding.
Ald. Joe Moore broke that rule when he lashed out at a former aide, Anne Sullivan, in a 2,500-word letter to constituents last week. Sullivan dropped a dime on Moore to Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan, accusing him of allowing political work in his office, and giving her severance pay as “hush money” after firing her.
Here is part of Moore’s response, in which he portrayed Sullivan as a "disgruntled" ex-employee out for retribution:
Ms. Sullivan was the cause of a great deal of dissatisfaction on the part of the rest of my staff, and many constituents as well. However, she often worked far in excess of the hours required of her and took furlough days during hard times. Though she was granted a period of time to seek other employment, Ms. Sullivan never found another job and, to my knowledge, remains unemployed to this day. This is not a fate I wish on anyone, but it hardly justifies her efforts to make false charges as she has done.
my decision to terminate Ms. Sullivan was made for cause, and on the recommendation of my chief-of-staff based on many incidents of insubordination and other misconduct. Long before the alleged incident took place, all of Ms. Sullivan's work colleagues had been urging me to terminate her employment. They wholeheartedly agreed with my chief-of-staff's recommendation and my decision to accept her recommendation.
I’m a constituent of Moore’s, I’ve done political work for Moore (not in his aldermanic office), and I think he’s as honest as a Chicago alderman can be. In the 22 years he’s presided over Rogers Park, he's helped keep the neighborhood both stable and diverse -- not an easy feat in a city divided along racial and economic lines. I believe his alleged misdeeds amount to no more than honest mistakes, and that Khan is going overboard in his mission to pursue City Council corruption. Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate, and investigators gonna investigate. I’m more bothered by Moore’s angry, defensive reaction to the charges than I am by the charges themselves. It’s not necessary to smear an accuser’s reputation in order to salvage your own. An elected official -- yes, even an alderman -- should be bigger than that.
Sullivan, naturally, was even more disgruntled by Moore’s response, and spoke out to DNAInfo.
Sullivan says political work was commonplace in the taxpayer-funded ward office.
"Joe’s lying," Sullivan said when reached by phone. "Joe’s been lying all along."
She said she was "disturbed" by the alderman's lengthy response, in which he referred to Sullivan as unemployed, disgruntled and disliked by her colleagues at the time.
She said the assertions would make it "impossible" for her to find another job in Chicago.
A story that should have been about the legislative inspector hitting an alderman with poofy ethics charges is now about a pissing match between Moore and an ex-employee. The DNAInfo story quoted an attorney speaking for Moore. That’s the smartest move he’s made so far.