Friday, January 19, 2018
Politics

Red flags, obvious signs, and the end for Kevin White

Come Monday, a once brash and powerful politician partial to expensive suits and of-the-moment restaurants faces a federal judge.

Come Monday, he will likely trade those suits for the uniform worn by prison inmates, exposed as an elected official who would readily peddle his influence for a few grand in cash — and before that, as a married man who would fire an employee who dared refuse his sexual advances.

If any of this surprised us about Kevin White, well, maybe it shouldn't have.

What did we learn from watching his free fall from grace? Maybe that we could have paid better attention to the clues over the years, clues that now seem as obvious as billboards on a highway, glimpses into the heart of a man who managed to get himself elected again anyway.

He came on the scene ambitious and popular, the illegitimate son of an important Tampa family, the cop who one day became a politician, headed nowhere but up.

But red flags flew early. He liked to say he was a Navy veteran, but he was discharged after 56 days. As a Tampa Police officer, he got in trouble for violating the chase policy when a citizen was hurt in a wreck — and, in an incident more telling about what was to come, got accused of shaking down a guy he'd been in an accident with by going by his house in police uniform to demand money.

Flags, anyone?

He sailed into politics. He got a reputation for schmoozy lunches and dinners at hot spots, the old-guard Valencia Garden, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Donatello. Once the check arrived, he was rumored to be afflicted with short-arm syndrome, letting others pick up the tab. That scenario echoed in the federal case against him last year, with his own father accused of hitting someone up for "dinner money" for his big-shot son.

Another clue came when we learned White was using campaign money to buy himself fancy Italian suits and disguising the expenses on campaign forms as "consulting." What a hoot, right? Not so much.

And are you sensing a theme here? He was Kevin White, ultimate outsider turned man you had to know, the kind of guy you would not be surprised to see lighting up a cigar with a twenty-dollar bill, as long as it was yours and not his.

So why did We The People take him from city council onward to county commission despite those clues that kept coming? Lack of choices? The power White had built up by then? It will be a mystery in local politics for the ages, and only useful if we learn from it.

Of course his confidence was his undoing. As a county commissioner, he fired a young aide who would not take up with him despite his relentless pursuit, described in excruciating detail in a federal courtroom when she sued him. Finally, the voters were done with Kevin White.

But it didn't even end with the final indignity of taxpayers left holding the legal tab for his offensive behavior. Turned out the feds had caught him selling his influence as a public official, taking bribes from tow-truck operators in exchange for the promise of his help in getting lucrative business. Guilty.

When Kevin White is sentenced Monday, it will be a sad end and a terrible waste for all the people who will come to tell the judge about the good in him. It will be further confirmation for voters who already see politics and corruption as redundant.

But it could also be a lesson in really seeing the person we elect, not to mention the clues to who he is at heart.

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