So, if I understand this correctly, here is the defense for a Hillsborough County commissioner accused of trying to cajole and threaten a comely young aide into a relationship:
I'm no sexual harasser; I was merely helping set up a 22-year-old woman I hired with a political benefactor of mine, a married businessman in his late 70s, for a romantic liaison in another state for which we had to take separate plane flights to avoid suspicion.
Well, sure. What could be wrong with that?
The sexual discrimination case against Commissioner Kevin White plays out in a dignified federal courtroom this week with allegations that are anything but — even if you decide you believe the defense.
Naturally, Tampa being Tampa, the story begins with him meeting with Alyssa Ogden at the political powerhouse lunch spot, the now-defunct Valencia Garden, and giving her a $40,000-a-year job. In fact, this case is a virtual gastronomic tour — allegations of lewd remarks, suggestive come-ons, outright pleas; meals at La Terraza, the Capital Grille and Donatello. There's even an accusation of White returning from Malio's with alcohol on his breath and more than land use issues on his agenda.
And the proper spot to deliver a bad employee evaluation? Outback, of course.
Central to the case is Atlanta-gate, a true tangle for the jury to unravel. Ogden says what her boss told her would be a business trip critical to her career turned out to be lunch, dinner (how do these people not weigh 300 pounds?) and shopping there with White's aforementioned political pal, Florida Sentinel Bulletin owner C. Blythe Andrews Jr., then 77. She says the older man mentioned wanting a "companion," but she declined. For his part, White says he bought her plane ticket at Andrews' request. Ick, anyone?
Andrews, 79 and ailing, testified via video that "this foolishness" is untrue and had his wife of 53 years barely speaking to him.
But it was White, Ogden said, who showed up at her door at the Marriott in the middle of the night, who said he had no room and would have to sleep in his car unless she let him in. She said that he asked to sleep in her bed, that she said absolutely not, that she lay awake all night, her boss in the other bed.
Not so funny was when she talked of being afraid, of her boss referring to her family's precarious finances, or when she now and again wiped at tears. She said while she worked for him, he repeatedly asked for a kiss, for a chance, and finally fired her for what he called performance issues.
Courtroom observers tend to divvy up like guests at a wedding, bride or groom's side, and supporters have filled the benches daily behind White. As some of them got in an elevator after Ogden's testimony, someone said, not quietly, "Trailer trash."
White is a man with a loyal following, an ex-cop who gets himself elected despite unflattering press for, say, using campaign funds to buy fancy suits and listing the expense as "consulting."
He testified Tuesday it was "a mistake" to get "involved in a personal matter." That's one way to put it. Whether he walks away from this unscathed, do not be surprised to see Kevin White handily re-elected even given his own icky version of events.
This would be politics, Tampa style.