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Daniel Ruth

The half-pint and the half-baked plan

Even in the sleaziest of political environments there are — ahem — certain proprieties to be observed.

For example, brown bags stuffed with cash are perfectly acceptable. This was the method favored by the late former Vice President Spiro Agnew. Small bills, sans bloodstains, are just fine since larger denominations tend to draw undue attention.

Kickbacks, a la the Chicago way, are always a lovely touch. Vinny the alderman gets his wife's cousin's brother-in-law Tony a nonexistent job with the parks department. In return, the nonhardworking phantom employee returns a small portion of his paycheck to the public servant for helping to reduce the unemployment rate.

It's refreshing to have standards.

But times change, and it has become clear some people simply have no respect for tradition. Case in point: It is never a good idea to use a 9-year-old girl as an intermediary in the dispensing of baksheesh. Bad form, very bad form.

It is quite possible young Abigail Putnam may emerge one day as the next Martha Stewart. By all accounts her chocolate hazelnut cake is the stuff of dreams. Now it has become a slice of legend.

A few days ago her tasty treat served up at the Polk County Youth Fair Auction became the most famous culinary offering since the banquet scene in Tom Jones.

So scrumptious, so mouth-watering, so delicious was Abigail Putnam's chocolate hazelnut cake that the Mosaic Co., one of Polk County's largest employers, awarded the budding Iron Chef prospect $10,000 for her baking masterpiece.

Who knows? If the lass had the foresight to put a cherry on top of her dessert, Mosaic might have kicked in another couple grand to honor her kitchen creativity.

Miss Putnam also had the additional advantage of being the daughter of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. What a coincidence.

Now a cynic might suggest awarding a 9-year-old girl with a $10,000 check for a chocolate hazelnut cake could be construed as a rather cheesy effort to extend an improper gratuity to the state's agriculture commissioner by laundering the payoff through the dimpled hands of an innocent little child.

After all, had Miss Putnam been the offspring of, oh, say a truck driver, what do you think the odds are Mosaic would have come up with 10 large for a piece of cake?

It is probably an opportune thing that if this really stinky, amateurish exercise in influence-peddling had to occur it would involve someone like Putnam, who is smart enough and honest enough to know when someone is trying to compromise his reputation.

Had Mosaic tried a stunt like this by forking over $10,000 for Mearline Norman's Apple Brown Betty, her husband, state Sen. Jim Norman, R-Envelope, What Envelope?, would have had the helicopter pad installed at the couple's Arkansas love nest by now.

Putnam, a scion of one of Polk County's more affluent families, hardly needed an extra $10,000, which put him in the uncomfortable position of having to explain to his 9-year-old daughter why she couldn't keep the money.

Imagine that conversation. "Honey, some really stupid people who are dumber than The Housewives of New Jersey just tried to pass off what looks awfully close to a bribe to daddy by using you as a prepubescent bagman. Daddy is not happy."

Publicly, in the understatement of the year, all Putnam would say was that the attempt by Mosaic to ingratiate themselves into the good graces of the agriculture commissioner by treating his daughter as if she was a Tammany Hall ward heeler was "awkward."

Gee, do you think?

A flack for Mosaic conceded buying a $10,000 cake baked by the child of a powerful state official, who happens to oversee the company's business interests, was "definitely outside of the normal range."

Normal range? Is that so? Just what is Mosaic's "normal range" for endeavoring to co-opt a public officeholder's integrity? Just what is the going rate for intruding upon an event dedicated to children and turning it into a master class in political hacksterism?

Mosaic has said it is still investigating the attempt to undermine Putnam's character to determine what action to take, as if this requires a lot of thought. An apology would be nice. A horsewhipping even better. It's just a suggestion.

Eventually, Abigail Putnam was persuaded by her dad to donate all the $10,000 back to the fair and the 4-H club in return for iPods for herself and her sisters.

By the way, the Mosaic Co., despite the lyrical name, is in the fertilizer business, which probably explains if anybody really knows how to step into a pile of … well you get the idea, these folks set the gold standard.

The half-pint and the half-baked plan 01/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 7:12pm]

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