All about Steve: He did himself in

Published May 14, 2012

This is always the kiss of death. Just a few days ago, Gov. Rick Scott took time out from his hectic schedule of reducing state government to the size of a food truck to praise his chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, who learned the art of executive management from Tony Soprano.

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman didn't leave as much scorched earth in his wake as MacNamara. He has canned more people who raised his ire than Donald Trump on a bad hair day.

Scott pledged his unshakable loyalty to MacNamara. He said his bureaucratic knee-capper was doing a great job and lashed out at the Tallahassee press corps for being "mean" to the chief of staff. No good would come from this.

All of that air kissing usually means somebody is on thin ice. Sure enough, by Saturday MacNamara was cleaning out the waterboarding tables, thumbscrews and blackjacks from his office while whining that he had become the victim of a media witch hunt. That is a bit like boxer Manny Pacquiao kvetching that people keep trying to hit him.

MacNamara said the growing media scrutiny had "begun to interfere with the day-to-day operations" of his office. One can only hope. When a public servant acts as some benevolent despot, axing heads and doling out favors, jobs and no-bid contracts to cronies, a little interference is welcome. This was the chief of staff to the governor, not the court of Louis XIV.

There's no question MacNamara, who has been the Machiavelli of Tallahassee in pulling the strings behind House speakers and Senate presidents, was able to loosen up the tightly wrapped governor. But getting Scott to lose the tie hardly rises to a Panhandle Pygmalion moment.

What led to the early exit were disclosures by those meanie reporters that, while working for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, MacNamara steered a $5.5 million contract to a technology firm linked to the business partner of a friend and lobbyist.

The cruelty didn't stop there. Heartless reporters, insensitive to MacNamara's fragile feelings, also reported that another longtime acquaintance had received a generous $380,000 computer contract. Oh, the piling on. And yes, it is probably too late to try to "friend" MacNamara on Facebook.

Things only got worse as those bullying snoops disclosed episodes of MacNamara's overruling of agency heads, orchestrating the firing of state officials and using his government email account to inquire about a college job in Montana.

You have to have a certain sympathy for MacNamara. After all, it is rather hard to interfere with things like the contract bidding process (or lack thereof) and with the work of agency heads when reporters keep interfering with your interfering.

There is that old adage in journalism about blaming the messenger for the message. The news media didn't hound MacNamara out of office. Reporters merely pointed out that the governor had hired one of Tallahassee's most inside of insiders to provide a tutorial on how to wield power and help lobbyists.

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It is always one of the more entertaining Kabuki dances in political life to watch a governor or president confronted with the chicanery of an underling.

Mean? How mean was it for MacNamara to engineer the ouster of the state's film commissioner to make room for the daughter of a friend?

Interfering? How many state agency heads found themselves coming to work and essentially discovering a hologram of MacNamara sitting at their desks?

For a guy who has spent the better part of his adult life manipulating the levers of power in Tallahassee, MacNamara failed to grasp one of politics' most essential truths.

Sooner or later, if you mug enough people, it's all going to come back to haunt you. And when the governor promises he has your back, it's only to better position the knife.