And so it is: Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has survived the first major attempt to drive him from office due to his despicable comments about the mentally handicapped.
The lapdog Warren City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to table (essentially kill) a resolution that would, at the most, have put Fouts on the hot seat. Because the mayor feebly claims that his tape recorded comments are not him, not his voice, the council resolution called for Fouts to submit to a comprehensive voice recognition test, or resign.
After hearing 90 minutes of outrage from the public on hand, with most of the emotional crowd demanding that Fouts step down, the mayor’s council colleagues stepped forward to protect him.
Council President Cecil St. Pierre quickly put the matter to rest by rushing through a 4-3 roll call. St. Pierre knows that a voice recognition test would clearly show that it is Fouts on those tapes. Council members are well aware of Fouts’ tendency to engage in bullying behavior and his penchant, in private, for making crude remarks.
In fact, let’s clear the air here. Anyone who has had any dealings with Fouts knows that it is the mayor’s voice on those recordings. It is Fouts who said the mentally and developmentally disabled should be put in cages, or euthanized, or at least kept out of sight. It was the mayor who said he loathes being around “retards.”
The media is careful to use the word “alleged” when reporting what Fouts said. But everyone who has an insider seat in this matter – reporters, the city council, city employees – knows it’s Fouts.
The mayor claims that his political adversary, County Executive Mark Hackel, had the tapes doctored electronically and then leaked them to the media. But two voice recognition tests indicate otherwise and one of the top experts in the state has already said audio alteration of the magnitude Fouts claims is not possible without easy detection.
And so, the question is: What happens next?
A punch in the gut for parents
The council vote was a punch in the gut to advocates and caretakers of the handicapped. Political activists vow to continue their quest to remove the mayor from office. But in the 21st Century era of fast-moving social media, outrage fades quickly. Memories are short.
An online petition drive calling for Fouts’ resignation could lengthen the life of public indignation. A recall attempt (which would be the third or fourth aimed at the mayor and former longtime councilman) would also keep the issue alive.
Political consultant Joe DiSano, who once worked with Fouts, predicted on Facebook Wednesday that, though most of the council members fear the mayor, his demise is certain – specifically in the 2019 elections. In an edgy commentary, DiSano said:
He is done. Very wealthy people with special needs family members are going to help get rid of him. He may stay in office for a bit but he is certainly going to get a 1st tier challenger next time. This is different than banging your secretary, lying about your age, threatening former employees with death by baseball bat. The public is viewing this as the antics of a sick person. Who else would go on a prolonged tirade about the most innocent, sweet members of our society? This cuts across income, ideology, race or sex. No right thinking person (thinks) this is okay.
DiSano is correct that this Fouts dishonor is worse than all the rest. Yet, while the ease with which His Honor survived previous bouts of shameful conduct doesn’t make him the Teflon Mayor, it does make him a slippery character.
In 2013, he was caught on tape describing in a profanity-laced outburst how he wanted to viciously beat to death a former aide. A year later, the city treasurer filed a written complaint with the city Human Resources Department that said Fouts yelled at her in a threatening manner and lunged at her. A year after that, Warren voters re-elected him with 85 percent of the vote.
Four years prior, Fouts won election after capturing 81 percent support at the ballot box. Last August, a proposal His Honor dreamed up that will make him eligible for another eight years of office, rather than facing term limits in 2019, was approved by city voters by a narrow margin.
Go back further in time and people are reminded that in his 26 years on council, as his ego grew, Fouts became a belligerent member, then a verbal bombthrower, then an obstructionist. Yet he eventually became the top vote-getter, which made him the leader of the council. In 2007, the electorate elevated Fouts to mayor by a healthy margin.
Seniors have had enough?
One clear advantage Fouts always held in the weird world of Warren politics was that senior citizens loyally supported him. They loved the creepy old guy, and they refused to believe anything about his ugly side.
But I’m told that may be changing, just within the past few days.
Fouts attended a wreath-laying ceremony last Saturday at a local cemetery. The elderly on hand typically provide him with a warm audience. The mayor apparently looked haggard. He stayed for only a short time and quietly exited.
One official told me about the discussions he had earlier this week at a senior citizens center in Warren. The retirees who initially wanted to believe the mayor’s claim that the newest tapes were a political dirty trick now seem resigned to the idea that the recordings are authentic. Some were openly angry with Fouts.
The overwhelming sentiment was that the mayor should resign because he disgraced the city. Still, given his arrogance and authoritarian ways, Fouts is not a quitter.
And so we’ll see: Will the attitude prevalent at that senior center prevail among the Warren voters who go the polls three years from now?