The woman who’d handily won three terms as Monroe County executive was a wallflower in the campaign. She avoided questions about her positions on issues at the beginning and never recovered. The warm, friendly former TV reporter wasn’t there. Instead, we got a boilerplate Republican campaign straight out of a national consultant’s office.
“She never gave people a reason to fire their grandmother,” said one GOP source. “Messaging to women was too severe. Women don’t respond to negative messaging. You take the best communicator we’ve seen politically, and we never heard from her.”
Brooks not only lost, she lost badly.
Factors contributing to her loss included the Democratic enrollment edge in the district, Slaughter’s support among women, conservative views that don’t play well in moderate Monroe County, the district’s support for Obama, the Democrats’ failure to run strong candidates against her in previous races and the myriad scandals that have surrounded her tenure.
The scandals mattered. Many people said to me they felt something stinks at the County Office Building. Contracts favoring friends (and her husband), the cigar-smoking former airport boss, the drunk diving former airport boss, the trades workers who turned in false time sheets, state audits faulting off-the-books local development corporations and the general aura of machine politics left a bad taste.
Teflon Maggie is sticky, after all.
The buck always stops at the top. I’ve always felt, however, Brooks was held to a higher standard in the press than Democratic officials. If the parking ticket scandal had happened to the county sheriff’s and not city police, it would have been tossed into her scandal pile. But something tells me Mayor Tom Richards won’t be dinged. Democrats are guilty of some of the very same things identified with Brooks’ administration, but they’re not raked over the coals to the same extent. (Anyone want a piece of downtown land for $1 to build luxury condos?) The media coverage of Brooks has been fair, yet there’s been a notable absence of critical coverage of other prominent politicians.
In 2003, Brooks handed former mayor Bill Johnson a resounding defeat in the county executive race. Johnson, fresh off giving his concession speech, climbed onto the television risers for interviews. I said, “I’m sorry, mayor. This must be hard.” He held my hand tightly and looked shaken. A friend predicted at the beginning of the race, “This is her Bill Johnson moment.”
Bill Johnson was licked for his support of metro government. Maggie Brooks was licked for her scandals.