Running For Public Office - A Test Of Character: The Brumskine Case
October 6, 2004
As Liberia prepares for its up-coming elections to be contested in October 2005, the number of candidates keeps growing astronomically. Because of the sheer number and the track records of some of these candidates, it has become comical in many circles; many dismiss them. But I think we ought to take a critical look at how these public campaigns are run – in the long term, we may be able to use their various styles and methods to deduce substance or lack thereof. But more importantly, although this may not necessarily establish empirical evidence, it may provide us a glimpse into the content of their characters.
In this article, I shall focus on Senator Charles Brumskine not only because he is considered a very strong candidate, but also because he has been involved with a number of controversial issues; some of which I have already chronicled in these pages.
The first controversy surrounding Senator Brumskine has to do with his past relationship with President Charles Taylor. Many have tried to use his once cozy relationship with the ex-dictator as negative baggage. Many prematurely tried to dismiss his candidacy by assuming “guilt by association”. I think Senator Brumskine has tried satisfactorily to distance himself from Charles Taylor. I’m personally satisfied by his explanations.
But no sooner did he try to play down that controversy, another popped right up. When he announced his intention to become a candidate, he declared himself not only a member of the Liberian Unification Party (LUP) but also the national standard bearer of that party. Some members of the party cried foul, insisting that Senator Brumskine did not go through normal procedures to become standard bearer and that he was therefore “high-jacking” the party as an instrument to be used for his selfish desires.
There was an issue of a convention to be sponsored and staged by “Friends of Brumskine”, the political action committee dedicated to nominating Senator Brumskine. Other members went to court to contest the convention, insisting that the “real” LUP convention was to take place at a later time and place in accordance with party rules. It was claimed that the Brumskine group was acting in contravention to established rules.
No one should be naïve enough to believe that becoming a candidate to represent a party in national elections (especially for the presidency) is always a smooth process. Since the stakes are so high and we live in a polarized society, the process can be messy, sometimes. Charges and counter-charges fly while potential king makers stay behind the scenes, exercising their influence.
Should it therefore come as a surprise that forces within the party clashed over the Brumskine candidacy? No. What many of us bystanders expected to see was the skills and diplomacy of a seasoned lawyer and ex-lawmaker at work. Senator Brumskine was challenged. He was expected to use conflict resolution skills to bring about unity within his own party. All evidence indicates that did not happen successfully. Off to court the two sides went, airing their dirty linen in public. In the end, the Senator who was once hailed as a “potential front runner” by some publications has thoughts of becoming an outsider – a man without a party. In a recent article we were told that the Senator is now considering the option of becoming an “independent” candidate; a fine spin on an ugly development.
What I find troubling is that if the Senator could not amicably resolve an internal party squabble, can he be trusted or depended upon to unite Liberia? In my personal opinion, the answer is, no. As a test of character, the Senator has fallen short.
About a couple of months ago, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, a prominent surgeon announced his candidacy for the presidency. Unfortunately for Senator Brumskine, Dr. Gwenigale is also a member of the LUP, the party with which Senator Brumskine had affiliated. In an article written by one Mr. Emmanuel Munyeneh, an official of the Brumskine campaign and a personal assistant to him, Dr. Gwenigale was maligned and disparaged. But worse of all, he alleged that Dr. Gwenigale was a criminal masquerading as a medical doctor; he claimed that Dr. Gwenigale had criminally amputated the limbs of war victims.
There is no doubt whatsoever, that these are very serious and vicious claims to make against anybody. If that person happens to be from your political party, the seriousness of the issue reaches an extra dimension. Unfortunately, Senator Brumskine did not publicly distance himself from the claims made by his personal assistant. I thought the matter was crucial enough to demand a response, so I brought it to the attention of the Senator through an open letter carried on this website and published in a local newspaper in Monrovia, the Forum. Please see Open Letter To Senator Brumskine”.
After the publication of my open letter to the Senator, Mr. Munyenneh backtracked and wrote an e-mail to me to address the issue. This is what he wrote: “Quite sincerely, and from the depth of my heart, my statement about Dr. Gwenigale was not meant to destroy his reputation. I see Dr. Gwenigale as one of the most committed and well respectable doctors in our country.”
Just in case Senator Brumskine had not seen the article written by his personal assistant and my open letter to him, I wrote him a second letter. Again the letter, “Another Open Letter to Senator Brumskine”, was published on this website and carried subsequently by the Forum in Monrovia. I challenged the Senator to take a stand on the matter. Did he think it fair to destroy the reputation of a fellow candidate, just because he was perceived to be a formidable opponent? Did he consider Mr. Munyeneh’s actions ethical?
One would think it was a no-brainer. The Senator could have easily risen above petty politics; but he failed to do so. I was told (by very reliable sources) that he was advised by his personal handlers to ignore my request to address the thorny issue publicly. I sadly reached the same conclusion as I did before: When given an opportunity to prove his integrity, in other words, the character test, the Senator failed again. I’m chronicling these activities and miscues because I truly believe they say a lot about the content of this public man’s character. And it is unfortunate.
I would have left the matter as it was until a recent article caught my eye again. This one article wraps up the entire character issue. You be the judge. The article, “Grand Bassa Youths Take Brumskine to Task”, was published by the Inquirer, another local paper based in Monrovia, and subsequently carried by www.allafrica.com.
In the article mentioned above, the youth group claimed that Senator Brumskine said that “Mr. Vonyeegar who was chosen by the indigenous people as their superintendent is not to be recognized by anyone”. Is it at all conceivable that Senator Brumskine did make such a divisive statement at all? If not, why hasn’t his campaign acted to correct the misinformation?
Senator Brumskine is alleged to have said that since Mr. Vonyeegar was appointed by Chairman Gyude Bryant against the wishes of a certain group of Bassa citizens, he should not be recognized by the citizens of Bassa. As disruptive and undignified as that statement sounds, Senator Brumskine is alleged to have gone one step further, according to the article. He is said to have “out rightly incited some disgruntled citizens against the constituted County Superintendent [Vonyeegar] during his visit… he said the citizens should not take instructions from the County Superintendent but should listen to the Bassa Concerned Citizens Movement…”
Again, living so far away as I do, I have no way of verifying the authenticity of these reports. I even have no way of knowing whether the group quoted here exists in reality or the figment of someone’s imagination. What concerns me is the lack of response from the professional campaign of Senator Brumskine. Is it possible that they can claim that such a crucial article that was published in Monrovia and circulated in Cyberspace has not reached their attention?
Either way it goes, this establishes the thesis of my argument. Running for public office is telling us more about the character of Senator Brumskine before he has the opportunity to serve in the highest office of the land. If Senator Brumskine cannot be a mediator in his own party, if he cannot publicly rebuke his personal assistants and campaign officials for making maliciously false statements against his opponents and he is playing a divisive role in his home county, can he be expected to be a positive role in uniting a cross section of Liberians? Has he passed the character test? No. Perhaps, his team has failed him.
There are those who will claim that I am “hired” to attack and defame the good Senator. Nothing could be further from the truth. These charges have been made from time to time and have never been substantiated because they are simply bogus. I am only motivated to raise these issues because I care about Liberian matters. I try to be as objective as I can and all that the reader has to do is to take a moment to familiarize him/herself with issues herein raised. I did not create these crises nor do I direct how they are handled. My only intention is to make them public debates. Does he have the character? You be the judge.