Mootooveren’s job deception feeds cynicism
Remember the young Schenectady police recruit who left the department after questions were raised about his educational credentials?
The recruit graduated from Ashwood University, a diploma mill that awards degrees based on life experience and is not accredited by any recognized body. Shortly after The Gazette raised questions about the legitimacy of the school, the recruit’s career with the Schenectady Police Department came to an abrupt end.
At the time, I felt a bit sorry for the young recruit.
For one thing, he was honest about where his degree came from. And you didn’t exactly have to be Sherlock Holmes to uncover the truth about Ashwood University. All you had to do was Google the name of the school. So, yeah, I felt sorry for the recruit — a 22-year-old Afghanistan war veteran ill-served by a faulty vetting process.
That brings me to the strange story of Schenectady City Councilman-elect John Mootooveren.
Mootooveren told The Gazette that he was employed by a company as an accountant, and he said he couldn’t name the company because his employer didn’t want to be connected with politics. But he is not a certified public accountant, and his job at Turner Construction, where he did work in the finance department, ended over the summer. In the fall, he continued to present himself as an accountant with many years of experience with a large company.
There’s a part of me that can understand why Mootooveren did what he did.
When his campaign began, he was employed. And one of his big selling points as a candidate was his experience as an accountant at a large company, which is why the company’s decision to terminate employment with him midway through the campaign was something of an inconvenience. Rather than come clean about his employment status, he stuck with his original narrative.
So, yes, Mootooveren’s actions are understandable.
But they aren’t excusable.
What he did was tantamount to lying on a job application or résumé. And although this might not seem like such a big deal — who cares where he works, really? — it’s the sort of behavior that makes me question every single thing that comes out of a person’s mouth. I don’t pretend to be an expert on politics, but is misleading voters about where you work really the best way to begin your political career?
I also question why you wouldn’t just tell the truth.
Many candidates quit or leave their jobs while running for office, and I doubt most voters would have batted an eye if Mootooveren said he had decided to focus on his campaign for the time being. In 2010, Corey Ellis quit his job as director of the Trinity Institution’s Family Neighborhood Resource Center to run for mayor of Albany — a race he had almost no chance of winning.
In general, people take a dim view of politicians.
At every level of the political system, from the town board to the executive branch, they suspect that our elected officials are not telling the truth.
And when they read a story such as the one about Mootooveren’s employment status, it reaffirms their suspicions.
Just today one of my Alabama friends posted a link to a news article about a Houston, Texas, politician who notched an unlikely victory after giving voters in his largely African-American district the impression that he was black, rather than white. “The moral of this story is: Politicians are liars … expect them to lie!” my friend wrote.
This sentiment is common, and it’s common for a reason.
In a 2012 piece titled “Lying Politicians: A Fact of Life,” Brian Montopoli of CBS News wrote, “Here are three things most Americans take as an article of faith: The sky is blue. The pope is Catholic. And politicians are liars.”
Because lying politicians are so prevalent, voters no longer expect to be told the truth, Montopoli explained. He quoted a University of Texas at Austin historian named H.W. Brands. “I can’t think of any election where the public said ‘enough is enough,’ where they were really turned off by negative campaigning,” Brands said. “Many voters have become so cynical that they really don’t expect candidates to speak the verifiable truth, and they accept these exaggerations, these mild falsifications, as just part of the game.”
“It’s not that I want to hide anything,” Mootooveren told The Gazette. “Things happen, and we have to move on in life.”
My prediction is that the Mootooveren story will blow over. That, unlike the young police recruit, there won’t be any consequences for what he did. Because when regular people misrepresent themselves, there are repercussions. But when politicians do, we move on.
Sara Foss, a Gazette columnist, can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.