There’s a lot being said this week about last Friday’s sudden resignation of PHA Administrative Receiver / Executive Director Michael Kelly. The circumstances surrounding his departure are as old as time itself. A married man has a consensual affair, and trouble inevitably follows.
When I spoke to Kelly on Friday afternoon, he insisted he was stepping down for “family reasons” — one of the oldest partial truths in the political playbook. He admitted, though, that there was more to the story, and that a vital piece of information would probably be revealed after the weekend.
About 10 minutes after I got off the phone with Kelly, Tribune Managing Editor Irv Randolph came into my office, closed the door, and sat down. I told him exactly what Kelly had told me.
“What does your nose tell you?” he asked, newsman’s code for any public statement that doesn’t pass the smell test. We media types, as you may imagine, are lied to quite often. Often enough that most news people have highly sensitive, built-in lie detectors — and mine, like Irv’s, was sending off alarm bells.
But you don’t need to be a walking lie detector to see through this one. Here’s a big, fat clue: any time any politician or political appointee holds a press conference to say he’s stepping down because of “family reasons” — it’s because his wife is about to perform elective surgery on him with a pair of kitchen shears. It’s not exactly a lie, but it’s nowhere close to the whole truth.
Sure, the dutiful wife might be standing right there beside him at the press conference, her face frozen in a tight, joyless smile; but inside she’s planning his torturously long, exceedingly painful road back to redemption — if indeed he ever makes it that far.
In my previous dealings with Kelly, he struck me as a highly intelligent, competent manager with great ideas and the enthusiasm to get things done. That’s still my opinion of the man. He took an agency that some said was broken beyond repair, and he set about repairing it. I haven’t heard anyone this week say Kelly was anything less than a top-flight administrator — albeit one with obvious personal failings.
From Bill Clinton to Tiger Woods to John Edwards, and going clear back to King David, the list of mighty men brought low is endless — and almost always for the same reason.
So what is it? What accounts for the adult male’s seeming inability to resist temptation? Poor impulse control? Some irresistible animal instinct?
If I knew the answer to that, I’d make a fortune on the talk show circuit.
I just know that Michael Kelly isn’t the first, and won’t be the last.
And that’s a shame, because it immediately puts him in the same loathsome category as his sleazy, serial groping predecessor, which is a bit unfair. Carl Greene was a man of wild appetites and outrageous behavior. Kelly simply fell into the oldest trick bag in history: thinking you’ll get away with it, and everything will be fine as long as the wife doesn’t find out.
And while we’re on that subject, here’s another inconvenient truth for you: The wife always finds out. Maybe not right away, but she always finds out. Always. (Wives have built-in lie detectors too.)
In the end, nobody wins.
Talented managers are forced to resign, leaving the taxpayers with who-knows-who as a replacement; families are unnecessarily humiliated; and leadership is forced to scramble to find someone willing and able to take on a difficult task while their every move is monitored for public consumption.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not absolving Michael Kelly, or Tiger Woods, or Bill Clinton of blame or personal responsibility here. They had choices, and knew the consequences, but chose poorly anyway. That’s life.
I’m just saying that the entire sordid spectacle of shame and stupidity played simply for public titillation has gotten old. As long as there have been marriages, there have been people who step out on their spouses, the vast majority of whom never make the news.
It’s one thing if the offender has stained their oath of office, or misused taxpayer funds, or has in some other way violated the public trust. But if the only aggrieved party is the person’s family, I’d just as soon leave they leave the private life at home.
Which is where, in my opinion, Kelly and all the other men like him should face their judgment: at home, at the hands of their wives. And let the punishment fit the crime.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.