Former Mayor Howard Wiggs is a bit touchy about his Saga endorsement

The former mayor angrily declines to answer questions about the positions and lies of the candidate he so publicly backs with his money and name and face.

Hi everybody, because this article is so Lakeland inside baseball, I decided not to email blast it. I have a lot of non-Lakeland, non-Florida readers; and I’ve been asking a lot of them with the Lakeland mayoral race focus recently. I don’t want to fatigue them. I’m sharing on social media, etc. Please share amongst yourselves.

Late update: Howard sent me another long response that kind of answers the monument questions at very great length. But it ignores the Saga lies and Saga says black people are all “a pawn” questions. I’ve posted his response it at the end.

But here’s a fundamental truth. The former of mayor Lakeland publicly supports someone who publicly insists that Lakeland’s black citizens — and America’s — are “a pawn in a game they don’t even realize."  

And then he turns around says only: “I spent a good part of my time as mayor attempting to bring unity and collegiality to our beloved Lakeland. That is still a goal that I hope will be realized.”

Howard makes zero effort to reconcile those two points-of-view. And that is one reason he was a bad, inconsequential mayor.  

The Ledger had a really interesting story a couple days ago about endorsements in Lakeland mayor’s race — including the tragicomedy of Grady Judd’s endorsement-gate brouhaha, which I’ll address at a different time.

I was interested in the passage about former Mayor Howard Wiggs, who preceded current mayor Bill Mutz, and has endorsed challenger Saga Stevin of “111 lies in 28 minutes” fame. Why has Howard endorsed Saga and donated $250 to her and allowed his grinning face to adorn her mailers? From The Ledger:

"I had to do some real soul searching. Generally my philosophy is a former mayor aught not to endorse anyone against the current city mayor," Wiggs said, indicating he's a longtime friend of Mutz and his family. "But politically, him and I have not been on the same page on a number of issues." 

Wiggs said he strongly disagreed with Mutz over the removal of the Confederate soldier monument from Munn Park to Veterans Park, especially paying for the expense using the city's red-light camera ticket funds. As a downtown property owner, Wiggs said while Mutz has made significant efforts to reduce the homeless population, he feels there must be a better way.

So I reached out to Howard about this and his Saga endorsement via email. Here’s what I asked him:

Hi Howard. I wanted to ask you a few basic questions about your endorsement of Saga Stevin. The first three are just yes or no. The 4th asks for a little explanation. 

1) The monument seems to be what you most care about in endorsing Saga. Do you want the Confederate monument returned to Munn Park? Has Saga told you she will attempt to return the monument to Munn Park? She won't answer me. 

2) If the answers to #1 are no, is what you're really looking for just punishment for Bill Mutz supporting the relocation of the monument? 

3) Do you agree with Saga when she describes black Lakelanders and black Americans as "a pawn in a game they don't even realize." Here is the full quote:
"Black Lives Matter is out to destroy the black community. They’re a pawn in a game they don’t even realize."  

4) Also, do you have any comment on how often Saga Stevin lies? Can you explain to me why all her lies don't matter to you? Here's documentation for many of them:

“111 lies in 28 minutes”

Oh I should add, I'll be sharing these questions and your answers publicly. Thanks.

How Howard responded…

This is the email response I got back from Howard. It did not answer any of my questions; it sort of contradicted The Ledger’s reporting; and it was pretty mad.

Even though I did not support you in your reelection bid, I never stopped respecting you as an individual. As much as you enjoy it and as much as you are able to distort facts with innuendo and vitriol, it doesn’t become you - or anyone who wishes to be taken seriously. 

Actually, moving the monument had Zero to do with my support of Saga. That is provable fact ( unlike your mean spirited assertions ): Bill appeared before the commission in support of moving the monument while I was still mayor and yet, I not only supported his candidacy, I may have been the first person to encourage him to run for mayor - that hardly fits into your self serving narrative. 

You would do well to reflect on the following quote: only if we fought just as hard to understand as we do to disagree. 

Signed - an inconsequential joke of a person - clearly not a politician. 

I responded back like this:

So when you’re quoted as saying moving the monument was the reason you’re supporting Saga that was a lie? Or the Ledger misquoted you? 

And you won’t answer any of those simple questions about the person you want to be mayor? No one made you endorse her. You’re a public figure using your status as a public figure to try to sway people’s votes. So I’m curious about what you agree with in what she says on the record. 

You seem to have taken those questions very personally. You weren’t a good or consequential mayor. But that doesn’t mean I dislike you as a person. This is about the public good. 

Public leadership is not personal virtue

In fairness to Howard, his “inconsequential joke of a person” is a reference to this line in my “111 lies in 28 minutes” article about Saga’s lying:

And as a bonus, previous mayor Howard Wiggs, an inconsequential joke of a leader, fully endorses Saga — grinning right there on her mailers. Saga-ism is about much more than just Saga.

Notice I did not use the word “person.” I used the word “leader.” I was critiquing the public performance of Howard’s political and civic leadership, which I found and find lacking. For instance, Howard had the chance to lead decisively on “homeless” issues during his term — but absolutely didn’t. So it’s a bit silly for him to criticize the multiple measures Mutz has pursued with inconclusive results.

Overall, I don’t really know Howard personally. We don’t hang out socially; so I wouldn't hazard a guess as to the type of “person” he is.

But in his public life, Howard has endorsed a candidate who has smeared an entire race of human beings in Howard’s city and country as “a pawn” and lied about how often police have to respond to Lakeland’s historically black neighborhoods. In his public life, the former mayor has endorsed a candidate who cannot stop lying in extraordinarily divisive ways about basically everything else.

In his public life, Howard and Saga have complained bitterly about removal of the Confederate Monument as the physical centerpiece of Lakeland’s civic life. They both seem angry enough about that removal to make it a core part of her campaign and his endorsement. And yet, neither will say if they plan to return it to its “rightful” location in the living room of our city.

What gives?

Howard seems angry that the personal benefits of being a public figure — public recognition, the ability to influence public direction, relationships with power, etc. — don’t include immunity from scrutiny. He seems to resent that a public persona comes with the occasional consequence, like a few simple questions from me that appear to embarrass him.

“Even though I did not support you in your reelection bid, I never stopped respecting you as an individual.”

This statement fascinates me. It’s the very first line in his response to me; and I think it’s a window on a flawed perception of what political office should mean.

Bill Mutz didn’t support me either; and I actually cared about and asked for his support — one of the very, very few public figures I did. (Howard was one not of them.) Exactly no one cares who supported me or didn’t, myself included.

The public does not give elected or public officials the power to act in its name for the public good so that we can tally personal supporters or loyalty. Elected office should not be a personal journey of self-discovery and validation. But that’s what it mostly is, in my experience.

Most people who get elected or appointed to powerful offices shirk from leadership because real leadership entails real risk to status. If status matters more to you than advancing your public goals, you’re unlikely to be a consequential public figure. But you might win a bunch of elections or benefit from a status quo. That does not grant you immunity from professional critique. And I have learned over the years that people often take professional or public critique very personally.

I like Bill Mutz as a public figure because I do not think he is in political office for the sake of calling himself mayor. I do not think he expects immunity from public critique of his performance. I think this very election itself — and Howard’s anti-endorsement of him — make pretty clear Bill’s willing to take risks for what he perceives as the public good.

I’ll let people decide for themselves if I led and served a consequential School Board term under those principles. I don’t take any professional critique personally. (I don’t take personal critiques personally, for that matter.) I feel good about my tenure. There’s no “innuendo and vitriol” here; but people can judge that for themselves, too.

However if “innuendo and vitriol” concern Howard enough that he sees them in basic questions and professional critiques, he might want to consider a more discerning approach to what he voluntarily attaches his name and legacy to in campaign mailers.

Howard’s late response:

I’ve been out of town and just read the Ledger article. I immediately called Sara at the Ledger, but, she didn’t answer. 

I was clear and specific when speaking to her and I don’t know how anything that I said would have been misconstrued. However, Sara seems to be a good reporter, so, I’ll assume that I didn’t effectively communicate. 

That being said, I clearly remember our conversation and I made a distinction between his support for moving the monument and the inappropriate use of city funds with which to move it. 

I said that I could not fault Bill for voting to move the monument - he had publicly stated his position on that and I would not refuse to support him for his vote, even though I disagreed with it. 

Where Bill lost my support was  - after publicly and outspokenly declaring that he would not use taxpayer money to move the monument - that he would raise the money - after finding that the citizens would not fund the move ( I was told that he was only able to raise approximately $25,000 ), he began to “wordsmith” the definition of taxpayer money and suddenly, the red light camera money wasn’t city money because the funds weren’t tax collections. 

That is disingenuous and we’re you not advocating for your candidate, I have No Doubt that you would be using your writing to denounce that position as such. That is exactly like declaring that the $30,000,000 plus transfer from Lakeland Electric is not city money because it, too, is not derived from tax collections. Those “non city monies because they aren’t from tax collections” go into the city general fund for any use. The red light camera money can be used for any legitimate city expenditure and playing a semantics game by saying it isn’t really “city money” is the kind of behavior that causes any politician who does that to lose credibility. 

In Sara’s defense, she wasn’t recording our conversation - I speak too fast in interviews and she explained that she can type 120-130 words per minute and was typing as I spoke. Case in point: I’m a grammar obsessive guy and would never say “him and I”. Yet, that was what was reported. 

You have an interesting writing style, Billy. Generally speaking, you aren’t able to make effective points without attacking, belittling and using incendiary language. For example, your characterization of my comments by Sara by saying “are you saying she was lying” is typical for you. 

Too bad that you can’t communicate with civility. In your case, sadly, the ends justify the means. 

To wit: No, I am not supporting Saga because of the “moving of the monument” and Saga has never said One Word nor even hinted that she would  ever consider moving the monument back to Munn Park. In fact, I haven’t heard anyone ( monument supporters included ) say anything about moving the monument anywhere else. That train has left the station and in spite of your declaration that I was inconsequential and a joke ( I’m glad that you’re not the authority on that subject - quite a few of the non Townsend folks are extremely complimentary), I spent a good part of my time as mayor attempting to bring unity and collegiality to our beloved Lakeland. That is still a goal that I hope will be realized.