Friday, November 30, 2012

TANNER: Of cliques and clichés

original publication date:  october 7, 2009

a sloppy Tanner/Wingate mashup
Hello readers, and thank you for your patience while this page has been and continues to be under construction. I tell you factually that childbirth is both faster and easier than a self-study crash course in HTML coding; at times, I was certain that my brain had snapped in two. But I think I'll be fine...

Today, I shift my focus to the "where are they now" file. Let's see a show of hands: how many of you remember Charles Wingate?

I see. Well, please join me for a walk down memory lane.

In April 2001, Charles Wingate, a 34-year-old stockbroker and financial analyst with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, was elected to the Colorado Springs City Council. Mr. Wingate, a Republican, ruffled some feathers during his brief tenure: for example, he was a supporter of the National Rifle Association, opposed to the Southern Delivery System, and cast one of five votes that defeated a zealously-fought measure to fluoridate our city's water (I use the term "our" loosely, since only those living on the city's northeast side would have been affected).

Mr. Wingate had also dared voice his discontent with the El Paso County Commission, who had recently decided to fund construction of the new jail with certificates of participation (COPS) after voters had rejected a new jail bond. "I'm not anti-county, but I believe it is my responsibility to wonder if being a part of the county is beneficial for the residents of Colorado Springs," he said at the time.

Wingate's tendency to swim against the tide may have helped get him elected, and certainly did not go unnoticed: a pre-election expose in the weekly Colorado Springs Independent noted that his desire "to shake up the status quo [had] helped steer the debate to niggling issues that aggravate the incumbents, including continuing allegations that the city too often operates in secret."

Six months into his term, Mr. Wingate was witness to an odd shoving and shouting match between two ranking members of the Republican Central Committee - purportedly ignited by allegations of sign-stealing. Local media downplayed the incident; even the peace-and-justice minded folks at the Independent simply shrugged. "Boys will be boys," was their blithe and expert conclusion, before abruptly spinning the story into an attack on Wingate, alleging that Wingate himself had stolen signs during his own run for office.

"He started saying things about my hands not being clean, but I don't move around my Republican opponents' stuff, and I sure as heck don't physically attack them," Wingate said. "I was dismayed and embarrassed."

Wingate would soon have more to be embarrassed about.

In March 2001, the Gazette reported on a recently-constructed but little-used $4.2 million, six-field grass and dirt "wheelchair softball" facility off of Powers Boulevard. The article quoted Wingate's opinion that the project - built specifically for the needs of the Colorado Springs Wildcats, a 15-person wheelchair softball team - had been a "colossal mistake." "I don't know what led our city staff to believe this would be a good idea other than political correctness."

This article ended with a similar, unrelated turn-about:

In July 2001, Colorado Springs City Councilman Charles Wingate, a financial advisor, bounced six checks and failed to repay two loans. His failure to respond to the civil action brought against him by the 4th District Court resulted in the magistrate issuing a judgement against Wingate in three cases involving bounced checks for food and gas ranging from $7.25 to $21.46. Mr. Wingate was also the respondent in a small claims court civil lawsuit over two unpaid loans totaling $240 owed to a check-advance company. Wingate claimed not to have known about any lawsuits filed against him until a Gazette reporter brought it to his attention.

The unspoken rules for adult life were taught to us in grade school. The power is in the clique, and you're either in, or you're out. Boys will be boys, and its no use crying over spilt milk; indeed, big boys and real men don't cry. I have no doubt that a very important segment of the real power brokers in this town are keenly interested in water, and disinclined to cry over it; I've not looked into it (yet) but I imagine its the same crowd who wants to ticket and/or prosecute radical rainwater collectors. Perhaps one of them lived out east and had a mouthful of cavities...and a nephew who happened to play left-field for the Wildcats, for whom this "political correctness" comment was simply the last straw.

It's easy to speculate in hindsight. The only thing for certain is what came next.

The news on August 8, 2002 blazed across the city like wildfire:

Charles Wingate allegedly obtained a Colorado Springs Utilities credit card number and ordered pizza delivered to his home four times, forging the cardholder's name. Police also allege he kept $190 given to him by the city-owned utility as an advance for a business trip, without returning it or turning in receipts for its use.

The investigation, during which Wingate was questioned and his home searched by five detectives, resulted in several felony and misdemeanor charges being filed against him. Wingate denied the allegation, and stated that he

"once had a pizza deliverer show up at his door with a pizza he hadn't ordered. Since he was elected in 2001, Wingate has been sued for bouncing checks and not paying bills, and investigated for allegedly looking at pornography on a city-owned computer. Four council members, including the Mayor, have called for his resignation. Wingate said that he is the victim of a conspiracy to get him."

Facing 16 years in prison over felony and misdemeanor charges that he embezzled public property, pawned city-owned equipment, bounced rubber checks, surfed for porn while on the city dime, and failed to repay his campaign debt of $2,500, Wingate resigned from the City Council - though he maintained his decision to do so was unrelated to the pending criminal matters. His seat came to be filled by Darryl Glenn.

We have reached the end of this true and not so long ago story of the public tarring, feathering and demolition of a man who did not properly toe the party line - a black man, who did not fit into the reigning clique. I remember thinking as this story unfolded that the evidence against Mr. Wingate seemed flimsy, even fabricated; and in researching this story, I was unable to find any reference to the disposition of those weighty court matters. But the damage was already done - reduced to a community laughing stock, Wingate quietly faded from public sight and memory.

Our walk down memory lane is over; welcome back to the present. Perhaps you are wondering why I took you there...but really, the answer should already be apparent.

I would be calling Jan Tanner's story "Pizzagate" had that title not already been taken by Mr. Wingate himself. Jan Tanner is the treasurer for her husband's pizza franchises, Cheezer's and Inflated Dough. She is also an elected member of the Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Educators - you know, those stand up people who care about public education, because to them, "it's about the kids." Over the 2008-2009 school year, those two pizza franchises secretly pocketed $167,000 from the school district - that's our taxpayer money. Jan claimed to have donated the pizzas to five different schools; but who do you know that's got that kind of money, to where they're able to donate $167,000 of pizza? And why were those two organizations paid for the pizza, if indeed they were donated?

There are so many parallels between the Wingate story and Jan Tanner's story that I could keep writing forever. And that's kind of what bothers me now: in order to pin Wingate down, someone, somewhere, scraped together every little bit of dirt against him they could find or fabricate to come up with a contested amount of about $3,000 - not just someone, but a bunch of someones. At the time, the Wingate story was splashed across every media outlet in Colorado Springs - and in many instances, the media played a direct role in duping and smearing him. Where are those investigative reporters now, and why aren't they covering this story? To whom are they beholden, and why?

That's not spilt milk; nor is it water under the bridge. It's a horse of a different color, and the pot calling the kettle black. It's speaking out of both sides of the mouth, and it's one hand washing the other.

Perhaps Lady McBeth put it most succinctly:

"Out, out, damned spot."

1 comment:

  1. GREAT STORY!!!!!!! Keep them coming, Colorado Springs is so dirty it makes me sick. Good reporting, 10 stars!!!!