Chris Uggen's Blog: crime and elective office

Thursday, September 29, 2005

crime and elective office

when i think of crime and voting, i usually think about felon disenfranchisement. i got word today from a friend in the research triangle on a story involving the criminal records of those running for office.

DURHAM -- Of the 17 candidates on the primary ballot for mayor and City Council in Durham, at least eight have been convicted of criminal charges.
The chairman of the Durham County Republican Party moved on Tuesday to withdraw GOP support from mayoral candidate Vincent Brown, whose extensive criminal record was the subject of an article in Sunday's editions of The News & Observer. The story recounted Brown's felony convictions for forgery and larceny, as well as a stretch served in state prison. Brown vehemently denied that he has ever been arrested...

in many places, a felony conviction formally disqualifies one from holding office, but this story went on to discuss the arrest records of the candidates. and they found plenty -- embezzlement, speeding, lots of bad checks, weapons offenses, petty theft, abortion protesting, failure to pay child support, and others. this one might be the saddest and the strangest:

In light of Brown's rap sheet, every candidate in attendance was asked before a crowd of about 75 people if they had ever been arrested on a criminal charge or had been to jail.
When it was his turn to answer Tuesday, Ward 1 council candidate Joe Williams said: "I don't have any skeletons in my closet."
Records show Williams was convicted in a 1986 trial for a single misdemeanor count of assault on a female. He was ordered by a judge to "pay for damages to teeth" in an amount to be determined by the clerk of court.

ouch. is this further evidence of the carceral state spreading ever outward? i'd hate to participate in such a line-up before a department election. actually, my graduate students tell me that some universities now obtain arrest reports on new faculty -- and i've read enough papers on institutional isomorphism to suspect that this could quickly become standard practice. if it doesn't indicate overcriminalization, do you think the 8 in 17 figure indicates greater criminality among politicians than others? As mark twain's pudd'nhead wilson hypothesized:

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. -mark twain


At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Fred Brito said...

Dear Professor Uggen:

As a Professor... I wonder if you would have a moment to read and provide your views on my specific story.

I am a felon who after trying to get a job the right way only to have the doors slammed in my face, I created a fabricated resume that got me some very high level positions.

Please read my brief story at (from the bottom up)

I am on OPRAH and DATELINE in October and a subject of a feature length film documenting my life.

I soon will launch my speaking tour across America training HR Professionals, Headhunters and Attorneys as to How to spot a con before they infiltrate your business or personal life.

I can be reached at: or at 323-839-3141.

I hope to hear from you.

Take care.

~Fred Brito

At 7:31 PM, Anonymous chris said...

mr. brito (fred), thanks for the information -- you have a fascinating story to tell. i'll be interested to see the documentary. as the LA times story makes clear, you must have talents and interpersonal skills to obtain (and apparently succeed in) so many positions. here's hoping that "being who you really are" ultimately proves more rewarding -- both in terms of personal satisfaction and in terms of getting paid -- than the fabricated identities of the past. -chris

At 10:32 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Twain was definitely on to something, if you ask me. Of course, past criminal records aside, we know that some crimes are committed post-election. Another pithy tidbit from Twain: "I never vote for politicians, it only encourages them."

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous chris said...

sarah, the funny thing to me is that some with long records said they had never been arrested (or had no skeletons in the closet). either they had forgotten, were deliberately being deceptive, or they were simply in denial. when pushed, many admit to their records, but cite extenuating circumstances -- somehow their actions don't reflect "real" crime.

At 5:46 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Hmm, that is a bit befuddling, especially given the trend toward increasing scrutiny over political candidates' backgrounds (i.e. "I didn't inhale..." Actually, Clinton's attempt to weasel his way out of that one sounds rather like the "but what I did wasn't "real" crime notion).

At 7:07 PM, Anonymous chris said...

yeah, sarah. as a twins fan, my favorite was george steinbrenner's assertion that his felony was "only a minor felony." truth be told, i've done the same thing in describing/minimizing my own adolescent scrapes with the law.


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