Criticism continues to cascade in regarding the activities of Steve Monks, who Ruth Sheehan dubbed “Spoiler Steve.” The 12 percent of Durham County voters who wrote in Monks’ name—just like the thousands of Florida voters who in 2000 cast ballots for Ralph Nader—paved the way for victory by a candidate anathema to their beliefs.
Sheehan has a column this week speculating on why “Spoiler Steve” remained in the race even when everyone who could read a poll could figure out Monks had no chance of victory. Tongue-in-cheek, she suggests that Monks was an agent of Nancy Grace, the shrill Headline News anchor who dubbed the players guilty in the first few weeks and since has avoided mention of the case entirely.
Duke New Sense likewise castigated Monks:
One can only speculate at Monks’ true reason for pushing ahead with his campaign while knowing that he had no chance of being elected. Whatever it was, he should hold himself at some fault when Nifong desperately and needlessly drags out the Duke lacrosse trial, despite having no evidence and no case.
Monks himself blandly dismissed the criticism, asserting of his voters that “if they hadn’t voted for me they would have voted for Nifong.”
This statement is so preposterous that it could have come from the same people who put together the hilarious claims at mikenifong.com. In its closing weeks, Monks’ campaign targeted registered Republicans and Duke students. (Somehow, I doubt that voters in either of these groups would have endorsed Nifong’s race-baiting demagoguery were Monks not in the race.) Moreover, the spoiler concentrated his attacks not on Nifong, whom he scarcely mentioned on the campaign trail, but on Cheek.
In the most charitable interpretation of his activities, “Spoiler Steve” departed the campaign as he entered it—utterly divorced from political realities, driven by ego or attention-seeking to continue a candidacy that had no chance of prevailing.
There is, of course, one rational explanation for Monks’ actions. As Sheehan noted, “a few of us have wondered, not so idly, whether Monks wasn’t secretly assisting Nifong for some unknown reason.” I’ve heard the same rumors, from at least a dozen people over the past few days.
Such a rumor, of course, might well be false. After all, what kind of “minister of justice” would enter into such a deal? Of course, what kind of “minister of justice” would order police in his city to violate their own procedures so he could get indictments before a primary?
Review the record compiled by “Spoiler Steve” over the past several months:
1.) After having taken no previous role in criticizing Nifong for handling the lacrosse case, he announced his petition plan only after Cheek consented to have petitions in his name circulated as well—in effect indicating an attempt to divide the anti-Nifong vote from the start.
2.) On the last possible day to do so, Monks announced that he would seek a write-in bid, conceding that “there are some people who will be irritated because they feel my candidacy may neutralize their efforts to get rid of Mike.”
3.) Monks’ leading political advisor, Charlotte Woods, had previously switched her registration so she could vote in the Democratic primary; she made the announcement at a GOP luncheon whose featured speaker was none other than Democratic candidate Mike Nifong.
4.) When Monks launched his write-in bid in August, Woods predicted that he would get 6,000 votes, a total that could never be enough to win—but surely would be enough to allow Nifong to slip through on a plurality.
5.) As the race tightened, Monks held out the prospect of withdrawing in negotiations with the Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek effort, but kept shifting the goalposts as to what he required. First he demanded evidence that the Cheek effort had more support than his write-in bid. When that demand was met by the N&O poll (which had Cheek at 28 percent and Monks at 2 percent), Monks demanded evidence that his withdrawing would give Cheek a realistic chance of victory. When that demand was met by the Ethical Durham poll, Monks, last weekend, shifted the goalposts again—now making a demand that he knew wouldn’t be met: for Lewis Cheek to issue two public apologies, one to Monks for saying that write-in candidates can’t win, the second to the voters of
6.) In the campaign’s closing weeks, with Nifong polling in the mid-40s, Monks exclusively focused his efforts on prying voters away from Cheek, giving the lie to his claim that his chief concerns were about electability and ensuring Nifong’s defeat.
It’s probably true that no covert alliance existed between Monks and the backers of the politics of revenge and prosecutorial misconduct who made up Nifong’s coalition. On the other hand, if a wildly unethical “minister of justice” were intent on dividing the opposition to ensure his election with a plurality vote, steps 1 through 6 above would seem like the path to have taken. I hope journalists and bloggers in the Triangle will pay special attention to Monks’ activities over the next few months, to see if he receives any benefits for playing his role as “Spoiler Steve.”