Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) pleaded guilty on Wednesday to possession of cocaine, and was sentenced to one year of probation for the misdemeanor charge.
Radel has so far given no indication that he'll resign from office amid a mounting public backlash. Like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford — another politician recently caught in an illegal drug flap — he's hoping to weather the storm until another shiny scandal pushes his name from the headlines. Or at least until everyone just plain stops caring.
However, Radel and Ford have opted for different approaches to achieve the same goal of remaining in office. The responses differ in three key areas:
Radel was busted trying to buy drugs from an undercover cop last month, and has kept a low profile ever since. He missed every vote in the House this week before being charged Tuesday in Washington, D.C. And his office released a statement owning up to the charges immediately after they were filed.
Allegations of Ford's crack-smoking — sourced to a then-rumored videotape of him sampling the drug — surfaced in May. But Ford repeatedly denied the claim as ludicrous — "I do not use crack-cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack-cocaine" — and literally shouted at reporters to get off his lawn.
He then fired his chief of staff and watched as other underlings jumped ship, while insisting to the public that "things are doing great, and we're doing fine."
Apology and Explanation
Framing is key. Both Radel and Ford blamed their drug use on their troubles with alcohol, though in quite different terms.
First, Radel: "I'm profoundly sorry to let down my family, particularly my wife and son, and the people of Southwest Florida. I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice."
It's a play at pathos: I screwed up, I have a problem, I let you — and myself — down. [Grabs Kleenex.]
Now Ford: "There's no one to blame but myself and I take full responsibility for it."
Apology: Check. Now for the explanation: "Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors."
Subtle difference in phrasing, huge difference in implication. Ford's explanation for his offense was essentially, "Yeah, I get loaded, and then sometimes I do really dumb stuff. Who among us hasn't..." etc.
Radel pleaded guilty, and said he would immediately seek treatment and counseling for his problem.
"I've hit rock bottom," he said in court. "I've got to come out of this stronger."
It's a tried-and-true tactic: Disappearing from public for some time to get help, thus giving the storm a chance to blow over.
Ford, on the other hand, has remained front and center throughout his ordeal. Since coming clean, he has claimed he would run for prime minister; pantomimed drunk driving during a city council meeting; declared "outright war" on the city council; likened the council's vote to strip him of power to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait; dismissed a sexual harassment allegation on live TV with a crude joke about cunnilingus; and, most recently, bowled over a councilwoman during a meeting.
In his defense, he thought someone was trying to fight his brother, and he wanted to rush in to join the fray.
The winner: Radel
Two politicians, two drug scandals, two very, very different reactions. While Radel has tried to defuse his situation through quiet contrition, Ford has dumped crazy juice all over his conflagration and then gleefully watched it burn.