While Cohen Operative Solicits Supporter's Comments to His Blog, Mayor Denies Any Knowledge of Such Activity ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Friday, February 12, 2010

While Cohen Operative Solicits Supporter's Comments to His Blog, Mayor Denies Any Knowledge of Such Activity

By Josh Cohen at February 10th, 2010
Hi Paul, thanks for your note. I have not asked anyone to post positive comments — city employees or otherwise — nor to orchestrate anything like that.
________________-              __________________________    _______________

To what was Mayor Cohen referring? Read on....

I just could not help but wonder why so many positive comments came in so quickly to the mayor's blog about snowplowing. It was obvious that the city was way behind in keeping up with road clearing so I became curious when on Wednesday, February 10, Mayor Joshua Cohen (through PIO Phill McGowan) posted this on his blogAnnapolis crews not backing down, continue to plow through stormAlmost immediately, lots of plaudits started being posted, and some thumbs down as well. I applaud the mayor for the extra efforts he has taken to actively lead and assist with plowing. He has also worked hard to keep in touch with residents, but this just seemed odd

At least three of the positive commenters were city employees. One came immediately from Economic Development Director Mike Miron. Another from Harbormaster Ulric Dahlgren. And another from Public Works employee Judy Ridgway. I posted the following on the mayor's blog:

By Paul Foer at February 10th, 2010
Dear Mayor Cohen
I count three city employees in the above comments that are familiar to me by name-Judy Ridgway, Ulric Dahlgren and Mike Miron. Perhaps others are city employees as well. While they are of course welcome to post comments as private citizens, it seems to me that those as well as many other comments may be part of an orchestrated effort to “pad” the comments here. On the other hand, maybe it is good policy to exclude city employees from posting on here. I am not sure, but perhaps it is worthy of discussion and action on your part. At the very least, perhaps city employees should be identified as such.

The next post came from the mayor:

By Josh Cohen at February 10th, 2010
Hi Paul, thanks for your note. I have not asked anyone to post positive comments — city employees or otherwise — nor to orchestrate anything like that.

I made my thoughts known on "On The Foerfront" on 1430WNAV.

A short while later, I received a call and email from a listener/reader who had himself received an email soliciting postive comments from Cohen's campaign manager, local political operative Kathy Nieberding. However, it was couched in a larger email soliciting support for District 30 Delegate Judd Legum, a close associate of Cohen's. That too seemed odd.

I asked Nieberding to "Please tell me if my hunch was correct that positive comments to the mayor's blog were being solicited from supporters as I said online and on WNAV that I suspected was happening. Do you know anything about this?

Much to her credit, and as expected, she replied quickly:

Thanks, Paul, and it is good to hear from you.  I haven’t contacted any department director to encourage blog comments, including the three city employees you mentioned.
However, I have encouraged our prior campaign team to stay involved and to provide feedback “when they see good things happening.” Too often, I only hear from folks when things go wrong, not right.
In reviewing the various sites, I don’t see anyone from my campaign team posting either positive or negative comments about their experiences or observations.  In fact, I don’t even recognize most of the names of the 80+ people posting on the Mayor’s blog.
Sorry, but your hunch of an “orchestrated effort to pad the comments”, as you called it, is inaccurate.
Nieberding did ask supporters to provide feedback as she said, and it came in the form of a support leter on behalf of District 30 Delegate Judd Legum. The CFM Core Team means Cohen for Mayor (others might think CFM means something totally different. I cannot say...):
From: Kathleen Nieberding <knieberding@comcast.net>
To: Kathy Nieberding <kathy@cohenformayor.com>
Sent: Wed, February 10, 2010 9:34:59 AM
Subject: Lock 'Em In For Legum

Dear CFM Core Team,
Are you snowbound and suffering from campaign withdraw?  I have just the cure…
Please join me to help our friend Judd get elected this fall by campaigning from the comfort of your own home the next few wintry days.

Step 1 – Take two minutes to fill out Judd’s form to be listed as a Supporter.

Step 2 – Take one hour during the snowstorm to review all or part of our list of 14,000 targeted Dems in District 30 to identify 50 friends, family members, neighbors, or past campaign supporters for you to contact to confirm a vote for Judd.  Call individually and/or send out a group email to others who may be in your own address book.

Thanks for your continued support of our political efforts, and it was wonderful to see so many of you at Josh’s breakfast fundraiser recently.  When you can, please send me a quick note to say hello and to let me know if Judd and I can count on your assistance.

Stay safe and warm during the storm, and remember to follow our Mayor’s blog at www.mayorcohen.com to stay informed.  Please post some positive comments about Josh’s efforts when you see good things  (and good snow plows) happening out there! [CP's emphasis in bold italics]

Best Regards,
Kathy Nieberding

This was sent from Nieberding's Comcast address, but was signed, as shown above, identifying herself as Kathy@cohenformayor.com and sent to Cohen supporters. If you open the spreadsheet [which I have  included here but then took down because it was proprietary--even though it was slipped to me], you'll get quite a list of city and county supporters of Cohen, and if you wish to take the time, you'll see many of the same names from that list appearing as writers of positive comments on the mayor's blog despite Nieberding's comments to the contrary. 

I then wrote to Legum:

"Is Kathy N. working for you? And in what capacity?; thanks"

Legum also quickly responded:

"she's not working for me in any capacity. she's a friend and supporter."

Okay, so where does this leave us?   While Cohen's efforts to communicate with us are to be applauded, something about this does not sit right:

1. City employees, including two high-level employees, sending in positive comments, raises my eyebrows at least. It just suggests a conflict of interests at worst and impropriety at the least. There should be a policy about this. Should all posters be properly identified? Should city employees be identified? Should they be barred from commenting--especially if they are exempt and serve at the pleasure of the mayor? What is the mayor's policy?

2. Should Cohen or Nieberding have solicited blog comments from supporters? Does that somehow make the blog and the entire citizen-response somehow less genuine or credible or "real"? Is it appropriate? It smells funny, but it may just be inappropriate and little more.

3. Why did Cohen say  that he has  "not asked anyone to post positive comments — city employees or otherwise — nor to orchestrate anything like that."?   Clearly his top political operative, Kathy Nieberding did ask people to post positive comments. Did Cohen ask her or was it done without his knowledge? Surely after Nieberding's email went out, he would certainly have known of it, even if he was unaware before it did.

4. Why was this done as part of an email to Cohen supporters asking for support for Judd Legum? Is this because Ms. Nieberding is now working for Legum and not Cohen, or for Legum and Cohen? Why confuse support for both in one email? Are Cohen and Legum working together? Readers will recall how she ran previous campaigns for former Mayor Ellen Moyer.

5. Why did Legum tell CP that Nieberding is "not working for me in any capacity" when it is clear that this is quite a "capacity"--whether she is being paid or not? These overlaps are puzzling.

Most worrisome of all is that the Mayor's top campaign operative is appearing to also be working for a candidate for another office (which may mean tacit or complicit endorsement from the mayor) AND the mayor is either unaware that such an email went out or he is merely telling us that he was unaware that such an email went out. What would we call that?

I could be making a lot out of nothing. It's hard to admit that, and sets me up as a target, but it is possible. At the very least, perhaps Mayor Cohen will publicly explain just what is going on here and set out a clear policy about his blog, which is what I asked for in the first place.

LISTEN TO CP Publisher Paul Foer on 1430WNAV at 8:15 every weekday morning or click on the WNAV icon to the right. READ CP Publisher Paul Foer's "The Ninth Ward" every Wednesday in The Capital.www.capitalonline.com
Join us for Sip N' Blogs each THURSDAY, 8-9 am at ZU Coffee, 934 Bay Ridge Road in the Giant Shopping Ctr.
February 11, County Executive Candidate Joanna Conti (weather permitting)
February 18, City Lobbyist Minor Carter
February 25, Judd Legum for Delegate, District 30

1 Comment:

David Iams said...

With regards to snow removal, I posted a positive review on February 10th regarding the Mayor's efforts in prioritizing the snow removal and the ongoing communication during this historic event. I cannot speak for others, but I can honestly say that I personally did not receive any e-mails or other encouragement that prompted this posting.

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