Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: I recently listened to your interview on NPR and applaud you for your comeback after spending time in a federal institution. I was on my way back to academia when I was arrested while being a practicing psychologist for two counts of fraud. I got 21 months. I have no criminal record prior to this and am very concerned about my future beyond incarceration. Any thoughts? Right now I am still in the numb/ embarrassment stage. 
—R.V., A City in Calif.

I actually have a chapter in a new book about recovering from crisis. I think the key is to repair and reinvent yourself in a way that stays true to the best of who you are. For instance, if you lose your professional license, could you still offer counseling at a halfway house after you complete your sentence? Or perhaps at a shelter for the homeless or victims of domestic violence?Something that will be therapeutic for you and helpful for others. For me that’s taken many forms, from teaching about the legislative process and addressing elected officials about ethical dilemmas to advocating for educational opportunities inside prison.

I won’t lie to you: Prison sucks. But it forced me to pause and reflect and thus gave me an advantage over the Sanfords and Weiners on the road to recovery. It can do that for you, but you must constantly remind yourself that failure is not falling down but staying down.

(And if you’re interested in the book, co-authored by a dozen elected officials who each faced crises and came back strong, it’s called The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis, and it’s available on Amazon.)

Q: I want to run campaigns, but getting a job as a manager is quite difficult. Candidates have two main problems: They often seem to think that they do not need to be managed, and when they do, they do not want to spend money for a salary. Of course, it is full-time work that is simply too much to ask of a volunteer. I have spent a lot of time on campaigns in general, and last year in particular. Consequently, I have taken the position that I will not do any more free work for politicians—I’ve seen that it usually does not pay off. I do not like sitting on the sidelines. Do you have any ideas?
—C.B., New York CityI totally agree with the paradox you reference regarding candidates and campaign managers. As I’ve said before, candidates who try to run their own campaigns have a fool for a manager.

I think you should broaden your search and consider working for an issue campaign instead. There are lots of benefits to that; for instance: (1) no lying awake at night wondering if your candidate will make a campaign-ending faux pas; (2) no screaming candidate calling your cell at 2 a.m. to berate you about a typo in an email you did not write; (3) no frantic middle-of-the-night calls to bail the candidate’s son out of jail.

Most important, when you work for an issue campaign, you don’t have to worry if the candidate will actually follow through on the campaign pledge that motivated you to work on his behalf, because an issue never lies. And you don’t have to worry that your candidate’s efforts to follow through will be scuttled by her evil colleagues in the legislature, or wherever. So if you win an issue campaign, you really do win.

Q: Given your experience and your own petition to avoid prison, what’s your take on all these New York pols getting nabbed by the Feds? Should they be imprisoned or get community service/ probation?
—W.L., BrooklynEach case is unique, so I won’t comment in a blanket way except to say that anyone who stole taxpayer money or took bribes should probably go away. But I’ll reiterate an offer I made on Twitter: 30 minutes of free confidential prison counseling to any indicted area pol, with the proceeds of any additional counseling split between the Correctional Association of New York and the Fortune Society, both of which do excellent work with people who are and have been incarcerated. I can be reached at smithjr@newschool.edu.

Q: I have a crush on my politics professor. We have actually hung out a couple times outside of class—nothing happened, but we definitely had chemistry. He’s married with a young kid, but I’m pretty sure that he’s just not that into her, if you know what I mean. Any advice?
—Conflicted Coed, New York CityNot sure how you can tell that your prof is “not that into” his wife based on the fact that they have a new baby, but I’ll grant you that one.

If you have a fling with him, you’ll likely wind up ranking somewhere on the scale—to use a familiar rubric—between Ashley Dupré (at least, unlike Client 9, he’s not paying you) and María Belén Chapur (the new Mrs. Mark Sanford-to-be).

If an outcome like that sounds appealing to you, and you are prepared for the prospect of (a) your professor leaving his wife for you while parenting a young child; (b) your professor ignoring you after a one-night stand; (c) your fling (or breakup) potentially impacting your grade; d) your professor getting disciplined if anyone finds out (especially if he is your current or future professor or if you are an undergraduate, depending on school policies); and (e) having to keep your affair secret to make sure “d” doesn’t happen, then sure, go for it.

Otherwise, stick to unmarried dudes. Politics—and life—show that that’s usually safest.

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