Turkeys of the Year

DA Chuck Rosenthal flies off with top honors

Everyone knows it — 2008 was a year of change. A black guy won the White House, for crying out loud.

Would it be too much to ask that Houston be spared any no-brainer candidates for Turkey of the Year?

Alas, when Houston was asked the question "Can you have a bunch of people who will publicly and strenuously embarrass themselves?" Houston's answer was, "Yes, we can!"

Chad Crowe
Chad Crowe

We had a Texans team that started out talking about the playoffs and ended up talking about a great place in the draft. They'll probably blow that opportu­nity, too.

We had a city saying there was going to be wi-fi for everybody, only to end up saying residents can enjoy a treasure hunt trying to find a spot with free city-­provided wi-fi.

We had the original Grumpy Old Man decide to go all Charles Bronson on a couple of burglars and become a hero to the talk-radio crowd.

We had what seemed to be a true feel-good political story — Vietnamese immigrant makes longshot run for office, unseats longtime State Rep — turn sour when it emerged that the newly elected rep was also kind of a slumlord.

And we had an election where the long-predicted Democratic sweep of the courthouse finally came via straight-ticket voting — except for those Democrats with ethnic names. Mekisha Murray, a white Dem who lost, is changing her black-sounding name to Jane. R.K. Sandill, who won, is thanking whoever told him to use his initials and not his first name of Ravi.

So Houston, as always, was full of candidates to be Turkey of the Year. But in the final analysis, there can be only one.

Turkey of the Year:

Chuck Rosenthal

For years and years, going back to the — we don't know, the Chester Arthur administration? — there have been very few jobs more secure than being the Harris County District Attorney. Dictator of North Korea comes to mind, maybe Pope, but other than that you'd be hard-pressed to find someone with a tighter grip on employment than the DA.

The job description was clear — kill as many defendants as possible, talk tough on crime, have an "R" after your name on the ballot and you're there for life.

But that was all before the invention of e-mail.

Chuck Rosenthal had never struck anyone as being the kind of guy who'd spend lonely library hours poring through obscure tenets of case law trying to develop a sound philosophical grounding in constitutional theory.

Instead he was the kind of guy who lit firecrackers in the stairwell.

But he emerged as the successor to the legendary John B. Holmes, so once he took office everyone assumed he'd be there until they carried him out. He faced a re-election contest in 2008, but so did Kim Jong-Il. Orrin Hatch would have a better chance of losing his senate seat in Utah.

But then the world discovered what an idiot Chuck Rosenthal could be when it came to e-mail.

As part of a low-level, run-of-the-mill civil suit against various agencies in the Harris County criminal-justice system, a federal judge ruled that Rosenthal had to hand over e-mails written in the course of his public duty.

In response to the ruling, Rosenthal did two really, really stupid things:

1) He "lost" a bunch of the requested e-mails, claiming he was simply a computer incompetent who accidentally messed up.

2) More importantly, he didn't "lose" all of the e-mails.

Oh, Chuck. The man who habitually told people "I'm blessed" found out that Jesus doesn't protect the dumb.

What was the best Rosenthal e-mail? It's a question worth pondering.

There was the photo of the black guy lying on the sidewalk, surrounded by half-eaten watermelon and fried chicken, with the caption "Fatal Overdose."

Let's examine: On the negative side of the ledger, he didn't create it himself with all the incredible Photoshop skills it would need to create something like that (or an lolcats picture). So, from the strictly technical standpoint, Rosenthal doesn't get points here.

But the sheer majesty comes with the content. African-Americans have long claimed they have been treated poorly by the DA's office; Rosenthal greeted all such complaints with the condescending, pat-on-the-head "We'll look into it" that he felt such gripes deserved.

So if there was a single better way to display the hypocrisy inherent in such public pronouncements, you couldn't top this.

Just think of it — watermelon and fried chicken? It's not the blatantly racist aspect that offends, it's how out of date the whole thing is. We guess that, among the e-mails that were lost, Rosenthal had a whole bunch of killer stuff about how the Japs make cheap transistor radios.

Try to put yourself in the position of someone who opens an e-mail, sees a joke about how blacks like watermelon and fried chicken, and laughs. Unless you're the president of the Embarrassing Grandfather Club, you have no business operating a computer. Much less an office that prosecutes people.

But in addition to the watermelon picture, there was the photo from, as news reports put it, a "website showing unsuspecting women getting their clothes ripped off on public streets."

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