An elected official has two options when their mouth gets them into trouble: Own it and apologize or blame the media.
Davenport's 4th Ward Alderman Ray Ambrose — who spent much of last week tearing down the homeless and the religious organization that feeds them — chose the latter.
Last week, Ambrose castigated Timothy's House of Hope, which recently relocated into his 4th Ward, and concurrently undermined any of the city's otherwise legitimate zoning questions.
But, instead of copping to his general lack of compassion, Ambrose took it to the Quad-City Times editorial board at Wednesday night's City Council meeting.
"The Quad-City Times editorial board did a classic John Looney hit job on me," likening this opinion page to Rock Island's notorious gangster.
He then went full Sean Spicer School of Public Relations and pulled out the "fake news" line, "It's really sad. Take what you read in the Quad-City Times with a grain of salt."
Let's revisit these troublesome quotes, which Ambrose doesn't deny saying.
“I don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling for the homeless as other people do,” Amrbose said, adding that the homeless who get a warm breakfast at the House of Hope have no place in the 4th Ward's "iconic" and "historic" business district.
Then he went on KWQC, clad in a Catholic school's sweatshirt, and said all that and then some.
OK. Ambrose's words are, by any conservative measure, controversial. Many consider them downright toxic.
But, obviously, it's this editorial board that's causing all the problems.
As Ambrose steamed at the dias, members of Timothy's operator, Compassion Church, and advocates for the homeless rebuked the long-time alderman.
"I'm coming out of the homeless closet because none of my employers knew," said Rebecca Selix, a church member and graduate student who said she lived out of a van before finding Timothy's.
Mayor Frank Klipsch struggled to maintain order and ruled at least two speakers, including Timothy's attorney, out of order for mentioning Ambrose by name.
"I come before the city council to express concern about Alderman Ray Ambrose....," one man began.
Klipsch interjected, "You can't mention anyone by name," directing him to address the entire council.
The man tried again, "The Fourth Ward Alderman..."
"That's not gonna work, either," Klipsch said with a bang of his gavel.
Anyone who regularly attends or watches Davenport City Council meetings knows that speakers often address specific members. And, ironically, Timothy's entire gripe hinges on allegations of inconsistent enforcement of the rules. Many other centers operate similar programs within similar zoning, Timothy's lawyer Mike Meloy argued. This is a targeted campaign against Timothy's, he alleges.
Meloy argued that the city's cease-and-desist order, shuttering the food center's kitchen, violates Compassion Church's First Amendment rights. That's yet to be determined. City staff clearly have real concerns about Timothy's food program under current zoning. There's a process for sorting that out, however. Hearings. Appeals. Sometimes courts.
But what's undeniable is that the entire issue is suspect now because Ambrose decided to air his prejudices. It's no different than the Trump administration's various bans on migrants and crackdowns on so-called sanctuary cities. The courts do consider one's statements when establishing intent.
As Timothy's Pastor Jim Swope tells it, Ambrose barged into his center and told him the "bums" aren't welcome in the 4th Ward just days before the city's cease-and-desist order was issued. Ambrose doesn't deny Swope's characterization. He then told the local media that poor people have no place in the 4th Ward. Again, he doesn't rebuff any of our reporting.
No, Ambrose is mad because he got called out on his vile drivel. And yes, Ambrose's words do cast doubt on the city's objectivity while handling the Timothy's zoning issue, even if only in the court of public opinion.
That's true no matter who Ambrose tries to blame.
Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org