This blog is promoted as "Life with a slice of humor." Today, however, I think I'll cut the wry and just sigh. This is my reaction to the news that Allegheny County Councilman Charles P. McCullough, an attorney, has been charged with 23 criminal counts concerning the misuse of a widow's trust fund.
I know Chuck McCullough, not very well but enough to form an impression. Frankly, I like the man. I am dismayed because, as bad as the allegations in today's front-page story seem, I do not think he is a criminal. That he may have acted unwisely, even foolishly, I don't dispute, but I am nevertheless inclined to believe his strong protestations of innocence.
When the Post-Gazette first broke the story nearly two years ago, it fell to me to write the follow-up editorial. In the interests of fairness, I called him up to see if he had anything to say about it.
This is the difficult and distasteful thing about my job as an editorial writer who is always on a mission to publish an opinion (which, by the way, is a different mission from that of a reporter, who is not charged with taking sides).
Sometimes you call up people in this job you know you are probably going to end up slamming in an editorial. While this is meant as a courtesy, it seems at times almost discourteous. It's like saying to someone: Would you prefer I punch you in the nose or the stomach? Either way, you are probably going to get punched unless you come up with a really good story to persuade me otherwise.
He understood the situation but he agreed to speak with me anyway. Understandably, he didn't want to come into the PG, his perceived tormentor, so we met at Starbucks on Market Square where he explained his side of the story while we had coffee. He seemed to me forthright and sincere. His plausible explanation added to the doubt that had nagged me from the beginning about this story.
Here was the problem for me: Chuck McCullough was alleged to have duped an old lady who perhaps wasn't altogether on the ball. But when the lady said she didn't approve the expenditures, suddenly we were led to believe that she was in full command of her faculties. Well, which was it? It could be that she just forgot what she approved.
Subsequently, of course, I punched him in an editorial but in a scrupulously fair way, which I know he appreciated. I also ended up voting for him for an at-large seat on county council, as did enough other people to get him elected despite the scandal.
Further, I think he has been doing a good job on county council, asking the right questions, being a bit of a gadfly. It is a great blow to the two-party system in this county, already feeble enough, to have Chuck McCullough crash and burn.
Actually, he hasn't quite burned yet. The presumption of innocence is usually honored more in the breech than the observance but for him I will observe it until it is proven otherwise. I wish him and his family all the best.