As most of my local readers know – unless they’ve just crawled out from under a rock seconds before they read this piece – Thomas Leggs confessed to killing Sarah Foxwell in 2009 as part of a plea deal which spared him the death penalty.
The reaction to this development seems to be one of bitter disbelief, but I’m going to look at this from a political standpoint. We have to fast forward to 2014, when both Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello and Sheriff Mike Lewis will presumably once again face the voters. If that comes to pass, Maciarello would be seeking a second term and Lewis a third.
Obviously the key question is: how long will voters’ memories be? Ramming through a series of tax increases in the first year of his term didn’t seem to hurt Martin O’Malley in 2010 as he defeated Bob Ehrlich for the second straight time and by a wider margin. But local elections are a little different.
We also have to assume that the Democratic Party won’t be in the historically bad straits they were in 2010. As it so happens, several of their existing longtime officeholders may decide not to seek another term so it’s worth believing that they will fill out ballot spaces three years hence – it’s doubtful Mike Lewis will get a free ride for sheriff next time, for example. Maciarello is already vulnerable, with some observers believing he got a great gift in the campaign with Davis Ruark losing a bitter primary fight on the Democratic side. (If Ruark were to try again, he would have to re-establish his registration as a Democrat; I believe he’s switched to unaffiliated since the election.) And surely there are a number of ambitious Democrat lawyers for what would be an open nomination process without Ruark.
Moreover, while Matt laid out his reasoning for taking the plea deal, many who demanded more will feel sold out. Certainly it will be an issue resurrected in 2014 by the Democratic candidate, whoever he or she is. Trust me.
On the other hand, Mike Lewis could be blamed if later digging reveals a weak evidence chain. However, the fallout shouldn’t be as severe for him as it will be for Maciarello – that will bring a sigh of relief to the local GOP brass.
Yet there is one more person affected, and while he’s not exactly political he’s claimed to bring a lot of influence to the local political scene in the past. Why, it was way back in the 2006 campaign where one candidate claiming that local blogs were a “cancer” on the political scene placed him squarely in the limelight. I bet he found that spotlight a trifle harsh today after this diatribe.
Of course, he defended himself from the accusations – but who’s really going to write that book?
So it’s the classic case of he said/she said. Yet Joe Albero could come out of this with the popularity he so craves. While Roberta Wechsler stated a good case in her portion of the press conference, she laid it on way too thick and in a tone that was far too vindictive to a point where some may not take it seriously – certainly Matt Maciarello was caught off guard. Meanwhile, if the case goes to court guess who gets more publicity?
There’s no question that Albero has taken far too much advantage of what has been a tragic situation hanging over Delmarva’s head for the last 15 months – in fact I daresay this case took him away from what he used to do best, which was a somewhat passable version of investigative journalism. Sure, he used it just to take on his enemies but there were things which needed to be said and he said them.
But the bright lights of national attention stemming from the Foxwell case were going to be his ticket to respectability. I recall the frequent citation of Alexa numbers and claims to be ‘mainstream media’ in the immediate aftermath of the search for Sarah but both have faded from the front pages of his site. Certainly he’ll get a bounce from this latest development, but can he keep the audience or have we just seen another patented Albero trainwreck in living color? Only time will tell.
One may ask where this affects me. I didn’t follow the Foxwell story developments closely within these pages, choosing to allow others to do so. My beat is politics, which is why I started this post writing on the speculative angle.
But just like the case in 2006 with Ron Alessi, I know that this saga will affect all of us who toil daily trying to write useful content to a local or regional audience. Having that laundry list of accusations thrown at one Salisbury blogger is sure to reflect on the rest of us and it diminishes our influence.
I have used the content of my site – words I stand behind and would stack up against any other journalist in the media – to get other writing jobs, including Liberty Features Syndicate and the national website Pajamas Media. Certainly in some aspects I exist in a vacuum insofar as someone looking here on a national level isn’t going to care much about my so-called local competition. But I’ve found about 2/3 of my audience resides in the state of Maryland and half of that is local. A casual observer who goes to Joe’s site and is repelled by what he reads may not be as likely to give me or the rest of us locals a shot. There are some talented writers about, and others who make a good run at it. And while ads on monoblogue don’t bring me a lot of revenue – although I’m always willing to sell space – this effect can take food out of my mouth. (Maybe I don’t need that much to eat anyway, but the point remains.)
If Matt Maciarello and Mike Lewis aren’t reelected in 2014, it’s pretty likely they can find regular jobs in the private sector. We local bloggers have a little more difficult time rebuilding an audience when our reputation is tarnished from without, through no fault of our own.
Someday we will be far enough removed from the Foxwell saga that it will lie on the fringes of our collective memory. Thomas Leggs will rot in prison, probably never tasting another breath of freedom the rest of his days. But the words we write and the electronic images we make will live on for awhile. My fear is that our history will be defined by a man described as the leader of a ‘cultlike’ following while the truth is forgotten.
The winners write the history, so we have to make sure the truth ends up on the winning side.