Gilliard, Middleton, and Washington need to chill out 

Project Hot Air

I have found that the most entertaining aspect of politics has been the demonstration of outrage and finger-pointing by one candidate over the nefarious conduct, both real and imaginary, of the opposition candidate.

Last week, Citadel Broadcasting began airing public service announcements for Project Cool Breeze. The program distributes air conditioning units to needy residents 60 years and older free of charge. It is sponsored by the Charleston Police Department's Weed and Seed initiative.

Citadel Broadcasting owns 165 FM and 58 AM stations. Locally, this translates to WWWZ 93FM, WIWF 96.9FM, WSSX 95FM, and WTMA 1250AM (stomping grounds of the City Paper's Southern Avenger).

The PSAs for the Cool Breeze program also feature Charleston City Councilman Wendell Gilliard, who is a candidate for the state House District 111 seat. This is where the finger-pointing part starts.

Going back to the days of the Depression, rules have been in place regarding how political candidates use the airwaves. Stations are required to give equal time to all candidates within a 45-day window before a vote.

Well, we're within the window, which is why Gilliard's opponent Clay Middleton questioned the gratis airtime for Wendell.

After some checking, Citadel Broadcasting brought out the hook and yanked the PSAs featuring Gilliard until after the polls close.

I would think that a national company and the local account executive responsible would have adhered to the guidelines ahead of time. On the other hand, if most of my assumptions were accurate, then I'd have very little to write about, especially since John Graham Altman III retired on me. (What? You mean he's back? Glory hallelujah.)

Of course, Wendell got all kinds of melodramatic, and the crocodile tears began flowing. He told ABC News 4, "To make this a political issue is just wrong, and it saddens me."

Funny, he didn't look too upset over that free time on the tee-vee.

The newsprint he got courtesy of The Post and Courier at a Project Cool Breeze press conference with Mayor Joe Riley didn't hurt either. "This is something we've been doing for nine years," he told the P&C. "If my opponent had just sat me down and told me, I would not have done the commercials, because I would not do anything to hurt Project Cool Breeze."

Really Wendell? Your opponents know the rules, and for you to profess an unawareness of them, from either naiveté or guile, is complete hogwash.

As an aside, Little Joe looked relieved to have somebody else on the business end of the media glare for a change.

Clay Middleton told Channel 4, "This is not a political stunt. The fact is this is a great program, and it just can't use his name or voice in the 45-day period."

Maurice Washington characterized the PSAs in a more cynical fashion to the P&C, "It's a way of playing the media for free air time."

And it's awfully convenient that both Middleton and Washington just happen to be catching a little "free air time" for their trouble.

Gilliard is sticking to his position that his opponents are using the rules as a political ploy. But his claim that he is just helping the disadvantaged rings more than a little false. And for him to assert that he didn't know he couldn't do the PSAs within the 45-day window clearly demonstrates that he is not ready for prime time.


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