Friday, May 19, 2006

How not to apologize

If Joe Bartolomucci wrote for Hallmark, your next birthday card would be a text-heavy polemic that provides a firm defense of why the sender is giving you the card, but would fall short of actually wishing you a happy birthday. I say this after reading the silver-penned alderman’s letter-to-the-editor in today’s SJ-R. Written presumably to express a singular and simple sentiment, it instead manages to avoid making a genuine apology while distributing blame and engaging in a little Joe B. horn tooting in the process.

Bartolomucci wrote the letter after taking a right beating on the editorial page for the last several days over his comments concerning the homeless that gather outside Lincoln Library. His take on the relative worth of the homeless would be pretty harsh coming from a guy sitting on the end stool in an empty tavern. Coming from a sitting alderman while in the presence of reporters, it’s harsh AND stupid.

Although Bartolomucci’s letter goes on for six paragraphs, his mea culpa is contained in a single sentence: “If I offended anyone by my remarks, I do apologize.”

If? I think that it is pretty clear that there are people who were offended by his comments. He wouldn’t have written the letter unless he knew that he had provoked sufficient ire to damage his public image, so why qualify the statement with if? Why not, “to the people I offended, I am sorry”? Or better still, say “I’m sorry” and move on. Imagine if Mrs. O’Leary had written a letter to the Chicago Tribune expressing her regrets if anyone was inconvenienced by her cow’s inconsiderate clumsiness.*

There is another problem with his attempt at contrition. He uses a phrasing that is common among weasely politicians and celebrities, and has come to be known as an “unapology.” Bartolomucci’s unapology appears at first glance to express penitence for his comments, but what he is actually saying is that he’s sorry that some people are overly sensitive and took his remarks the wrong way.

Notice in the Mrs. O example I provided how she cleverly shifted the blame to her cow? Well, Bartolomucci set up a strawcow of his own, Mayor Davlin. In the letter’s first paragraph, before he even gets around to unapologizing, he seeks our sympathy for the frustration that he suffered at the hands of an inactive administration that would not heed his call and address this issue more promptly. This frustration, he’d have us know, is what led to his calling the homeless “drunken bums.” Well, oh my goodness! Forget Contact Ministries, my check is going to the Joe B. Frustration Relief Fund.

He goes on to mention the mayor two more times in the letter, a clear indication of psychological transference and perhaps of an unhealthy obsession.

I don’t know if Bartolomucci’s criticisms of the mayor have merit or not. But if his true intent in writing the letter was to express his apologies, than any attempt to inflict political damage on an opponent comes across as petty and totally beside the point.

Bartolomucci also tells us about the efforts he has been making to ease the burden of the homeless. That’s good; as an alderman he should be doing such things. Unfortunately, it comes across in the letter less as good-hearted attempt to find a solution to the problem and more like a desperate attempt to prop up his sagging image.

He closes by finding the silver lining in the controversy that he created - an increased awareness of the homeless problem in Springfield. Sure Joe, thanks to your calling attention to their urination habits, the plight of the homeless has been greatly relieved.** Maybe I’ll follow his lead and run over a few puppies with my car this weekend on behalf of the Animal Protective League.

I’m not one of those people who get offended at the slightest provocation and immediately demand an apology. I didn’t expect Bartolomucci to apologize for his comments. He’s certainly entitled to his opinions. But if he really feels that the homeless are nothing more than drunken layabouts, I’d have much more respect for Bartolomucci if he had refused to deliver an obligatory apology, and instead stuck by his guns. Not much respect, but much more.

*I realize that this is an urban legend, I use it only to make a point.

**Pun intended.


Anonymous said...

Although he could have handled this whole ordeal with much more tact, I personally agree with Bart. The library is no place for the homeless to hang out at.

I wonder how many of the SJ-R letter writers, who were so offended, have ventured out to the downtown area after dark to witness the situation. I also wonder how many have lifted a finger to help the homeless in the last 6 months. My guess is, not many.

Bart could have easily swayed public opinion by providing some police reports that document incidents involving those poor, helpless, unfortunate persons. If the SJ-R weren't so busy grandstanding they could have checked their own records (Police Beat, City/State page) and come up with a stabbing that occurred near the library a mere 3 or 4 months ago that they reported on. I personally have seen the large planters outside the library littered with empty alcohol bottles. Anyone want to guess where those came from? Anyone want to guess what the persons who put the bottles in the planters do when their bladders get full? My gut feeling says they don't go too far to take care of the problem.

Bart was a fool to call them all "drunken bums," but from what I am gathering many people think these people are a break or two away from being Bill Gates' rival. Truth be told I'll bet many of these persons have been kicked out of the shelters for deviate acts and that is why they are where they are at.

Maybe the letter writers will let some of the library campers stay in their garages overnight to help solve the problem.

Try to shelter them and if that doesn't work I'm sure they can find another overhang to sleep under somewhere else in the City.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...


I don't claim to have any direct knowledge of the situation outside the library. I suppose that just as there are good and bad people in all walks of life, there are homeless who deserve our compassion and charity, and others who have forfeited their place in a civil society.

My point was that Bartolomucci(or Bart as you so affectionately refer to him)came across as whiney, vindicative, and insincere in a letter that I presumed was meant to serve as an olive branch to the many people he offended.

Thanks for commenting,