Now that the election is over, I thought I’d take some time to address an issue that arose between a city commission candidate and myself since it has resulted in him questioning my credibility.
I will spoil the ending by stating up front that my conscience is clear on this matter. However, if any of my readers have questions about the situation, I will inundate you with the details below.
As soon as I saw Michael Schumacher’s name on the list of candidates for the Yankton City Commission, I knew I’d have to do some research into his past.
Schumacher grew up in Crofton, Neb., where I also call home. He is several years older than me, but I distinctly remember a photo of the two of us (with some others) published in the Crofton Journal many years ago because of our participation in the Knox County Spelling Bee.
It was due to this familiarity with Schumacher that stories about his escapades while on the Rapid City Council from 2005-2007 had made an impression on me.
I read the archives of the Rapid City Journal and the Norfolk Daily News to get the background I needed, and then I sent Schumacher the following Feb. 27 message on Facebook:
I hope things are going well for you.
Since you’ve thrown your hat into the City Commission ring, I wanted to ask you some questions about your past experience in Rapid City.
I’m aware of the disagreements you had with some other city officials there and wanted to give you a chance to address that past directly.
While you were on the Rapid City Council, Alderwoman Deb Hadcock and the rest of the commission confronted you about an email that you had sent under a false name criticizing her. You told the Rapid City Journal at the time that you had apologized to the council twice and planned to make a public apology but changed your mind after Hadcock talked to the media about what had been discussed in executive session. Do you agree with that general outline of what happened? What led you to send an email critical of the alderwoman under a false name? What else can you say about that incident today?
In 2008, you admitted to impersonating Mayor Alan Hanks in a post to South Dakota War College and said you were trying to show the blog’s operator the insecurity of allowing anonymous posts. According to Powers, you used Hanks’ name to make at least 10 posts during the span of a month. Do you still stand by your explanation? Why did you choose Hanks as the figure to impersonate? Hanks was looking into the legality of the situation. Were any charges ever brought against you?
You went on to serve as the economic development director for Randolph. How long did that tenure last? What did you accomplish during that time? How did that relationship end?
What is your current employment?
I’m sorry to bring this up, but is this you? — Michael Schumacher, 37, Yankton, was arrested Saturday (Dec. 29) on a warrant for violation of conditional bond. If so, can you say anything about the circumstances?
When you decided to run for the City Commission, did you expect questions to be raised about your past? If so, what convinced you that running for the City Commission was important enough that you were willing to face that? Many people might shrink away from such a scenario.
Certainly, one’s past doesn’t dictate his or her future. But given these incidents from your past, voters may have questions about what kind of leadership you would provide the City of Yankton. What would you tell voters to convince them you would be a good leader?
Would you call these past incidents mistakes, or would you defend them on some grounds?
What is your vision for the City of Yankton and why do you want to have an active role in shaping it?
Thanks for any help you can provide on this, Michael. I want to be able to present your side of the story on all of this.
You are welcome to answer via email, or I can be reached in the office at 605-665-7811 ext. 123.
Yankton Press & Dakotan
Schumacher responded that he was busy with work, and so I asked when he might be able to get back to me. On March 1, he stated that during the weekend he would send me something.
By March 6, I had heard nothing, so I sent him the following message on Facebook:
I hadn’t heard anything from you and wanted to check in. I do need to start moving forward on a story and really want you to be a part of it. Let me know how things are going.
On March 7, Schumacher again said work had prevented him from getting anything prepared and assured me a response would be sent the coming Saturday.
March 14 rolled around and I had seen nothing on my Facebook account or my work email.
Schumacher said he had sent me an email to my work account Sunday morning and would re-send it. He confirmed that he had my correct address.
I had still not received anything by March 15, so I sent this on Facebook:
Nothing has shown up. Could you just post the answers here since email doesn’t seem to be cooperating?
Schumacher read that on March 15, according to Facebook. However, he did not send his answers to me on Facebook.
At this point, I became suspicious that perhaps he was putting me off and hoping I wouldn’t run anything as long as he didn’t respond to my questions. Can you blame me? I was not aware of any problems with my email, and I conduct email interviews all the time without incident.
I saw Schumacher March 19 at a candidate forum. He asked me if I had received the responses. I told him no. And then he asked whether he should just send them via Facebook. I told him he should do that.
Schumacher never sent them through Facebook like he said he would.
In the meantime, I did receive several emails in my work account from Schumacher regarding a candidate profile we were running.
Finally, last week I decided that I couldn’t let the subject slide any longer with the election approaching April 9.
I sent an email March 31 from my work account to Schumacher’s Hotmail account.
Despite receiving Facebook messages and your candidate profile through my email, I have yet to receive a response to my earlier questions about your past experiences related to Rapid City.
I wanted to get this out of the way long before the election, and now that unfortunately won’t happen.
If I don’t receive a response tomorrow (Monday) either by email or phone, I will have no choice but to write something without comment from you.
I hate to do that, as I’ve said, but I feel I’ve been generous in giving you time to provide a response.
(605) 665-7811 ext. 123
My email was met with silence, so I finished a story that was published in the April 4 Press & Dakotan.
It can be read here.
In addition to chronicling a couple of controversial issues Schumacher had been involved with, I noted that not only had Schumacher failed to respond to my inquiries but he also didn’t once mention at the two candidate forums that he had been a city councilor and a city economic development director. Nor was that experience addressed in this candidate questionnaire we published here. If I had that kind of experience going into what is essentially a job interview with voters, I would make mention of it. I thought it was fair game to point out he had not made a single reference to that relevant background.
My story was posted on the Press & Dakotan website at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. At 12:43 a.m. Thursday, Schumacher posted the following response to the story via Facebook:
There are a few things I want to address regarding this article. First, Mr. Johnson claims I never responded to his queries. In fact, I responded twice. On March 10th I replied to the e-mail address provided by Mr. Johnson, then, after claiming he didn’t receive it, I replied again to the e-mail address Mr. Johnson provided. Oddly enough, he did receive my questionnaire response, which was sent to the same e-mail address. Second, Mr. Johnson makes note that I failed to mention it at the forums. While the forums are excellent venues for candidates to speak to the community, unfortunately, they also provide little time for the candidates to expound much beyond the questions posed. I made the decision to focus on my activities in Yankton with local organizations and how that translates into what I can do for Yankton.
As far as the rest of the article is concerned, anyone who has known me for an extended period of time can attest to the fact that I am not the same person I was then. I allowed myself to get caught up in the acidic politics of Rapid City and behave in a way that was contrary to who I am now. Anyone who follows Rapid City politics understands how bitter and contentious it can be.
Regarding the absence from meetings, I was in a transitional period moving back to Yankton in order for my family to be closer to critically ill family members.
The use of an alias can be attributed to the dismissive nature of the Council to myself and other select Council members. Mine was not the only anonymous e-mail received by the Council containing concerns with various aspects of City government and Council actions.
As far as the situation with the political website, it was an attempt to show that despite his assurances of anonymity, the blogger would attempt to expose the identities of those with whom he disagreed, even if he had no proof of their identity.
While I wanted to respond to this article, I don’t want it to be viewed as an excuse. I am not proud of my actions and, as I look back, I wish they had never occurred. This is not what politics should be, it should be for the benefit of the community and not relegated to political game playing. If elected to the Yankton City Commission, I will work to be a positive influence and representative for the community.
Schumacher later sent an email to my work account (again, it has seemingly worked fine except for the two occasions he claims to have sent his response) saying he had not seen my final email until after the story was published in the newspaper.
Later that day, he sent a pdf of a screen capture purporting to show the time and date he had sent a response to my questions as March 10 and March 14.
Schumacher asked that we print the response in the newspaper that was posted on Facebook (see above).
After some discussion, Gary Wood, the paper’s publisher; Kelly Hertz, the managing editor; and I decided we would not print it.
Wood sent Schumacher the following email:
In regards to your request I’ve discussed the situation with Kelly Hertz, my managing editor, and Nathan. After careful consideration, it has been decided that the Press & Dakotan will not be publishing your response.
We feel that we gave you sufficient opportunity to respond to our inquiries. You focus on the two attempts you say you made to email the responses, yet you were told by Nathan via Facebook and a verbal communication that he had not received them. We are not going to publish a response that knowingly mischaracterizes the facts.
Whether or not you sent those emails on March 10 and March 14 is irrelevant at this point, because you knew we had not received them. You stated to Nathan that you would send the responses via Facebook, which you never did. You claim you didn’t receive a final email Nathan sent to your Hotmail address Sunday. I am sorry to hear that but when our story was posted at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, you had a Facebook response posted by 12:43 a.m. Thursday. I wish you had shown the same urgency to respond when Nathan was attempting to get your comments for his story. He gave you far more time to respond than most of our sources get.
It should also be noted that, in speaking with Nathan, we have received every one of your Hotmail emails in the past two weeks. Considering all the facts in this matter, it makes it difficult to understand why the only two we did not receive are your responses to Nathan’s questions.
I wish you luck in the future and hope that future interactions between us have more positive outcomes.
Of course, Schumacher didn’t like that response.
However, it reflects my thoughts on the matter.
I’ve never had this much of a problem securing a response from someone unless they didn’t want to respond. I was very reasonable, and Schumacher was given plenty of time and opportunity to get back to me.
Like I said, my conscience is clear.
On a related note, I’ve been asked why the story didn’t include anything about Schumacher’s December arrest for violation of conditional bond. The matter was raised at South Dakota War College in this post, for example.
In January 2009, Laura Schumacher, Michael’s ex-wife, took out a protection order against him that is in effect until January 2014. She claimed Michael was harassing and following her. No phone contact is to occur except through lawyers, according to the order.
Michael was arrested in December because Laura reported to police that he had been calling and texting her.
However, the prosecutor ultimately dismissed the violation of conditional bond charge in March.
Because the charge was dismissed, Kelly Hertz and I decided not to mention the arrest in the April 4 story.
So if it’s suggested that I had some sort of vendetta against Schumacher, I think that’s an indication that no such motivation existed.
And if I really had wanted to play hardball I could have quoted this opinion column from the Black Hills Pioneer calling Schumacher some very unflattering names.
So … that’s a long, convoluted explanation for how things transpired in regard to the Michael Schumacher story and the fallout it created. But perhaps it gives you an idea of how this reporting business works sometimes.
Most importantly, I hope it establishes that, contrary to Schumacher’s aspersions both publicly and privately, I’ve been straightforward and truthful in this matter.
As someone who observes politics up close and personal, my advice to a candidate with a past that may raise questions is to address it up front and head on. The last thing you want to do is give the impression you are trying to hide something.
I wish Michael well in whatever he does in the future. Should our paths cross again, I hope he is more forthcoming and cooperative.