Wednesday, October 23, 2019

More Letters to the Editor

Last Wednesday, Gossips published the link to a post on Sam Pratt's blog about the candidates in the race for district attorney in Columbia County: "Keeler camp ducks D.A. debate." Seemingly in response to Pratt's post, Keith Kanaga, chair of the Columbia County Democratic Committee, wrote a letter to the editor of the Register-Star, which appeared in the print version of the newspaper on Saturday, September 19. That letter is reproduced below.

This morning, Pratt shared a letter, responding to Kanaga's letter, which has been submitted to the Register-Star but not yet published. Gossips prints it here:
22 October 2019
To the Editor:
Having supported Keith Kanaga for Columbia County Democratic chair, I was disappointed to see his name signed onto an inflammatory and potentially misleading letter-to-the-editor.
Using a selective line of attack to prop up his candidate for District Attorney, Gene Keeler, Kanaga cites a cherry-picked statistic to hijack a serious issue. Using sloppy research for one's own partisan political gain does no service to those seeking to achieve social and racial justice in our country.
As it happens, I was already familiar with Kanaga's partisan line, because it had been suggested repeatedly to me by Keeler himself.
Problem is: Both men have extracted a single year of State statistics to launch a much broader attack than the data can support.
Kanaga and Keeler strain to argue that prison sentences given by judges to people arrested for felonies in Columbia County show a racial divide. But they limited their investigation to 2018 data to support their point--then stopped right there.
In the prior two years of data made available by the State, the percentage jailed is essentially the same for both whites and blacks. (That's the State's terminology, not mine.)
Nevertheless, Keeler emailed breathlessly to fellow Democrats: "OMG you guys need to see these statistics. . . They are incredible but supports [sic] everything I have been saying for twenty years."
A sophomore statistics students could tell you that a single year of data doesn't prove a longterm trend. To make a longterm case would require going back two full decades, and doing a much more sophisticated analysis.
A student might also notice that since only 40-50 people per year actually go to prison for felonies locally, it only takes one unusual event to skew the numbers. (For example, any 2018 discrepancy might arise solely from the breakup by the Hudson Police of a shooting war between two gangs.) Just a few extra convictions can sway the numbers 10%-20% in either direction.
Still, while claiming that he's running a positive campaign this time around, Keeler emailed Democratic Committee members, saying: "Great stuff to use. . . Can we use these figures on web advertising?"
He added: "It's still the 1950's here! Please send this out on your email lists! Please!" If nothing else, this is not the demeanor of a careful, fair prosecutor.
And last I checked, to be sent to jail for a felony one first must get arrested by law enforcement, moved to trial by a grand jury, sentenced by a judge, and, potentially, losing appeals to higher courts. (Many waive their rights and agree to sentences long before it comes to that.)
The D.A. is just one cog in this system. Unlike what we see on TV crime dramas, s/he can hardly control the outcome singlehandedly.
Meanwhile, our three Supreme Court justices include a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent. To believe, the Kanaga-Keeler line, one has to assume that all three hand down racially-motivated sentences to felons.
Now: Without question, racial bias in outcomes does infect much of our society. Discrimination clearly persists into the 21st Century. One can readily believe, for example, that when almost 9 in 10 County residents are Caucasian, people of color on trial may struggle to secure a jury of their peers.
Having been a lefty Democrat for most of my life, I normally might cheer Keeler's professed abandonment of his previous tabloid attacks, in favor of a message of greater compassion. Unfortunately, his continued reckless use of selective "evidence" for partisan gain only moves society farther from achieving true justice.
In a previous losing campaign, Keeler was excoriated by one newspaper for "political trash talk" which left his campaign "with not a shred of credibility." Due to Keeler's continued lapses of judgement, I simply can't recommend his campaign--and will vote to re-elect Paul Czajka.
--Sam Pratt


  1. Actually, the numbers for 2016 were 12% for whites and 16% for blacks, and for 2017 were 15% for whites and 18% for blacks. The 2018 numbers Kanaga reported were 9% and 25%. While the difference is certainly greater in 2018, it is consistent with the two earlier years for which data are readily available.

  2. Sam, you want us to vote for a corrupt DA who believes in jailing as many people for as long as possible? No thanks!

  3. Lies, damn lies and statistics -- the Keeler campaign is long on the last even though the law of small numbers (as well-described by Sam) illustrates that a 3-year trend line (which is, for 2/3 of its run, countering the Keeler argument) is a poor indicator of anything except that 3 years have passed. Gene's a nice guy but he was a poor DA and, since then, not really practicing law. Perhaps that lack of expertise plays in to a Trumpian dislike of "elites." After all, there are a lot of Confederate flags flying in Columbia County . . . perhaps they'll vote for Gene.

  4. "...for 2/3 of its run, countering the Keeler argument..." How so? In 2016 prison sentences for 12% of whites and 16% of blacks convicted of felonies, in 2017 15% of whites and 18% of blacks, and in 2018 9% of whites and 25% of blacks. Where is the "countering" part?

    1. Clearly, your original point is that "blacks are incarcerated at higher and faster-growing rates than whites." But the math doesn't bear that out: using the data provided in Sam's letter, we see that between '16 and '17 the rate of incarceration for "whites" increased 25% while that for "blacks" only increased 12.5%. Of course, the same data shows that the percentage changes in each category for the following year are -40% and 38.9%, respectively. This underscores Sam's proposition regarding the law of small numbers and, again, by making his point, counters your argument: the rate is not increasing or decreasing -- it's variable. These statistics are based on too small datasets and, therefore, meaningless, proving nothing about the qualitative abilities of either candidate to perform the DA duties in a manner most productive for Columbia County citizens.

    2. Neither Kanaga nor I said anything about "higher and faster-growing rates." I don't know who you could be quoting.

    3. John Friedman submitted this response to the above:

      “I’m not quoting anyone. I’m reading your prose critically and comprehending your message. Which happens to be wrong — there is no discernible trend in the exceptionally limited dataset you cite. ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’ — in that order.”

  5. Quotation marks usually mean one is quoting someone. And the message you're 'comprehending" isn't there. Enough?

    1. John Friedman responded:

      Gene, or Keith or whomever is hiding behind the pseudonym, if you write for the capable you’ll simply have to live with their actually understanding what you write. That said, if you deny the implication of your statement then I have to assume you’re merely trying to make political hay from a random and isolated statistic. I believe, then, there may be a position for you in the Trump DoJ. But not as our D.A.

    2. I'm Michael Grisham, co-manager of the Keeler campaign, writing from the campaign login. I'd love for you to actually understand what I wrote. Keith Kanaga gave 2018 numbers and was criticized by Sam Pratt for giving only a single year (even though it was the latest, 2018). I provided data for two more years, 2016 and 2017, and noted it was consistent with 2018 in showing a disparity in sentencing for blacks versus whites, and no more. You have somehow construed this as a claim there is a trend in the numbers. Perhaps you looked at the numbers and inferred a trend from them, for which you are blaming me?

  6. Are these statistics available for the years during which Mr. Keeler was DA?

  7. I have interviewed Gene Keeler in depth, in person, and subsequently by email and direct message.

    Unfortunately, I have had to conclude that he has a serious problem being honest. Or, in the most charitable read I can come up with, he does not have the discipline to maintain consistent positions and opinions, and is willing to seek help for his campaign from absolutely anyone, no matter how disreputable.

    It gives me no pleasure to say so, as someone who has been on good terms with Gene for nearly 20 years. But the problem concerning his (and Kanaga’s) sloppy research is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

    When asked whether he was collaborating with—or if his campaign otherwise had anything to with—a notorious convicted criminal currently facing more local charges, Keeler thundered “Absolutely not!” and described that criminal as “a con man.” Based on Roger Hannigan Gilson’s reporting, which I assisted, that characterization seemed more than warranted:

    Now we learn from Keeler’s interview with The Register-Star that Keeler admits he *is* in fact in communication with said “con man”; that he has actually fed tips to him; and that he finds his defamatory posts on Facebook, which masquerade as activism, to be entertaining.

    Notably, in a follow-up question earlier this month, I asked Gene specifically if there were any reason that he would be unable to continue the prosecution of said “con man” if he were elected.

    Gene said there was not.

    But now we learn from The Register-Star interview that he does in fact plan to recuse himself from continuing the prosecution of this person, if he is elected:

    So Keeler has absolutely nothing to do with that con man... Except when he does. He has no reason to recuse himself from his prosecution... Except now he says he would have to.

    The article, carefully reported by Amanda Purcell, includes an independent, outside view of the situation by a Fordham professor of legal ethics — who characterizes Keeler’s conflict of interest as “a breach of staggering proportion... It is totally unethical that an attorney and candidate for DA would speak to a defendant under criminal indictment.”

    Similarly, Keeler claimed to me repeatedly that he is “running a positive campaign” and that the Democratic Party leadership did not want him engaging in the type of attacks which characterized his previous campaign.

    But in the Register-Star article, Keeler launches a fusillade of unsubstantiated attacks, much like those of the “con man” he finds entertaining—attacks claiming corruption between the D.A.’s office and law enforcement.

    This again makes Keeler either dishonest, based on what he had told me about his pledge to stay positive, or at best someone lacking in self-restraint. When pressed by Purcell, the old attack lines seem to have come rushing back out.

    So why was Keeler told to keep it positive? The previous time he ran, in 2011, the Columbia Paper’s Parry Teasdale raked him over the coals for making scurrilous and undemonstrated accusations. Teasdale described the Keeler campaign then as having “not a shred of credibility,” due to the “flimsiness of his evidence,” and “his exaggerations and innuendo”:

    No surprisingly, the Columbia Paper has again endorsed Czajka instead: