Steve Clark’s rehabilitation impresses. He owned up to alcoholism and defeats it daily. He declared bankruptcy, but went ahead and paid fines to the state even though they had been discharged in the bankruptcy.
In recent years he has made an honest, low-profile living teaching law in Texas and Florida, and, most lately, as a founding member of the national Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. For a while in the 1990s, when would-be employers eschewed a man who told them he was an alcoholic felon, he worked for $6.50 an hour in a bookstore in Austin.
He managed to persuade Mike Huckabee to pardon him of his conviction on felony theft charges. That was for gallivanting fraudulently with a state credit card as attorney general in the late 1980s.
What got him in trouble was buying fine dining and finer swill on this card and inventing names of supposed companions with whom he was purportedly doing state business — “phantom diners,” they came to be called.
One by one — a federal judge, a newspaper columnist, a businessman: They took the stand in Pulaski Circuit Court to testify that, no, they hadn’t been at Alouette’s that night, or any night, or any other place, dining with Clark, much less finishing off with cognac or the most exquisite port.
He was a single man and the real guests usually included young women.
He was living way beyond his means, drinking way too much, tooling around town in a convertible and a Panama hat, jogging through neighborhoods in absurdly microscopic shorts, behaving altogether erratically and blowing his once-solid standing as most likely to succeed Bill Clinton as governor.
Now he’s living in sedate sobriety in Fayetteville, where, long ago, he attended and taught law school. He is 61 and has grandchildren. He is remarried, to Suzanne, who will graduate from law school in May and, over the phone at least, sounds positively delightful.
And now Clark has announced as a candidate for mayor of Fayetteville in the general election Nov. 4.
That’s the only thing that’s bothersome. Redemption is a powerful and ingratiating story. But Clark may still be afflicted, in the way of so many unrecovered politicians, with acute neediness for the public validation and ego-exalting of public office.
My observation over four decades of close exposure is that, generally, at the core, politicians share this unhealthy need for public acceptance, even adulation. For pure public-spiritedness, I’ve seen more in police officers, school teachers and emergency medical technicians.
I’d personally feel better about Clark if he’d gotten the ballot-box dependence out of his system along with all the rest of it. I’d be more impressed if he’d taken up, oh, cabinet-making or driveway-paving.
For the record, Clark says it’s out of his system.
In an e-mailed response from Texas, where he was conducting a fraud examiner workshop, he wrote: “I want to be a part of the political process of Fayetteville because I believe I can bring value in serving my hometown as mayor. I believe I am the best person for the job. I do not need voter approval. Unfortunately, I did need that when I was AG. Today there are a number of values I cherish more than voter approval. They include my faith, my sobriety, my spouse, my family, my grandchildren. I believe I would be a good mayor. I know that I will work hard for Fayetteville. However, if I do not get elected, my life will not be over nor anywhere close to that.”
A postscript: I see in one of the articles about Clark’s announcement that he had explained that there were 947 transactions on that credit card, but that the prosecution focused only on 43. I’m hoping and trusting that’s not rationalization or mitigation. Forty-three frauds is about 43 too many.