In a case of supremely bad timing, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts had his private life with his public secretary exposed just as President Barack Obama decided to denounce “Mad Men policies.”
Mad Men policies are precisely what Fouts’ unknown, undisclosed enemies are theoretically accusing him of. Men behaving badly, unethically, and in a way that’s unfair to women. The highly watchable evidence: video showing 71-year-old Fouts and his 27-year-old executive assistant on holiday in Chicago.
You can book a room at the Drake Hotel in Chicago tonight for $172 — or even less if you use your AARP card or a senior discount.
But Fouts, a fixture of Warren’s permanent government, is likely too proud or vain to use any age-related discount: He is so age-shy he’s redacted his birth date from documents, and once filed suit to end a requirement he declare his date of birth as a prerequisite for running for office.
The high school teacher turned politician is a lean and fit man who has acknowledged he likes to keep his age a secret because he dates younger women. He apparently believes his brisk walks and secret birthdays are wildly convincing to young women: Think Christian Bale’s character with the elaborate comb-over in “American Hustle.”
Lord love him.
But now that proof of the bachelor mayor’s December-May dating habits have surfaced, and he’s being accused of undermining city administration morale, Fouts has gone into the media equivalent of sleep mode. After releasing a statement that he’s never spent “one cent of taxpayer dollars on meals or personal trips,” he stopped talking.
Given all the issues in Warren and elsewhere, it’s unclear why even a Fouts foe would hire a private investigator to track the mayor, then hold on to the video for a year before releasing it. Fouts isn’t even running for re-election until 2015.
“That would cost a few thousand dollars,” says Mark Liss, a former Warren city councilman, who is more critical of Fouts for repeatedly raising taxes than for his dating habits.
The combination of boy-girl travel caught on secret videotape — thus far without any obvious lies or sex, for that matter — is the sort of faintly scurrilous footage that’s irresistible because it’s so unrehearsed and natural. It provides a clear view through a peephole, with a catchy soundtrack.
Sure, there are obvious alarm bells to ring: conflict of interest, potential for favoritism, harm to administrative morale. He gave her a $5,000 raise in December, at a time when others were losing medical benefits and facing wage freezes.
But let’s be clear: Outrage over an ethical issue is not why 15,000 people have watched the YouTube video over the past five days. It’s not why reporters have stalked Fouts for days. Warren’s City Council was so outraged its members declined to bolster its ethics policy at a meeting Tuesday night.
But the personal relationship between a 71-year-old man and a woman more than 40 years his junior, on video and set to music (“Private eyes are watching you,” and “On State Street, that great street”) is the sort of “Mad Men” entertainment many crave, especially on bleak, frigid days in January, when serious policy debates can hardly be expected to keep us warm.
Laura Berman’s column runs Tuesday and Thursday.