It's fitting that this inaugural edition of Heroes and Zeroes should come on the heels of state and federal guilty pleas by Jim Black, former House speaker. There's no bigger (or is it smaller?) zero than the Mecklenburg Democrat, whose federal corruption plea the day after Valentine's Day showed that he was in bed with not just the video poker industry, the optometrist lobby and lottery companies, as many suspected, but chiropractors, too. He admitted taking $29,000 from three chiropractors who wanted him to push legislation that would support their industry. And on Feb. 20, Black pleaded guilty to state charges of offering a bribe and obstruction of justice. The state and federal plea deals require Black to cooperate with investigators, so expect more dirt to come to light. For now, only Black's partners in crime know the true breadth of his crookedness.
Rob Christensen, The N&O's lead political reporter and columnist, bid adieu to Jim Black with a wisp of melancholy last week. His Wednesday column showed a reporter who was a wee bit cozy with his sources. The last sentence says it all: "Even as Black disappears from the political scene, the same traps that got him—intense two-party competition, big money and the concentration of power—are waiting to claim their next victim." Painting the House speaker as a victim is a far stretch. In Christensen's defense, he wrote his column the day before the sordid details of Black's most recent transgression came to light. But Christensen's colleagues in the newsroom, Dan Kane and J. Andrew Curliss, have uncovered more than enough evidence to show that Black was the culprit, not the victim.
To the chagrin of many a reporter covering the legislature, Tom Campbell, creator and moderator of NC Spin, a public affairs television program, broke the Jim Black story on his e-mail listserv. Way back on Feb. 1, light years ago in the news cycle, Campbell reported rumors that Black's resignation was imminent. He cited gossip that Black requested not to have a legislative assistant assigned to him and that he listed his condo for sale on the internal General Assembly Web site. (Turns out Black wasn't selling the condo but looking for someone to take over his lease.) And he mentioned the federal plea bargain. Campbell may have been the first to write about the true significance of Black's indictment, too. On Feb. 14, when the story hit the papers, Campbell wrote on NCSpin.com: "Do not, for one second, cry for Jim Black. He played fast and loose with the laws and he is getting off light for what he has done. Some are attempting to paint as pretty a face on Black's accomplishments as possible, but his legacy will clearly be one of shame and corruption."