I have three things to say about this.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, expressed regret Monday and said she is “not perfect” after a recording came out that appeared to show her berating staff with profanity.
Jackson Lee is running for Houston mayor, and the recording was sent from an anonymous email account to multiple news organizations Friday, three days before the start of early voting. She broke her silence on it in a statement Monday night.
“I want to convey to the people of Houston that I strongly believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and that includes my own staff,” Jackson Lee said. “I know that I am not perfect. I recognize that in my zeal to do everything possible to deliver for my constituents I have in the past fallen short of my own standards and there is no excuse for that.”
On the recording, which is about a minute and a half, a voice that sounds like Jackson Lee’s can be heard erupting at a staffer who does not have a document she was looking for. She tells the staffer she wants him to have a “fuckin’ brain” and says “nobody knows a Goddamn thing in my office – nothing.” She refers to another staffer, who is apparently not in the room, as a “fat-ass stupid idiot” and adds both staffers are “fuck-ups.”
“It’s the worst shit that I could have ever had put together,” Jackson Lee says. “Two Goddamn big-ass children, fuckin’ idiots who serve no Goddamn purpose.”
Former staff members did not respond to requests for comment about the recording.
Jackson Lee’s campaign has refused to verify the recording and only referred to it as an “alleged recording” in the title of her statement.
“To anyone who has listened to this recording with concern, I am regretful and hope you will judge me not by something trotted out by a political opponent, that worked to exploit this, and backed by extreme Republican supporters on the very day that polls open, but from what I’ve delivered to Houstonians over my years of public service,” Jackson Lee said in her statement.
1. I haven’t listened to this recording, and I don’t know its provenance. Nor do I know how it found its way to the press, though given the contents it’s hard to imagine it not getting out. (The Whitmire campaign denies any responsibility for it, as noted later in the story.) While Rep. Jackson Lee has not officially confirmed that this is a recording of her, the apology speaks for itself. This recording of words that she said exists. That’s the more important part of the equation.
2. Rep. Jackson Lee has long had a reputation for being a difficult, even abusive, boss. A lot of that is based on older stories, though there was a more recent lawsuit brought by a former staffer who claimed she was wrongfully fired; the suit was later dismissed. Whatever the facts are there, she has been subject to more scrutiny than many others in similar positions because she’s a Black woman. Just look at the comments on any news story involving her, or the replies to any tweet or Facebook post, and take in the seething, vicious hatred. Plenty of other women, especially women of color, go through the same thing. That said, no one in a position of power should ever speak to an employee or other person in a subordinate role like this. It’s gross, it’s abusive, it’s completely unacceptable. It’s also far too common in too many workplaces. If Rep. Jackson Lee really wants to demonstrate her regret, she might consider using some of her power to lift up the workers who are on the receiving end of such abuse.
3. One can be a good member of Congress and also be a bad boss. I’m a longtime constituent of Rep. Jackson Lee, and I’m happy that she represents me in Congress. She votes as I’d like her to, she works hard to stay in touch with the district, she has been a force for political good. A member of Congress is one voice out of many, so a chaotic office won’t have that much effect on the overall function. (Lord knows, there’s plenty of other chaos in Congress right now to take care of that.) I think it would be harder to be a bad boss and also a good Mayor because there’s more immediacy to what a Mayor does, which increases the need to treat one’s staff well. This is another thing that I don’t know how to quantify, but I feel comfortable saying that a Mayor with a strong relationship with their staff is better positioned to succeed than one without. I hope this is another thing Rep. Jackson Lee is thinking about. The Chron has more.