My immediate concern,as a Republican wanting to win in 2011, is the public relations/political angle. Let's go out on a limb - a really, really long limb - and say that the Mayor retained me to give him political and media advice. Here's what I would have reviewed with him prior to the trip:
- What are the headlines going to be when the story comes out? Those represent the immediate perception of the story through the eyes of the editors. How can we spin those stories differently so editors use a different headline?
- On a related point, how can we present the story so it looks as much like a business trip as possible?
- Let's try to find some private funds so you can take your wife without it being on the taxpayer dime. Don't try to sell it as customary in Asia to see husband and wife teams on business trips. (I'm no expert on Asian culture, but my understanding is that exactly the opposite is true.) It really starts to look like a vacation when you take along the spouse. If she goes, at least make sure taxpayer money is not used to pay her way.
- How are Democrats going to approach the issue? Do not be fooled by the mild reaction thus far. The Dems are not so stupid as to shoot the ammunition you might be giving them in 2008 when the election is in 2011.
- What are the Democrats' ads on the issue going to look like? (And, trust me, there will be ads.) Right now it would be a piece of cake to cut a negative ad leaving viewers with the impression of a jet-setting mayor vacationing around the world with his wife in tow, all at taxpayer expense.
- Exactly what are you going to be doing on the trip? Be careful of social events and outings captured on video. Everyone has a camera these days.
- How have you approached explaining the trip to the media? People unschooled in media relations always believe they can keep things quiet and the questions simply will not be asked. But that just creates a perception you are hiding things and the stories and headlines will be more negative because the reporters and editors smell, rightly or wrongly, a cover-up. The best thing you can do is be candid and fully disclose. Reporters are much more likely to write favorable stories if they think the elected official is being honest and open with them.
- Mayor, you need to approach every issue as if you are in a fish bowl...because you are. Every decision you make should be viewed in the context of something you will have to explain publicly and defend politically.