Twenty-three years ago, Aberdeen mayoral-candidate Mike Bennett made the biggest mistake of his life.
This week, as he prepared for a candidate’s forum showdown, Bennett, a Vietnam veteran and ordained deacon, was exorcising old ghosts and cutting off at the pass an anticipated ambush set by his detractors.
In 1984, I was six years old, George Orwell’s fears were becoming reality and Mike Bennett was a thirty-something upstart with the Maryland State Police hankering for a promotion.
The seedy story that’s recently been circulating the drain, where I usually hang out, is that a couple decades ago Bennett and his state police colleagues buddied up with some guys in the local print shop and were able to swipe a copy of the MSP sergeant’s exam.
Of course, that’s not the truth. The local whisperers left out a few details, which Bennett was more than happy to provide.
“As a matter of course, that was 23 years ago. I and a couple of co-workers got our hands wrapped around 19 or 20 questions of a 120-question test. No answers, just questions. We researched them and passed them out to all our friends,” Bennett told me.
Bennett, presumably because of a low score, didn’t pass his sergeant’s exam on the first try, despite having “19 or 20” of the questions in front of him. By the time he took the exam a second time, Bennett passed, but the state police Internal Affairs Office was finally able to trace the initial test fraud back to him.
The consequence – Bennett and the others were stripped of their sergeant rank. Details are hazy on who ratted out whom. One guy may or may not have been fined. All remained members of the Maryland State Police. Bennett went on to continue what has been a successful, 37-year career with the organization – including several subsequent promotions.
“The bottom line was I got hand-slapped along with my co-workers,” he said.
So wait, what just happened? A guy who is running for mayor in an election less than a month away just admitted he stole the questions to a police exam and cheated on his sergeant’s test just for personal promotion?
You’re goddamn right he did, and I salute him for it.
Bennett, who is an ordained deacon in the Southern Baptist Church, has served in every elected and appointed position in the Aberdeen Volunteer Fire Department and currently manages a $6 million budget as Director of the Electronic Systems Division for the Maryland State Police, recognized this skeleton would be dragged out of his closet one way or another and decided he’d be better off doing it himself.
“Everybody has something in their life that they’d like to have a do-over,” he said. “If I had a do-over in my life that’d certainly be my first do-over.”
As much as I’m tired of hearing about the continuation of the Good Ole Boy network that allows law enforcement, government employees and others to screw up and get nothing more than a “slap on the wrist,” I think Bennett has handled this as well as can be expected.
He admits he did something wrong.
“I screwed up. I messed up. Let’s get on with life.”
He is sorry.
“I certainly regret that.”
He paid the price and went on with his life.
“I paid the price and went on with my life.”
What more can you ask of the guy? If all current politicians were judged by what they did in their mid-thirties, or early ‘80s (take your pick), our daises and chambers would be virtually empty.
Yes, Bennett might have chosen a more tactful campaign slogan than “Bringing Trust Back to the Mayor’s Office,” but if you can’t trust a guy who admits the biggest mistake of his life on the night before his first public appearance as a mayoral candidate, then who can you trust?