As we wait for someone, anyone, to give us some hard facts about what really happened with John Hartley’s arrest Thursday, let’s assume for a minute that the incident was, as his political consultant says, an unfortunate misunderstanding.

If that’s the case, what would the District 3 City Council candidate have to do to salvage his campaign from this, er, pit stop?

It’s simple, he needs to start talking. Now. If he doesn’t want to be a candidate anymore, fine. I don’t care if he ever speaks about it. But if he wants to be a member of the City Council and this really was a “misunderstanding,” he needs to shine light on what was misunderstood — however embarrassing it is.

It seems obvious that he exposed himself, whether to urinate or do something more inappropriate in public. Or both. And yes, being in your car means being in public.

He’s got to explain what he was doing. It has to make sense. This is a very accepting district in a relatively tolerant city, and I have no doubt that if he just had to go to the bathroom, found himself in a bit of a bind, nervous, there might be a way to understand it. And there is a way to understand how that process could look unfortunately like something very inappropriate.

OK, so say he does prove this was what happened. He explains it clearly. We all sympathize. He still was arrested for indecent exposure while campaigning for office. An arrest is an arrest. Rival candidates have a way of spinning those kinds of things rather negatively. For him to survive politically, Hartley’s fellow candidates would need to agree that this should be a contest based on the issues. They would need to accept his explanation and ask their supporters to refrain from attacks easily generated from just the incident report. I also think this is possible.

Hartley, Stephen Whitburn, Todd Gloria, Robert E. Lee and Paul Broadway have a spirited and healthy fight ahead. The debates they are going to have will be good for the city. If Hartley really didn’t do anything wrong, his rivals should make an effort to ensure he’s part of the discussion — to rise above easy attacks that can come from being arrested for something like this.

In other words, they should want to win with skill and strategy and appeal, not by unnecessary forfeit.

But let’s be clear about this: We have no real idea what Hartley was doing. We will do our best to find out but it’s a waste of effort in a way because Hartley already knows what he was doing. And if it was anything beyond dealing with a personal emergency that many of us might at least be able to imagine ourselves in, he is done. In that case, he’d have to simply apologize and deal with the consequences. Nobody who claims to care so much about public safety and clean neighborhoods could do anything other than that.

The nightmare scenario for the district city would be for Hartley to proclaim innocence but evade explanation. And then we’d have to wait for facts and myths to trickle out and continue the discussion days longer than the hours it deserves. The land-use, political and civic issues the candidates are set to debate spiritedly are important for us all to witness. To think the discussion could be infected by a prolonged discussion about whether this guy was urinating — or worse — is really upsetting.

Hartley can spare us all. He can clear it all up really quickly.


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