February 6, 2003
Gordo’s night in the drunk tank
Story killed by Sun Publisher leaked to TC
Vancouver Sun publisher Dennis Skulsky killed an article about Gordon Campbell’s night in a Maui jail, according to a note in a mysterious brown envelope that arrived at the Terminal City office this week, because it would embarrass the Premier.
The article, written by Sun veteran Petti Fong, contained excerpts from an interview Fong conducted with an habitual criminal who was in the drunk tank when the Maui cops opened the door and told the drunken and disheveled Premier to make himself at home.
The note attached to Fong’s article reads: “This is the newspaper article that Vancouver Sun senior management, at the behest of publisher Dennis Skulsky, refused to publish because they thought it made Premier Gordon Campbell look bad.”
Fong opens her piece thus: “Premier Gordon Campbell swayed as he tried to find a place to rest and fell asleep quickly on a soiled mattress the night he was arrested, according to a petty criminal who shared his Maui jail cell.”
According to Fong’s source, a 33-year-old male named Frank Alconcel, Campbell was shitfaced. Fong writes, “Campbell swayed as he entered the room and he walked unsteadily, Alconcel recalled.”
Then Fong quotes Alconcel directly, “He was wearing a nice shirt, nice pants. I couldn’t tell if he smelled of booze because the whole jail smells like piss.”
Pretty soon the legless Premier was trying to sleep it off.
“After Campbell walked into the cell… he hesitated, as if he wasn’t sure what to do next,” writes Fong. Alconcel picks up the action from there, “I told the guys who were lying on the mattresses to give him one. They got off the mattress. I told the Premier he should pick up one of the mattresses and a blanket.”
Campbell, apparently, wanted to get as far away from his cellmates as possible and dragged his mattress to the other side of the cell. Being a jailhouse rookie, the Premier would not have known that it’s a bad idea to fall asleep in the vicinity of the toilet. “I didn’t say anything ‘cause I thought, just let him be, he’ll sleep it off,” Alconcel told Fong.
After a brief moment, however, Alconcel gave the Premier’s plight a second thought, “Older people, it’s good to show them respect.” So, writes the Sun scribe, “Alconcel… waited a few more minutes before calling Campbell to move his mattress back over to the other side. When the Premier didn’t respond, Alconcel said he had to tell him he was lying in an area where urine was splattered all over the gray walls and concrete floor.”
Campbell then moved his mattress across the cell and curled up into the fetal position in an attempt to keep warm. “Most of the guys put their shirts over their heads to keep warm and have a pillow but he didn’t do that,” Alconcel told Fong. “He just laid on his mattress and didn’t say anything.
Ironically, Alconcel, who is portrayed by Fong as a classic down and out figure, told her that he truly felt badly for the Premier as soon as he entered the drunk tank and took pity on him. “He (Alconcel) immediately felt sorry for Campbell because he looked so bewildered by his jail cell surroundings.”
In spite of the vast distance between Campbell and Alconcel on the social ladder, Fong writes that the two share a similar tragic family history. Alconcel, “avoids drinking because his father, an alcoholic, committed suicide 12 years ago.” Campbell’s father was also an alcoholic who committed suicide.
“When I read that, it hit me hard, right here,” Alconcel told Fong, putting both hands on his chest, palms down. “I know what that’s like. I know that feeling of having fathers who drink and hurt others. He had liver disease, you know, from drinking too much. It was really bad and the doctor told him he only had about a month left, so he shot my mom and then he shot himself.”
Premier Campbell’s Liberal government has gained a well-earned reputation for being ruthless when it comes to cutting funding to organizations that deal with substance abuse, battered women, and suicide prevention, as well as many other areas that can be described as essential social services.
The Vancouver Sun is owned by Canwest Global, as are The Province and BCTV Global,
which produces BC’s most watched TV newscasts. All three media organs have been
derided for their coverage of Premier Campbell’s Hawaiian misadventure by media
critics across the country, including this magazine, for being… how shall we say it? overly-easy, on the premier?
Well. That’s putting it mildly… very mildly, but it will suffice, for the moment.