Sunday Morning Meditation – There but for the grace of God

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 21, 2015
Kecia Cunningham's booking photo for her arrest on June 11, 2015.

Kecia Cunningham’s booking photo for her arrest on June 11, 2015.

Decatur Mayor Pro Tem Kecia Cunningham made a mistake.

She admits it. On June 11, Cunningham was driving back home after having drinks at a cigar club 19 miles outside the city. She was way over the legal limit, and she shouldn’t have been behind the wheel of a car. It was reckless. It was irresponsible. She could’ve hurt someone else, herself, or both.

It wasn’t long after she admitted her mistake to Decaturish that commenters began calling for her resignation. It’s not surprising. An elected official in a position of trust should be held to a higher standard, because she doesn’t just represent herself. She represents the city of Decatur. As Mayor Pro Tem, she is often the public face of the city.

That’s why I had no qualms about publishing the entire police report documenting her arrest. I report on the arrests of private citizens all the time. While I personally like Cunningham, she should not be given a pass. If anything, her arrest should be held up as a prominent example and a warning to others.

That said, Cunningham’s mistake should not be the end of her political career. She’s served as a commissioner since 1999, and her record is solid, even if you disagree with some of her decisions. To the best of my knowledge, she’s never profited from her position or used it to her advantage. Indeed, even the police report contains no evidence she tried to use her status to avoid responsibility for making a stupid decision.

Cunningham sinned, but it was not a sin related to her role as an elected official. I’ve seen politicians who have used their position to benefit themselves. I’ve seen the public’s trust betrayed.

And while other politicians would have attempted to deflect responsibility and place blame, Cunningham owned up to her bad choices. She did it unequivocally, without hesitation. People shouldn’t applaud that. That’s what you’re supposed to do, and no one should get credit for doing the right thing. It is, however, more than enough reason to give her a second chance, particularly in the city of Decatur.

Decatur’s not known for being a town of teetotalers. We have dozens of places to drink and purchase alcohol. The city hosts one of the most successful beer festivals in the Atlanta area every year. It’s not a city that endorses drunk driving, but there is a strong drinking culture in Decatur. Within that enabling culture, people have gone astray.

People who are ready to let Cunningham go must reckon with their own transgressions. Did they ever have more than one drink and roll the dice by getting behind the wheel of a car? We are all equally susceptible to failure. Our ability to think rationally is often impaired by our smug sense of security and self-importance. Add a little alcohol to the mix, and the power of self-delusion intensifies.

As a wise person once said, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Our elected officials are also a reflection of the communities that elect them. If we run them out of office at the first sign of trouble, what message does that send to others who might want to run? Don’t run unless you’re flawless? Or, barring that, hide and make excuses if you get caught doing something you shouldn’t? We need to think carefully about the kinds of politicians this uncompromising attitude could attract.

Cunningham is a loyal public servant who has confessed to an error of judgment. It is the only error on her record, as far as we know. If she had done it before or does it again, we’d be having a very different conversation.

But if we throw public servants away when they first fall, then we must all hope that there’s a perfect person out there in line to replace them. I don’t know of any. Do you?

If the voters in Cunningham’s district want to replace her, let them make that decision. The courts will give her an appropriate punishment for her crime. Until then, she should be given an opportunity to redeem herself by continuing to do her job to the best of her ability. She deserves another chance.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • WC

    No Mr. Whisenhunt, I have never gotten behind the wheel of my vehicle drunk and meandered through the streets of Decatur for 19 miles. How strange you would take the approach of “c’mon we’ve all done it!” to defend Miss Cunningham’s criminal behavior & career instead of speaking to the innocent lives that are changed forever by just such an act. No, it’s really not okay what she has done. No, Miss Cunningham is not representative of my behavior as you state. She can allocute to her crime all day long to save her career in politics but that does not fix the situation. Whether she keeps her job is one thing, whether she is allowed to continue to drive is another. Our legal system is too lenient on habitual drunk drivers. Take cyclist & Decatur resident Paul Taylor who was killed by motorist Jorge Mercado-Perez. Jorge Mercado-Perez had two DUIs prior to killing Mr. Taylor and it is my understanding received another DUI several weeks after Mr. Taylor’s death. I can only hope that Miss Cunningham will have her her license revoked and forced to commute to work by bicycle through the streets of Decatur.

    • She didn’t meander through the streets of Decatur for 19 miles. She drove back from a restaurant 19 miles outside the city. Small difference, doesn’t excuse what she did. I’m not saying we’ve all done it. No one should. Take a cab. Ride MARTA. There’s no excuse. I’m saying we are all equally susceptible to failure and making stupid decisions. We are all lucky our police department is on the look out for impaired drivers. We are lucky no one was hurt. I’m sure she will lose her license, pay substantial fees and be required to undergo alcohol education classes. She should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But should she resign? That’s up to her. I am saying if she wants another chance, I think that she should get one, based on her record of service and public remorse for her actions. I’ve seen too many elected officials who would try to avoid responsibility for what they did. She’s not ducking and running. That’s a good quality for an elected official to have, I think.


        I am with Dan on this one – she is owning up – she didn’t pull the classic “do you know who I am” ala America’s one time sweetheart, Reese Witherspoon. I think she deserves no breaks as a first-time intoxicated driver & should/likely will face the same insurance increases, legal expenses, shame and retribution as anyone else – but leave Decatur City government – why? If she is forced out, I would like to see a rundown of all the white local politicians who have been stopped for DWI and either got a slap on the wrist or risen above such a mistake.

  • Decatur Res

    It’s a sad state of politics that the comparison of a good commissioner is whether or not they have profited or used their position versus getting arrested for a DUI. I understand your reasoning, but totally disagree with ‘she made a mistake’ mentality. No, I do not expect “flawless” public servants. However I do feel the facts of this arrest warrant a resignation by Commissioner Cunningham.
    I am wondering if she had damaged property on her drive if you would have a different opinion?

    • It’s a fine line. There are no excuses for what she did. I can only judge her by what happened. Luckily, she didn’t hurt anyone else. I think the facts have shaped my position on it and I am glad I don’t have a different set of facts to consider. I understand where people who want her to resign are coming from. It’s not an unreasonable position. I just feel there’s a more compelling argument for keeping public servants who own up to their mistakes. It’s rare these days.

  • DrinkingDecaturDude

    Got to depart with you here Dan.

    She is a public servant. A representative of the laws of the City of Decatur.
    Lawbreaking for any reason while holding this kind of position simply cannot be tolerated.

    No one is calling for her to be unduly punished..or unfriended, hated on or whatever. But a City official? No. Sorry.

    However most anyone would loose their job over serious DUI, let alone a representative of the very government who’s laws were broken here. Its not like she barely blew at the limit at a roadblock. She was departing the roadway.. .147 is druunnzk.

    Membership has it’s privileges. And it’s consequences.
    So until they get self-driving cards… just UBER it ya’ll.

  • DecaturPride

    I’m neither a fan neither for nor against Ms. Cunningham but, Dan, I am of the same mindset as you. I add this: Our society and our culture seem, in far too many instances, too eager to “pile on” after someone has publicly stumbled and made a mistake. I take no delight in the demise of others. Enough with these “off with her (political) head” chants – life is too complicated to resolve with such self-righteous platitudes. In this instance, the facts (as best can be known) and the context are everything. It was a dumb mistake. We all make them (even if it’s not the same one as here). It could have been worse. It wasn’t. As intoxicated as she was, she was sober enough to act right (per the police report). She will be punished, she will pay the price. In court and, perhaps, with her constituents if and when she has to run for office again. I’d also add this: we’re talking about a publicly elected official from the City of Decatur. She is not the mayor of Atlanta, the Governor of a state or the President of the United States. We need to get overselves, Decaturites.

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