Reluctant Townie: In defense of the man behind Shrimpgate
On Tuesday of last week, local website Smile Politely ran an amusing story about Champaign City Council member Michael La Due, which was relayed to them through an anonymous Craigslist posting.
According to the anonymously recounted story, La Due recently attended a function at the I Hotel and Conference Center. After the event ended, La Due allegedly asked a banquet server for a garbage bag and then proceeded to dump an entire buffet full of shrimp into said garbage bag.
This, uh, unusual behavior drew the attention of the banquet supervisor, named in the anonymous recounting as Jose, who approached La Due and informed him that it was against the health code to let guests take leftovers.
La Due allegedly threw a La Fit, and after some length of argument, Jose abandoned the councilman to his shrimp-gathering devices. This victory was not enough for La Due, who then allegedly felt it necessary to harass the remaining catering staff. The anonymous Craigslist poster quotes La Due with saying the following:
"What is Jose's last name? Is it Jose *****? Is it Jose Unemployed?"
To experience the full effect, one must visualize La Due, whose nearest resemblance is Elmo's bumbling friend Mr. Noodle on "Sesame Street." For its part, Smirk Affably included a Photoshopped picture of La Due tending to a garbage can full of shrimp while shellfish rain from the sky.
The story goes on to include a recipe for Shrimp Linguine A La Due (which, hats off to the seven contributors credited with writing the short piece, was pretty hilarious) and to detail the gang's various attempts to verify the authenticity of the story.
For the record, their attempts at verification produced a "no comment" from the hotel and the City of Champaign, a "not saying that it happened, but if it did, I do not condone it" statement from the mayor of Champaign (who was allegedly in attendance) and a "Yeah, it happened just like I said" from the original anonymous source.
As a person who has done some hard time in the catering industry, there are a few points I would like to clarify:
— The health code thing is real.
— Guests who behave in the manner La Due was alleged to have behaved (insulting, shameless, passionate about leftovers) are not uncommon.
— That being said, it's usually the catering staff that fills garbage bags full of shrimp when the banquet supervisor isn't looking.
It remains to be seen if La Due, who is up for re-election this year, will sue for libel. If he does, the seven writers (including site founder Seth Fein) are listed at the bottom of the article in a helpful manner. However, given the response the story has generated online, I imagine they would be able to crowd-fund their legal defense.
Is the story true? It doesn't matter. True or not, the premise of a small-time politician stealing garbage bags full of shrimp from a buffet is comedy gold.
But ask yourself this: Why on Earth would this story not be true?
La Due is a public figure, but it's not like TMZ has been following him around the 'Paign waiting for him to slip up. The demand for juicy La Due gossip is not what I would describe as "insatiable."
The only reason people might anonymously post such a damaging story on the Internet is because a) they've been recently La Dumped; b) they are running against Michael La Due for the council seat later this year; or c) it's completely factual.
I am all for vigilante social justice, especially when it involves shaming those who treat service industry workers poorly — which is the universal sign of a horrible human being, by the way. People who abuse their power of authority (however relative) to threaten the livelihood of their fellow man, especially over something as trivial as a trash bag full of shrimp, deserve whatever is coming to them.
But where is the support for La Due in all of this? These are surely among his most trying times. The accusations are, as of now, unproven.
Let's play devil's advocate. Let's say we know for a fact that Michael La Due is guilty as charged. There are two sides to every story. Might La Due have been justified in his behavior?
The city's website lists the annual salary for a council member at a princely sum of $5,000. That is $417 per month. Let's say the average price for a pound of frozen shrimp is $10. A city council member can only afford 41.7 pounds of shrimp a month.
And that doesn't include the cost of maintaining a residence in which to cook your shrimp. (Barrel fires, the watercooler of hobos worldwide, are good for cooking many things — hot dogs, a can of beans, freshly harvested alley rat — but seafood locks in the ambient flavors of burning trash.)
Finally, we come to the garbage bag itself. Why aren't more people using garbage bags to transport their leftovers? They're readily available, convenient and best of all they can be recycled.
After you've left the trash bag full of shrimp in your refrigerator for a couple of days, just pull it out and insert it directly into your trash can, then Presto: It's a bag of garbage again.
La Due for shrimp comptroller in 2013!
Ryan Jackson believes he used the word "alleged" enough times to exempt him from civil prosecution, and he can be reached at email@example.com.