I’ve known lots and lots of journalists the past 30 years and disgraced Florida Senate leader Jeff Clemens was the last one I expected to seek a career in politics and the first one I expected to be found wanting in the character department.
Why am I not surprised by his recent fall from grace?
Because Jeff, who just resigned in a sex scandal, was never about public service. The most powerful Florida Democrat was always about Jeff and that quality makes him the perfect poster child for the current generation of toxic elites.
Personal greed is not a fatal flaw for a friend, but should be for an elected official.
Today, being a narcissist and an opportunistic crook seem to be straight-up prerequisites for a political career, which has devolved into a career in political corruption. Honor, duty, personal integrity and impulse control played bigger roles back in the day.
Jeff was an entertainment writer with no discernible interest in public service journalism, the greater good, or principled stands when we worked together at The Naples Daily News in the late 90s. He was an opportunistic womanizer and mediocre journalist, who avoided hard news and liked to party.
Jeff was better known as a bass guitarist than a reporter. He was good at both, but didn't have an interest in working hard enough to rise above the crowd.
Personal excellence was never Jeff's thing. In fact the only thing he really excelled at was making fuck faces as he pranced around on stage.
Swear to God. I shit you not. Jeff's outlandish fuck faces are what I remember most about him to this day, because we used to joke about them when we partied together. Before he became a Political God and a professional liar.
Recent events suggest nothing has changed. Homeboy still has lousy judgement and is still appearance over substance and showmanship over talent.
Jeff played at being a journalist, he played at being a musician, he played at being an elected leader and he played at being a family man. By trying to take the benefits without the burdens and failing to understand they go together.
Jeff was all set to take the reins of the Democratic Party in the Senate in a heavily populated swing state which has decided two of the last five presidential elections. His humiliating fall from grace is a huge win for our nation's first fascist president and his idiot supporters.
It also represents a huge loss for a Democratic Party which has embraced soft corruption and flawed candidates, and is rapidly becoming the political equivalent of the Washington Generals. Meaning the basketball team which gets paid to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters in staged exhibition games.
"All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard," Jeff told Politico. “I will continue the therapy I began months ago, will seek to personally apologize to anyone I have wronged while seeking forgiveness, and will spend my time being a better husband and father."
Forgive me for switching back to the first person periodically in this story to rail against Jeff, but I simply cannot help myself. I know the man and still kind of like him. Just not nearly enough to keep silent about who he really is.
Good job Jeff. Way to go. You make us all so proud.
Jeff belonged to The Naples Daily News’ superb rock band “Gymo,” which later changed its name to "Supermodel," when we were colleagues. The band was built around lead singer and guitarist Mark Giaimo, who was one of the paper's graphic artists. Its name was a version of his name.
The four-man band toured full-time for part of a year, living out of a van, in a failed attempt to crack the big time. Gymo's biggest hit was known as “the drink song" and the venues it played included CBGB in Lower Manhattan.
I still remember Jeff showing me the James Bond-like van in the newspaper parking lot before they hit the road. Its seats folded down into a bed and it had remote controlled lights and curtains, making it the perfect rolling love nest in his estimation.
Women were drawn to Mark Gaimo – who was quiet, modest, introspective and insanely talented – and Jeff was drawn to the women who were drawn to Mark.
Jeff never heard of it.
How much is too much?
Not a question on his intellectual checklist.
His approach to life was more along the lines of "Mongo like Candy," the lovable brute from Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles.
There’s nothing Mark Giaimo can’t do when it comes to music and art, and his incandescent talent was always evident. He's now an accomplished portrait artist who lays out The Washington Post Magazine.
The only person in the Gymo tribe who thought the band was built around Jeff, was Jeff. Which is a recurring theme in homeboy's life.
Being a sweetheart, Mark let "Mongo Like Candy" get away with thinking he was a star for a while. That was a mistake.
In life, you need to periodically remind the jackasses among your friends both that they're jackasses and that perfection is always a lie. Lest they become delusional.
Like say disgraced big shots Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Hastert, Newt Gingrich, and Charlie Rangel. Or Jeff Clemens, super genius.
The Roman Empire countered the tendency among elites to believe their own bullshit by placing a slave called an "auriga" beside them at ceremonial processions. The slave's job was to whisper "you're only a man" into the ear of the big-shot being honored by the masses.
If I could turn back time and serve as Jeff's auriga I would say something along the lines of:
It's only a hole you schmuck. And those, those are baby feeders.
Right. For feeding fucking babies.
What are you, 14?
I would then shake my head at Jeff, like he was the dumbest motherfucker on Planet Earth. Which is exactly who he is sometimes. It's almost as if the Jeff Clemens brain (Eddie Bauer Edition) is equipped with a pause button which self-activates around attractive females.
Once again, this is not necessarily a fatal flaw for a friend, but it should be for an elected official.
Jeff went with the crowd at The Naples Daily News, where the newsroom was dominated by a rich blowhard with average talent who didn't get beaten up nearly enough in junior high school. "Mongo Like Candy" adored this pompous ass, who had to move to Thailand just to find a woman who could stand to be around him for more than 10 seconds at a time.
Making rich people feel good about themselves is another recurring theme in Jeff's life, which has served him well in his political career.
There was a young female reporter at The Naples Daily News who dated something like half the male reporters and editors in the 25-30 member newsroom in her first two years there. One right after the other. Mongo was one of them.
Like a lot of young people, they didn't understand at the time that everything which appears to be free for the taking isn't necessarily either desirable or really free. Like the people who eat themselves sick at an all-you-can eat buffet in Las Vegas and then brag about how they "beat the house" while they're vomiting in the parking lot afterward.
She eventually figured it out. Sadly, Jeff never did.
Another recurring theme.
I’m not ashamed to say Jeff and I were friends back in the day. I’m also not ashamed to say I unfriended him in 2010 or so, after he started spouting pompous political rhetoric on my private Facebook page.
It’s not that I object to partisan political rhetoric as a journalism lifer. It’s just that I have minimum standards for the quality of those misrepresentations, which Jeff failed to meet.
Mongo seemed to think he had suddenly become smarter than the rest of us, like a dog baiting its owner in a game of fetch. It was as if he was testing out these half lies and sins of omission on his own personal focus group and telling us "I'm famous now and you must recognize me as your lord and master."
Good dawg Jeffie. Oh, you're such a good dawg. Does Jeffie want a treat?
Success does not agree with the man. Which is why I wasn't surprised to see his "Come-to-Jesus" moment this week. It was always just a question of when.
Recent events suggest Jeff had at least one extramarital relationship in Tallahassee, a North Florida city where the Florida Legislature meets part of the year. His lover was allegedly an immature political lobbyist name Devon West, who is paid to influence lawmakers on behalf of special interests.
I say "at least" because there has to be more.
Political sex scandals are like having mice in the house. You almost never actually see them head-on, but when you do it's a safe bet the walls are chock-full of vermin.
It's pretty unlikely homeboy only slid down this slippery slope once. If for no other reason than because his judgment stinks and there had to be a lot of opportunities to screw up.
Lord knows, there's no shortage of ambitious young power groupies in Tallahassee trying on influential lovers like fashion accessories. There's also no shortage of aging bulls like Clemens seeking symbiotic liaisons with these Monica Lewinsky wannabees.
The same dynamic was true in Washington, D.C., when the Sex and the City crowd tried me on like a new purse in my days as a member of the National Press Corps (2004-2008).
As if to say "does this economics reporter make me look fat?"
The big difference between me and Jeff was that I didn't trade anything for anything. I was a bachelor when I conducted myself like a bachelor. Not married with children and dating people whose careers were dependent on my good will.
Dating is like driving in the sense that just about everybody does it at some point in their life, but everybody doesn't drive 120 mph through a school zone while parents are picking up their kids just because they're in a cop car. And that's a good analogy both for Jeff's behavior and his generation of toxic elites, who take a misguided pride in behaving as if the normal rules don't apply to them.
They're very much like young police officers, fresh out of the academy and drunk with power. In that they simply refuse to ask themselves "how much is too much." This kind of public flogging is the result of that juvenile mindset.
I have a feeling you passed "too much" years ago Jeff.
It's not like Mongo didn't know his fling with West could end badly. He just didn't care. Because Jeff is about Jeff. Always has been.
Bad judgment is not necessarily a fatal flaw for a friend, or for a dog, but it is for the ranking Democrat in The Florida Senate
The painful truth is this was no midlife crisis. This was the Jeff who thinks he's smarter and better than everyone else being the Jeff who thinks he's smarter and better than everyone else.
West is young, blond, and thin. She has a single year of lobbying experience and it's her fourth career in the past five years.
Red flag anyone?
Not for "Mongo Like Candy."
You're like that Creosote guy, but with females instead of food.
West kind of looks like a shorter version of Jeff's amazing first wife (of three).
Unlike Jeff's first wife, West appears to have a screw loose by virtue of the abundance of her selfies which currently pollute the Internet with Angie Varona-like frequency. And just like Varona and Lewinsky, this ambitious political neophyte has somehow managed to present herself as a victim of the political dumpster fire she helped spark.
There are literally hundreds of status hungry photos on West's social media accounts, taken everywhere from The National Portrait Gallery, to Icelandic houses, to the Oslo Opera House. She's in almost every single photo, too. Including many where she pretends to be unaware of her own camera.
I can just imagine her showing them to Jeff: "This is me in a swimsuit, this is me in yoga pants, this is me being smart, me being rich, me being a dutiful daughter, me again, me again, me, me, me ..."
Red flag anyone?
Afterall, you never know when a political lobbyist might want to start a second career as an actress, physique model or porn star.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that West eventually helped herself to Jeff's laptop, then emailed his wife back home in South Florida about their torrid affair.
Why would such an obvious egoist do such a thing?
Gee, I dunno. No reasonable person could have seen that one coming.
I'd pay to see what the woman who apparently wanted to be the next Mrs. Clemens wrote to the current Mrs. Clemens, solely because the sheer stupidity of the current generation of political insiders absolutely boggles the mind. I imagine something along the lines of:
"Hi, you don't know me but I've been having sex with your husband for more than a month now and I'm intelligent and young and good looking and I do a lot of yoga. Anyhoo, Jeff says he wants to spend the rest of his life with me and he can really help my career. Whereas, you're not exactly leading lady material anymore after the kids. By the way, I didn't know he was married. Cheers! ... Devon West... P.S. I hope we can be friends."
Painful Truth No. 9.561 Gazillion: There are plenty of swinging dicks in the City of Tallahassee. You don't have to grab one that belongs to someone else and you don't have to grab one that can help your career.
Doing so is a sign of weakness. Not strength. And just as lousy a personal choice as those made by the aging bulls on the other end of these affairs.
Which brings us all to Painful Truth No. 9.562 Gazillion, which is that the narrative of elite male sexual entitlement is not going to die until the narrative of elite female sexual entitlement dies. That means no more of this "woman as forever victim" nonsense and no more of this "my vagina is a golden, perfumed chalice" nonsense.
Because "it's only a hole" works both ways.
You had it all and you blew it Jeff.
Homeboy's first wife did him no favors in my opinion by setting him on the path to greatness. She was a stunner physically, with a great sense of humor and a good soul.
The kind of tall, willowy, brainy blonde who usually winds up with a wealthy real estate developer in South Florida.
We all wondered what she was doing with Jeff, but she seemed to see some quality in this likable dude the rest of us missed. He was happy. She was happy. And you know what?
We were happy for them.
Jeff caught fire professionally after they became a couple. He was more ambitious with this fine young woman in his corner, with a focus and a sense of purpose none of us had seen before.
But once again, Jeff was the only one who thought he was the star.
Mongo entered a political arena where he really didn't belong. First as an aide to former Florida Rep. Mary Bradenburg and then as a member of the Florida Legislature in his own right.
Jeff always carried himself as if he was more talented than he was. It was OK so long as he was around people who didn’t buy into his bullshit.
However, once this working class kid from Michigan surrounded himself with fawning lackeys he became as big an imbecile as any rich kid stunted by a lifetime of private schools, country clubs, and gated communities. He kind of reminds me of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in that respect.
Cory, who I helped build into a national figure, also has struggled in the sterile echo chamber created by the endless fawning adulation of craven lackeys. He's an idiot now, too.
You're flattered by the comparison aren't you Jeff?
What’s the moral of the story?
St. Theresa of Avila was right. More tears have been shed over prayers granted than prayers ignored.
Jeff probably would have been a lot happier as a bartender, but then we'd be talking about how he gave away free drinks to good looking alcoholics in exchange for some play.
He probably could have made it as a high school teacher too, but then we'd be talking about how he screwed somebody's underage daughter.
Instead of just another ruthless lobbyist in a parasitic field where infidelity is considered a redeeming quality.
Jeff said something to a reporter who was gushing over him in June which is quite revealing in retrospect, to the effect that "it’s a hoot to pretend you’re someone else for a couple of hours.”
It made me wonder if homeboy even knows which one of his personas are real any more. Is Jeff Clemens a public servant, man of parts, sacrificial leader, devoted family man, musician, journalist, and repentant scoundrel?
Or is he "Mongo Like Candy?"
An adolescent pothead with no impulse control who thinks his only crime is getting caught. The kind of "dawg" who brings a six-pack of expensive beer to a party just to make sure he doesn't have to drink the cheap stuff with his peasant friends.
You don't even know any more, do you Jeff?
The sad thing about fame, is that the truth seems to become whatever you can convince others to believe for those who surround themselves with fawning lackeys. Like say Jeff, Cory and Hillary.
At a time when America desperately needs an alternative to Republican corruption, far too many Democrats are just "whatever gets over." They're no-talent, political hookers making stupid fuck faces to hide the fact they don't really belong on stage.
The painful truth is they're first-class nothing and that's OK with them. So long as someone else is paying their way.
Jeff is the poster child for a generation of toxic elites which just doesn't seem to understand that putting on a show is not the same thing as real leadership, which is always done by example.
That means sacrifice. Not entitlement.
And it means helping the poor and faltering middle class from whence you came, instead of yourself and your rich friends.
Look at the bright side Jeff: You're not the first political hooker to trip over your own dick and you won't be the last.
Think positive dude.
Victor Epstein is a journalism lifer, veteran pot-stirrer, Yankee Jew Bastard, commie pinko, bleeding heart, liberal sonofabitch who has segued into "take no shit" mode. He has been completely saturated by the entitled corruption of America's toxic elites and begun treating them all like suspects.