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For Holt, legal wounds self-inflicted

Somewhere in Erie County today, an African-American small-business owner may be passed over for a lucrative contract simply because he's black.

Somewhere in Erie County today, an African-American job applicant may be given a cursory interview and shown the door, with no chance of being hired, simply because she's black.

And somewhere in Erie County today, tax criminal George Holt may be telling someone he was booted from the County Legislature simply because he's black.

If those first two victims happen to run into the former Legislature chairman, they should slap him upside the head.

Not hard, mind you; I don't want to advocate violence. But just hard enough to let him know he has made things infinitely easier for anyone eager to dismiss blacks for always "playing the race card." And he has made things infinitely harder for all of those African-Americans with legitimate grievances.

For those who missed the latest episode of politicians behaving badly, Holt pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of filing fraudulent tax returns in connection with his family's East Side restaurant. He has to repay the state $37,600 in back sales taxes and penalties after shorting the public coffers that fund the government programs for which he often clamors.

Still, despite that breach of the public trust, he figured he'd hang on to the $42,588-a-year job.

But then the county attorney dusted off some old law books, concluded that Holt had forfeited his office, and the Legislature chairwoman agreed. Bye, George.

However, instead of just going to court and arguing the merits of the case, Holt went to the court of public opinion, telling WIVB-TV that his ouster was a political lynching with racism a key factor.

Really? He pleaded guilty to "willfully" cheating the public, forfeited any credibility on budget and tax issues, let down constituents who need a strong advocate and set a lousy example for kids looking for a role model.

So where's the racism?

"I don't want to expand on the issue anymore," Holt said. "Any comment on that, just contact my attorneys."

H. Todd Bullard of Rochester, a lawyer representing Holt, said he won't be arguing race in State Supreme Court today. Instead, he said, he'll be arguing issues such as due process, equal treatment and the legality of stripping 3rd District residents of representation.

Those are valid questions. Given how the Giambra administration screwed up the county budget, there's little assurance that its legal acumen is any better than its math. Holt could even get his job back. But you can argue all of those issues without crying racial wolf.

In trying to explain his client's statements, Bullard recalls former Legislator Mike Fitzpatrick, caught several times driving while liquored up. Fitzpatrick pleaded guilty in 2000 to an infraction -- not a misdemeanor -- and served weekends in jail while keeping his seat.

The difference is that Fitzpatrick's offense -- though more dangerous -- did not undermine his credibility when doing his most important job: setting budgets and tax rates.

Discrimination remains a real problem. Many blacks confront it every day in housing, employment, banking and practically every other sector, through no fault of their own.

George Holt's legal wounds, by contrast, were self-inflicted. Since he did it to himself and his constituents, who deserve to have a representative as quickly as possible, you could even call it a black-on-black crime.

Just don't call it racism. That insults all of the real victims.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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