Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food

Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food

by Trey Radel


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Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food by Trey Radel

How the Washington sausage really gets made: a brutally honest, outrageous memoir by former GOP congressman Trey Radel.

"Radel, the former congressman busted on cocaine charges, has published a memoir that delves into the forgotten concept of shame." - Huffington Post

"DEMOCRAZY is the most puckish political memoir in recent memory ... enough to make you wish he were still in the House's GOP caucus under the Trump administration." - Bookforum

In 2013, when Washington D.C. law enforcement learned that Trey Radel, then a Republican congressman from Florida, had bought cocaine, he quickly became the target of a police sting. In October of that year, Radel was arrested for attempting to buy cocaine from an undercover cop, and subsequently became the subject of intense media coverage and scrutiny. When Radel resigned in 2014, he left with insider knowledge that remains unknown to most American citizens.

Democrazy is Radel's candid account of the making of a modern political star and the inner workings of Congress. In his memoir, Radel recounts his early days as a TV news reporter and radio show host before running for Congress in 2012, a decision that would launch the new, infamous chapter of his life. Radel entered the political sphere with the same ideological fervor of most first-time politicians—he loved America and wanted to serve his country and its people. But Radel's optimism waned as he witnessed the wheelings and dealings of Congress's most powerful members. Told with humor and irreverence, Radel's memoir is an entertaining, fascinating journey of an unlikely politician.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735210721
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Trey Radel is an American politician and former Republican congressman who represented Florida's 19th Congressional District. Radel has previously worked as a television reporter, anchor, newspaper publisher, and talk radio host. He currently runs a media training and communications consulting firm, the Trey Radel Media Group. He lives with his wife and child in Fort Myers, FL.

Read an Excerpt

This is happening.

Those were the only three words I could think of as I sat in the backseat of an SUV owned by one of the most powerful criminal defense attorneys in Washington, D.C. As his driver negotiated the streets around the federal courthouse, my lawyer, David Schertler, who looked straight out of central casting in a perfectly tailored suit and blow-dried hair, rode shotgun and peered out the window searching for the best entrance to avoid the media shitstorm outside.

Damn. This is happening.

The driver cautiously, slowly, and deliberately drove, making lefts and rights, then hitting bursts of gas. Am I in Boyz n the Hood? Are we doing a drive-by here? The driver turned left, then right, fast and slow. "There! Right there!" David shouted, pointing to a side entrance that appeared to be a reporter-free zone. The SUV darted forward, and the driver slammed on the brakes.

No! This is happening.

"Let's go!" David shouted. We jumped out, but immediately, from around corners, from across the street, and from parked vans, a mob of reporters wielding microphones as if they were knives and cameramen aiming shoulder-fired missiles rushed toward us like a pack of wild dogs.

My attorney hopped out of the car and became an NFL lineman. As if he were protecting Peyton Manning, David threw himself directly at a Fox News producer I knew well, Chad Pergram. Chad had started to say "Congress-"but was cut off before he could get out "man Radel"; had he been able to continue, he probably would have followed with "What the hell were you thinking?"

Even though I felt numb, I thought to myself, God bless David Schertler. He was doing what is ingrained in the DNA of criminal defense attorneys-protect the client, deflect as much as possible. I whispered to him, "Calm down. It's okay."

Okay? Far from it. I was the first United States representative in the history of Congress to have been arrested for cocaine possession. And my day in court was quickly becoming the kind of circus you see only on bad Lifetime movies. Then, as if it couldn't get any more bizarre, enter TMZ.

First, a little background. Soon after entering Congress, I became known in the press as the Hip-Hop Conservative. I do not rap. I did not call myself this, and I didn't get the nickname because of a love for money, gangs, pimping, or any other ignorant stereotype you may place on hip-hop. I earned this label because I made it a point to do whatever I could to reach out and spread a conservative message to people from all walks of life. I always believed the best way to connect with people and have engaging conversations was to find common ground, so I never shied away from sharing my love of movies, sports, and music, and especially my love of hip-hop. Plus, I was sick and tired of Republicans playing almost exclusively to one demographic-angry old white dudes.

Yes, I'm a white guy, but I'm certainly not angry. And even though I was one of the youngest members of Congress at thirty-six, I thought I had quite a bit of experience under my belt, culturally and professionally. I made every effort to bond with Democrats in the House. And when it came to sharing a conservative message with the public, I did it in atypical ways. I utilized social media like no other member. Once, on a flight from Florida to Washington, I reviewed a new Jay Z album in its entirety live on Twitter. This was some really out-of-the-box stuff, and it received playful and positive recognition from the media and Republican party leaders. The majority whip then, Kevin McCarthy, who understood the importance of breaking out of our small, narrow world and appealing to a diverse crowd, was one of the most supportive. He shared my style with others, hoping more Republicans would go beyond our dying GOP demographic-somewhere between "I just retired" and "It's time for me to leave this planet now."

But, yo! Today, outside the federal courthouse, the Hip-Hop Conservative moniker was coming back to bite me in the ass.

"Whassup, Hip-Hop Conservative?" yelled some guy, who I figured had to be from TMZ, the infamous tabloid website, which I'd heard was trying to make a name for itself in Washington. Among the dozens of reporters, photographers, and random gawkers, this guy got smack in my face with a camera and began drilling me. "You get a shipment in from Hova?" (Let me translate: Hova is a nickname for rap artist and business mogul Jay Z, who used to sell drugs. Allegedly.) Then he shouted, "Yo, TreyDawg, you hooking up with Lamar Odom?" (Translation: Are you hanging out with the NBA star who has had very public struggles with illicit substances.) "He hook you up, dawg? You runnin' stuff through da House?" (Translation: Capital H as in House of Representatives, not the old-school hip-hop "in da house.") To this day, I don't know if those questions ever made it on air or if I cracked a smile during one of the most terrible moments of my life. What an asshole. But a really funny asshole.

More barking continued. "Congressman Radel! Congressman Radel!" We bolted into the courthouse. My attorney stood shoulder to shoulder with me as security led us to a holding room. With my heart racing, I had a minute to sit down, catch my breath, and collect my thoughts.

That happened. This is happening.

David Schertler put his hand on my shoulder and slid into the seat next to me. "Would you like some water?" he asked. I managed to get out "please" with a mouth drier than the Sahara. "Here's what's going to happen," he said. In the way only an attorney can, he explained step-by-step what would go down in the next hour and somehow managed to balance his tone between "Get your head out of your ass and pay attention" and "I'm here for you and you're going to be okay."

As sick and narcissistic as it sounds, I was thinking about my image-literally, my image on video-as we walked into the packed courtroom. Physically, I looked fine. That wasn't the issue. Heck, I looked better than I had a month before. Shortly after my bust, I had stopped drinking, so I was less bloated. But with all the stress, I'd also stopped eating, so I'd dropped quite a few pounds fast. Now I was thinking, Sure, I might look a little better than a few weeks ago, but I do not, not, not want video of me hanging my head in court to run all over the world. Right there, facing drug charges in federal frigging court, I asked, "David, there will be no cameras in the courtroom, right?"

Striking an empathetic tone, he replied, "That's right, Trey. It's federal, so no cameras, not from reporters or the courtroom itself."

"Does that mean I'll get one of those weird court sketches?"

"Yes, but you'll look much more handsome," he said with a smile.

It's awful to have these kinds of thoughts, but when you live your life in the public spotlight, it's part of the deal; concern over image, brand, and appearance become instinctive. Any politician who tells you that he doesn't think about brand and image has thought out precisely how to say he doesn't think about brand and image in a way that makes this part of his brand and image.

Superior Court Judge Robert Tignor knew he had a high-profile case and that the sentence he handed down would be scrutinized by the public and the press. Too heavy? "C'mon, you're just making an example out of someone who wouldn't have hurt anyone but himself!" Too light? "Off with your head! Ya let him off cuz he's a congressman!"

The courtroom was small, carpeted, and had fluorescent panel lights. If not for the raised judge's bench, it could have passed for a drab '70s-style corporate office. As we walked toward the well where the lawyers, defendant, and judge are, I kept my head down and my chin tucked into my chest-the position I had used everywhere since I had blown up my life.

The courtroom formalities began. The charge I faced was a misdemeanor with a potential sentence of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. David asked the judge for six months of probation. As they talked, I managed to take a peek at the people seated throughout the courtroom. There was only one face I recognized. I randomly and uncomfortably locked eyes with Pete Williams, the prominent NBC correspondent I had watched on TV since I was a kid. Keep your head down! I screamed in my mind. I quickly buried my chin back into my chest.

The judge and attorneys swapped more formalities. "Charged with possession of a controlled substance . . . Your Honor, the statute I'm referring to . . . Your honor, my client suffers . . . Your Honor, what we're asking . . ." Finally the judge called on me to speak. "Mr. Radel?"

Earlier, David had told me that I might be asked to make a statement in court. I could make the call on whether or not I wanted to say anything. I had nothing written or prepared. "Your Honor, I apologize for what I've done. I am sorry to be here. I have a problem and will do whatever is necessary to overcome it. I hope I will set an example for others struggling with this disease. I know I let my constituents down, my country down, and, most important, my family, my wife, and my two-year-old, who doesn't know it yet."

My voice cracked slightly throughout my impromptu speech. Thoughts and emotions were fighting for space in my head and heart-sadness, disappointment, disbelief, and anger. I was having loud arguments in my mind. Who was I to talk about setting an example? Why did I even talk about my family? I have dragged their name through enough mud and put them through hell already!

Yet another sick reality of living in the spotlight is that many public moments are designed to look and sound genuine. Now, there is no doubt I was in a terrible, awful, dark place, furious with myself and overwhelmed with what was happening, but my use of the word "disease" was deliberate.

Shortly after my bust, while working with David and a close family friend who was also an attorney, we discussed plans and strategies. They included talking points: "Trey, you have a problem. You have a disease, and you're going to get help."

The judge cut off my desperate, pathetic thoughts and sentenced me to a full year of probation and ordered me to pay $250 into a victims' compensation fund. David gently put his hand on my back to indicate that it was time for us to leave the room.

As soon as we stepped out of the courtroom, I could feel David tense. He picked up the pace. "Trey, we're heading down these steps here." I followed without saying a word.

We quickly climbed down a dark stairwell, as if training for a track-and-field event. At the bottom I could hear the buzz of a huge crowd that sounded like an audience awaiting a concert just before the lights go down. The doors swung open. It was complete chaos. "Let's go!" David screamed. We bolted smack through the middle of the massive media scrum. Each reporter tried to shout louder and more forcefully than the last. "Congressman Radel, will you resign?" I didn't say a damn thing. I just kept walking as fast as I could in my now-permanent head-down position as we desperately made our way back to the SUV.

It was intense, but I wasn't freaking out. I was totally, completely numb. I put one foot in front of the other, as I had been taught as a kid. The SUV was only a few feet away when I heard a woman yell, "Ouch!" The crowd gasped.

Only a few feet away from the peace and serenity of the SUV, I stopped and turned out of instinct. One of the reporters had been knocked over by the pack of rabid dogs armed with microphones and cameras. I walked back to help her up. As I got to her, she picked herself up and dusted herself off.

How symbolic.

My phone rang, jarring me out of falling asleep while pretending to watch whatever crazy Housewives show my wife had on with Andy Cohen from Bravo.

The caller ID read "Connie," as in Connie Mack, the congressman who represented my district. Known as Southwest Florida, the district included Sanibel, Naples, Marco Island, and my current hometown of Fort Myers. Connie had once tried to hire me, and through a long and sometimes complicated relationship, he'd become a close friend.

This call from Connie Mack-we'll call it this call to stress its importance-would be one that would drastically alter my life. Whatever Connie wanted, this call would have consequences in more ways than I could ever imagine.

It was October of 2011 when I answered this call. As Connie laid out his intentions, I hung on to every word the congressman had to say.

The Mack family has a rich history in American sports and politics. Connie's great-grandfather, also Connie Mack, was a Major League baseball player, a legendary manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, a team owner, and a Hall of Famer. Over the years, some of the family made their way to Florida, where Connie's father served as a congressman representing Southwest Florida before becoming a senator.

"Connie's calling me," I said to my wife, Amy, who was sitting on the couch next to me. "Wanna bet he asks me to work for his campaign and not run for his seat?" Rumors had been circulating for months that Connie, a Republican, was going to run for the Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson, who was up for reelection. If so, it meant a rare opportunity. Congressional seats don't open up often, especially ones held by someone like Connie, who was young, well-liked, and could have held the seat for decades. Connie and I had met in 2004 when I was a Naples-based TV reporter covering Mack's first congressional campaign. Initially, we were professionally distant, but after he was elected and I started doing more stories about him, we both began to let our guard down.

Our conversations usually started with superficial stuff like sports, but they quickly turned to politics. Eventually, I told him, "I'm libertarian at heart, but a few years ago, I registered Republican. I wanted my vote to count." He, too, opened up, sharing everything from his path to getting elected to the harsh realities of Washington.

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Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
B-loNY More than 1 year ago
Fascinating, quick read. Hard to put down.