Susan's Blog

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Local Politics

This is an excerpt from a novel I started last year, called Tales Told Out of School, about local politics.

I am staring at the computer screen. The editor has finally gotten back to me about the PTO alienation story and it is a no. She asks me to do a piece on preadolescent sex but because of the campaign, I decline. I also don’t want to know what kids Sam’s age are doing with each other’s bodies. It is a scary thought. How do I really know, if all I’ve taught him about safety and self-restraint, will really come into play when the pedal meets the metal?

Anyway, no time. It is kind of a blessing that I got rejected, I figure, because I would not have had the time to do it all: mommy, writer, campaigner. We’re going to have to do with less income for the next few months. I hope that when I’m elected – if I’m elected – I will have time to do freelance again.

“The thing you have to do,” Fred Slezak had said to me, “Is run so hard that you knock Nonnie out of the race.” Fred used to be on the School Committee, and now as our state rep. I had pulled papers at Town Hall just a week ago, and begun to collect signatures – I needed 50, but really 75 to be on the safe side – of registered voters. But still Nonnie had not declared anything. “Right now,” Fred continued, “You are in a contested race.”

A contested race is something any candidate fears, no matter the office. A contested race changes your whole life for the months of the campaign. There is not a person you can talk to freely. You have to be conscious of everything you say around town, because people will talk and when you are running a contested race, a little gossip can bring you down. Or worse, keep you from getting endorsed.

Fred told me that I had to line up as many endorsements as possible, then send a letter to the local paper announcing the hundreds I had on my campaign, in the hopes of knocking Nonnie out. I got hold of the Town Meeting Member handbook and had been going down the list making my calls.

I start with people I think might be open to me. Arthur Engle, a columnist for the local paper. We have spoken on occasion, and share the view that taxes are not a four-letter-word. He is a lovable curmudgeon-type, or perhaps just a curmudgeon. “Hi Arthur,” I say, my voice thin and high, the way it gets when I’m nervous, which is always.
“Annabelle! I was wondering when you’d call.” Arthur must have caller I.D. He sounds bemused. Why, I wonder?
“Oh. Have you heard that I’m running for School Committee?”
“I have indeed.”
“And? “ I break a sweat.
“Um, do you think you would endorse me?”
Arthur chuckles. “You know, Kiddo, I would love to, but because I’m a state employee, I can’t. But I think it’s terrific you’re doing this. Really terrific. Maybe I’ll write a column about you. But no guarantees, you understand.”
I swallow. “Okay, thanks,” I say slowly. Now I just want to get off the phone. And, moments later, I do.

I resist the urge to toss the handbook in the garbage. I tell myself that this is just the campaign, not the job. There are bound to be some surprises, since I’ve never done this before. Next call is to someone I don’t know at all, Thompson Hall. Why not just start cold, and see where it goes?
“Hello?” The voice is deep, patrician. I know this because he lives in one of the toniest neighborhoods in town.
“Hello, Mr. Hall? This is Annabelle Graham. You probably don’t know who I am, but I’m a mom from the Jefferson School and I’m running for School Committee. I was wondering if you’d consider endorsing me.”
“Can you tell me any reason I wouldn’t?” he asks, his tones moving upwards in friendly loops.
Disarmed, I laugh genuinely, and warm up. “Actually, no!” We both laugh. I start to tell him a bit of my “platform,” which is, improving things for all types of learners, making certain we are doing everything possible to attract and retain first-rate teachers.
At this point he interrupts me. “Does that include firing the ones who stink?”
Again we laugh. “No, not if they’re tenured,” I retort, “but they will get a nasty letter in their file!”
“Oh, that file can do such damage,” Thompson says. Then, seriously, “Annabelle, I tell you what. You can definitely use my name.”
“Thank you!”
I hang up the phone, wanted to lie down, I’m so exhausted. But now I have a big name, from a rich precinct.

“You got Thompson Hall?” My friend Diane, who got elected just last year, exclaims in disbelief when we meet at her house the following Saturday. It is a sunny but chilly day in early March. Nonnie is still in the race. “God, he’s so rich I didn’t even bother trying!”
“Yeah, well. I have just been going down the list. Some say yes, some say no.”
“God!” Diane did not have a contested race for the entire time, she lucked out. It is a dream to be able to do that, but some say it doesn’t do you any good in the long run, because you never have a chance to “build your base.” I guess that is what I’m doing now, with my uncomfortable calling.
“Fred Slezak says I will have to raise a ton of money to do two mailings. One mailing should be soon, targeted to people who know me, asking for money. Then I have to do one closer to the election, to get people to vote for me and agree to do Dear Friend cards and stand at the polls on election day.
“Dear Friend cards?” Diane says. “I never had to do that.”
Diane has this way of thinking out loud; she is amazingly unself conscious. I did not know what to say about her never having done Dear Friend cards, but I don’t have to; she’s already moved on to the next thought. I’m certainly going to do the cards, though. I figured mine would be the size of a 3×5 index card, and would have my picture, a few key endorsers, and my platform. I would use them to hand out to people at the polls, too. People write these Dear Friend cards for you, and mail them on your behalf to their friends, asking them to vote for you. I was going to have people actually working on my behalf! I got that floating feeling in my head again, which seemed to happen often now that I was running.

1 comment

This is great. MY own life is making ME consider local politics. I’m new to your blog, have you done it?

— added by Robert P on Friday, May 5, 2006 at 5:54 am

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