Wednesday, April 04, 2007

In the limbo between now and the vote

Voters in Blue Rapids have to ask themselves this election if this is the kind of man they want representing them on the city council: Too cheap to pay the five dollar filing fee, waited till the last minute to submit his petition and had his application swiftly rejected due to incompleteness. By my count two of the seven deadly sins were broken and perhaps one or two others. Ordinarily such ineptness, if not outright wickedness, would be grounds for disqualification in my eyes, but I hope my fellow citizens vote for me anyway.

It seems an unlikely thought on such a fine day. Looking out the open door I see the fruit trees in full bloom, the grass, once dull as weathered boards, now green and lush—some would say too lush, since mowing has already begun, and this only March!—and the distant redbuds a vivid spray against a rapidly greening backdrop. Thinking of politics casts a dark cloud across the cheery sunlight, but such is the case, for what had been an uncontested filing is now a contested race.

As Winnie the Pooh would say, “Oh, bother.”

Indeed. That I’m in this position is more Twilight Zone-ish than reality, because I never set out to become a politician, nor do I feel comfortable calling myself one.

Nor, at this stage, do I relish the idea of becoming an ex-politician. The irony is delicious, but such, alas, is the nature of politics.

By the time you read this the matter will be settled. I will be either councilman or citizen. Until then I’m engaged in campaigning, a new experience for me, and one I’m uncomfortable with. When I first ran for city council four years ago the seat was being vacated and nobody wished to fill it, so I stepped in more from embarrassment than any latent desire to perform my civic duties. Our sister city to the west had eight people vying for three seats, and we had zilch. At the time I told people, “It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it.” I had no idea.

This election was similar except that during the past week I picked up a challenger. And what I discovered was surprising—where before I’d thought to relinquish my seat if the right person came along, now I’m fighting to retain it. Which also brings a raft of complicated emotions I can barely decipher.

There’s a certain heady allure of being privy to the innermost workings of the machinery that is a city, and of being in a role to chart its course like some great ship navigating unexplored waters. But there’s also a lot of work involved, a lot of time expended for neither profit nor gain, and, of course, a great deal of drudgery. Being the tiny town we are, the post is voluntary. There is little glory in it. As I confided to the mayor several months ago when the two of us first started mulling over our willingness to commit to another four years, “I like the idea of being a councilman more than I like being a councilman.” He understood.

Maybe I’m looking at it all wrong. Can a voluntary council seat be considered political in the normal sense of the word? After all, we run on no platform other than name and reputation; Democrat, Republican, Commie, Green, Conservative, Liberal, Wacko, those designations have no meaning in so slight a form of government. There are no campaign funds to be appropriated, no expenditures other than an occasional small ad in the local newspaper, no stump speeches, no (thank God) babies to kiss. If we’re elected we serve, and if not we stay home, sip a beer and watch the sun set on our civic lives.

I’m trying not to look at it as a popularity contest, but that’s exactly what it is. On a national or regional level an election is often decided upon a perceived lesser-of-two-evils rather than an elevated estimation of a single candidate. It’s not that way in small-town races. Here we count on friends and relatives for votes with the realization that the vast majority of others will stay home, hopelessly indifferent.

Having an opponent changes everything, though. My nonchalance has been subsumed by a burning desire to retain my seat. Partly this is due to wanting to oversee a housing grant we received to refurbish homes, though admittedly a great deal involves the simple fact that I enjoy working with my fellow council members and would miss them.

Campaigning is hard work, especially if one has neither experience nor desire. I fumbled around vainly for a witty motto until a fellow councilman quipped, “We could do worse!” It was a light bulb moment, and so my campaign platform was unleashed.

Unfortunately, I ran into immediate trouble when presenting it to my campaign manager. Lori was unequivocable in her demand that I not even think of saying such a thing.

So I didn’t. Instead, I printed up cheesy fliers with a portrait of my ugly mug and a reminder to vote and pasted them all over town. A close friend paid for an ad in the newspaper. It wasn’t much, but it was all I was willing to do.

Henry Adams said, “No man should be in politics unless he would honestly rather not be there.” Well, that’d be me. But it wouldn’t make for a good campaign slogan. And so, bereft of any clever catchword or phrase, I stare out the open door on this perfect spring day and wait. It’s all I can do.

1 comment:

Laurel Johnson said...

I didn't realize you were a council member, Tom. Is there no end to your accomplishments? Your short lived campaign slogan gave me a chuckle, but I'm glad your manager put her foot down.