Friday, May 2, 2014

Politics anyone?

Breaking news: Karen Dubrinsky and Deb Romano are winners of Sally Goldenbaum's giveaway. Please contact her at sgoldenbaum at gmail dot com to claim your books!

LUCY BURDETTE: This winter in Key West I participated in the Key West Ambassador program. For sixteen weeks, a class of about 25 people interested in learning more about the city attended classes every Thursday afternoon. We visited the waste treatment plant, the fire station, the police station, the Navy base, and the town's offices, and heard presentations from every department you could imagine. We also had to attend at least one City Commission meeting, featuring the mayor and six commissioners. The final class was a roundtable with the commissioners, where we were encouraged to ask all the hard questions we could think of. I learned so much about how the city works.

Unfortunately over the past six months, the papers have been loaded with stories about conflicts between several of the elected officials. This peaked in a six-hour marathon that only ended because Key West statutes don't allow a meeting to go on after midnight! The meeting featured one of the commissioners telling the mayor to "man up," and the only female commissioner scolding the rest of the gang for lack of civility.

Great stuff for a mystery writer, right? But it also got me thinking about what kind of person runs for political office, from a town position on up to United States President. (Which seems like the worst job in the world to me.) And I decided I would be a dreadful politician. I don't like fighting with people. I despise long meetings. And my skin is too thin to take a lot of public criticism. (A crummy review is bad enough!)

How about you Reds? How would you be as a politician? Ever been tempted?

HALLIE EPHRON: I am forever grateful that there are people in this world who want to go into public service. Talk about thankless -- someone always disagrees with you. Loudly. And the pay is usually meager. Somebody's got to do it, and fortunately there are  takers.

RHYS BOWEN: The only time I was involved in any kind of politics was when the local council tried to close our high school. It was a stupid move, with all kinds of underhand political implications (like the chairperson was best friends with the real estate developer who would have been given the sale of the land) and it would mean our children would have faced a difficult commute on a crowded freeway to a school of 3,000 plus. So we assembled a committee and fought it. During that time we had to attend every local council meeting. It was suggested that one of us needed to run for local council. "You" they said to me. But fortunately we had some heavy hitters on our team, including an environmental lawyer and a D.A. We managed to change the city constitution so that no school could be closed without a referendum from the voters and WE WON.

But it made me see how awful those meetings are and how I would hate to be involved in any kind of politics. Most politicians I have met are not doing it for the public good (some are) but because they have big egos!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My first real jobs were as a staffer in various political campaigns..I loved it, and really thought that was the way to change the world. And I still think it is. (Sadly, no one I ever worked for actually won.) I also spent almost two years as a staffer on a subcommittee of the US Senate Judiciary committee--that was during Watergate and Nixon's resignation. It was fascinating, life-changing and educational.  It makes you realize how important it is to have kind, thoughtful, compassionate, open-minded, unselfish and incredibly smart people running the place.  When we get self-centered blowhards, that's when it all collapses.

LUCY: Hank and Rhys for office! Wouldn't they make a formidable slate? What about you, Red readers, would you make a good politcian?


  1. I’m afraid that I would never make a good politician, so I’m leaving all the politics to others . . . .
    It’s so frustrating when elected officials come to their office with agendas other than what’s best for the town/county/state/country . . . it’s all so not my calling at all . . . .

  2. My political experience came sleazy, as a public relations executive in California. I sat in a meeting where eight men (1981) went over the names of a state legislative committee, one by one, the client asking how we could approach (bribe) each legislator about the new law he wanted passed -- "Girls or money?" he asked.

    Thought I was back in a Ray Chandler novel from the 1930s...

  3. Wow jack, now there's a great short story!

    Joan, it sounds like most of us here so far feel the same way!

  4. I am so old that when I started my law practice, lawyers were not allowed to advertise. It was suggested to me that, in order to get my name known, I run for office. My alderman had retired, so I was one of 11 candidates (and the only woman) to run to replace him.

    That was long enough ago that the first question I had to answer-- to almost everyone-- was why a woman should or could run for any office. It was also a midwinter campaign. It got dark early, and there were many times I had to weigh whether I wanted to walk up an ice-covered walkway to ring a doorbell-- was a potential vote worth a potential broken leg?

    When the votes were counted, I ran smack in the middle of the pack, but I was one of the few candidates who realized that an alderman (for non-sexist language, one has to say City Council Member) had no influence whatsoever on whether we got out of Viet Nam (yep, we were still fighting that war), so I had come up with some actual CITY issues. And after the election, the guy who won called me up and told me he was taking up one of my planks, and introduced an ordinance based on it.

    So I am proud to say that I am the person behind the fact that Milwaukee has a pooper scooper ordinance (cities have ordinances, by the way, not statutes). It's a quality-of-life issue, but if anyone remembers the days before such rules existed-- the aroma, say, of Central Park in NYC, or the manner in which one had to step when getting out of a car ANYWHERE-- you'd know it was worthwhile.

    Would I ever run again? No way. But after a visit to an Indian casino last weekend (a place where, since it is technically a foreign country, indoor smoking is still permitted), I am even more aware that quality-of-life issues make a real difference.

  5. Message to Hallie!!!! Today the 92 Y Himan Brown Program is giving a Special Friday program: " A Love Letter to Nora Ephron... where an actress/tv personality " will read from and discuss her body of work." I plan to attend... Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  6. PS How old am I? I was born within a quarter century of the effective date of the Nineteenth Amendment. I am acutely aware that there were women who had to chain themselves to the White House fence-- and endure force feeding in prison-- so that they, and I, and all of us, could cast ballots.

    I owe them. We all do. So I never fail to vote, and hope I cast an educated ballot every time. If one doesn't exercise a right, one can lose it.

  7. Jungle Red world domination might be a good thing. Just saying....
    I'm on the train to malice!

  8. I would make a horrible politician. I can't stand the bickering. The first time someone made up a stupid, strawman, no logic, no sense argument, I'd round-kick them to the knee, and probably say a lot of rude words (maybe I could quote Shakespeare's version so it wouldn't get bleeped out of the news).

    And Rhys, I'm with you: there are simply too many people out there for their own gain and not the people's. And that's sad.

  9. Ellen, terrific story--good for you for running. And the pooper scooper ordinance was a big improvement. My hub tells me you simply couldn't walk in NYC before that was passed.

    It's unbelievable, isn't it, that smoking used to be allowed indoors everywhere??

  10. Mary, too funny, we won't put you up for office, you can be behind Hank and Rhys with the rest of us!

    Seriously though, good people have to run or we end up with fools running the world. But the current state of politics is so discouraging....

  11. I've worked on campaigns (ran the Kansas city office for one senatorial campaign) and been appointed to local and state boards. I was involved in creating a program that educates women about public policy and political realities to prepare them to run for political office or appointment to commissions and boards. Something that's very much needed!

    I long ago discovered that many people who get involved in politics at the local level mean well. Then there are the ones who are involved for money or power. Those types are the ones who move on beyond the very local scene. The further you go up the political ladder, the fewer of the idealists you find and the more the seekers after money and power proliferate.

    I've had people try to get me to run for office, but I just always told them I have too many skeletons and none of them are in the closet.

  12. Thanks for the heads-up, Thelma.. Ellen congratulations! That's the kind of ordinance that has made city living so much more pleasant. That and smoking bans. Who'd ever have thought both would become so widespread.

  13. That's a wonderful program Linda...too many skeletons, and none of them in the closet:)

    Congratulations on your book debut this week! xox

  14. I worked in political campaigns, and local community organizing -- but no more of that for me. We lived 40 years in the DC area, where my husband worked for Congress and the Treasury, etc. I admire many people in public office, and believe that they work beyond what anyone can imagine. But, there is so much UGH.

  15. If I could magically overnight become dictator where my "suggestions" become law, well all right! Politics are too nasty. I base this on my years in Texas and Louisiana, even Ohio.
    I cringed years ago when candidates in the Presidential primaries were taking potshots at fellow party members in the race. A candidate making fun of another candidate's name? What kind of example is that? Don't get me started on the lack of courtesy and good manners. Aagh.

  16. Great article as usual. Sometimes politics is necessary. For example, Rhys and other parents had to save their school from being closed so it was necessary to work to save the school. And that had to involve politics.

    I once served on a city committee. I was appointed by a council member. I personally experienced the behind the scenes stuff. I learned that I cannot please everyone. I had to use the best judgment call to decide the best thing to do under the circumstances.

    Even if it is not politics, I discovered that is part of being an adult too.

    Politics is a thankless job. When I vote for someone, I look at their voting records.


  17. The closest I've ever come to any type of political office is serving on my kids' school council one year. I quickly discovered that the totalitarian principal wasn't much interested in any change and didn't care much for my or others' opinions. He was a real j.....s, and needless to say I eventually moved my younger child to another school (older one had already advanced to middle school).

    Like Mary, I don't think I'd be very tolerant of the nonsense of politics, and I agree with her that many Shakespeare insults would be applicable. I just don't think I would want to play the games required in politics. I do, however, worry that many of those seeking public office are so adept at deceit and bask in the power of self over others. Of course, there are lots of people who work indefatigably for good causes in the political arena with little recognition. Guess the stinkers are the ones who get the press, not unusual in our world.

    Jack, you definitely should have lots of material for stories. Ellen, congratulations of effecting a change from which many benefit. Rhys, great job on saving your kids' school. Hank, are you writing on the train?

  18. yes, it seems like courtesy and good manners would go such a long way...I do yearn for the good old days when folks who disagreed wildly could still work together to find compromise. Maybe it wasn't so rosy behind the curtain:).

    hmdt--you are so right, part of being an adult is figuring out it can't always be done YOUR way! This was the same thing that one of the Key West commissioners pointed out at our roundtable. If you lose a battle, you have to accept it and move on.

  19. Thanks, Lucy/Roberta!

    I'm with Hank--Jungle Reds domination, yeah!

  20. Of course I'd make a great politician. I'm right and everyone else is wrong. And if they disagreed with me, they can just go jump off a cliff.

    Won't you vote for me?

  21. I was a stamp licker for Teddy Kennedy. My grandmother, gave teas for Jack. Her nephew was a celebrant at Bobby's funeral. My cousin was paralyzed in a jeep accident hanging out with her boyfriend David, Joe and friends. That is the extent of politics I ever care to be a part of or connected to in any way, except voicing my opinion and voting.

  22. I'm glad that there are people with the temperament to tackle politics at the grassroots level, but I'm afraid I have a jaundiced view of politicians higher up the feeding chain--along the lines of Jack's comment. My best friend and I signed up to vote as soon as we turned 18, and I consider it a privilege to vote--to keep myself informed at the local, state, and national level--but I could never BE a politician--I'm an uncontrollable eye-roller: as in, "That is clearly the stupidest, most self-serving thing I have EVER heard," type of eye-roll. Doesn't win me many allies in committees....

  23. Reine, you have the most amazing stories of how you're connected to people! Now we have Teddy Kennedy Jr running for state senator in CT. I knew his wife when we were in training (me as a psychologist, her as a psychiatrist.) He seems like a solid citizen...

    FChurch--snort on the uncontrollable eye-rolling--although geez, John Boehner does an awful lot of eye-rolling and he seems to do ok:)

  24. FChurch, thanks for the book recommend the other day... left you a comment there. Some people are suited to politics. Some aren't. My husband's family has had a couple or three, and they were/are good and kind people.

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  26. I would make a terrible politician, but I can pound in lawn signs with the best of them. Usually my candidates are beaten out by the Bad Guys (but that's by I support them in the first place -- they're the good guys).

    Next up: working on the campaign for the front runner against Toronto's notorious mayor.