The phone calls always come in flocks, every two years when a City Council or mayoral election looms. Or I get stopped at the post office, market, gym or around by someone with a question they only ask once every two years.
“You’re bright, sometimes funny, suitably weird, likable and independent,” they proclaim to butter me up. “Why don’t you run for council? Or maybe mayor? You’d be better than some of the jokers we have there now.”
My answer is always the same. “Others run,” I declare, thanking them for thinking of me once every 24 months. “I don’t run. I write.”
Most actors know this condition. Because of the little stage acts we put on, people imagine us as personalities we are not. We are thought to be wise, affable, intelligent and reasonable. We could leap right off the page (or tablet or smart phone) and float gently into City Hall. But this is the stuff of stage personas. If they turn out to be real, it’s only by accident.
So I’ve never thought of running for public office. Sure, I watched “The West Wing” like many others. I dreamed about sitting up there in the White House where I could raid the stash of ice cream buckets in the freezer late at night.
“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m the president. Want to hit the peppermint stick? Let’s eat it straight from the bucket. Where do they hide the spoons around here?”
They don’t have ice cream stashed at City Hall, do they?
I always thought a run for public office was a slice of grand fiction — until now. Until spring 2013, in Aspen. Others ran. I wrote. A good rule for anyone.
But this spring, it seemed that anyone with an ego could run for mayor. All you had to do was show up. Imagine. Who’d-a-thunk that every sitting council member — all four — would actually run at the very same time?
If Adam, Steve, Torre and Derek can all run, why not me? Really. I don’t bet much, but what are the odds? If I’d have done this a few years ago, I could have gotten Hunter S. Thompson to back me. Didn’t he once serve as foreign affairs editor at the Aspen Daily News, where I work? I miss him. Imagine the kind of ad we could produce.
So we had an election, and now we need another one. We have a new council. Not so much a mayor — yet.
You’d really have thought this would be the natural time for some horse-trading. Where’s the old smoke-filled room? Why don’t the quartet of juiced-up council members (anyone notice an all males’ club?) get together and pick a couple of favorites? Do us the favor of eliminating a rerun. Exercise a little self-discipline.
Even LJ Erspamer showed up for the starting gun, as he always does. Maurice Emmer was so hot to trot that he declared right after finishing third that he’d be in for 2015. Maurice, this is uncool. We always used to wait until April before drawing our guns.
When we were kids, did we imagine grown-ups would actually pull this sort of stuff?
If the quartet-plus-two could have exercised a little sense and discipline, they’d have whittled their number down. Maybe we could have saved the $30,000 they say it’ll cost to stage the June runoff. That’s over $10 for every actual voter. We could have lined up outside City Hall to collect the loot just like the food tax rebate. That still buys a couple of lattes at most joints. We wouldn’t have needed to wait for Torre to suggest the same strategy last week to Steve. What was he thinking?
Really, what have the Fab Four got that I don’t? I think I’ve got as much sense as they do. But despite my reputed likability and smarts, I realize I’d be lousy at public service. What makes them think they’re so hot?
They have actually served before, and somehow came to like it. They have prior City Council service under their belts. They weren’t like the incomparable John Van Ness, who promised “never again” after his one four-year term in the Pre-Paleolithic era cost him any chance to catch Monday night football.
Some of them have this crazy idea that business experience would be useful on council. I have that too, but it wouldn’t work. Business folks think they can walk in, wave their hands, and get things done. It doesn’t work that way in public service. They think that collaboration, consensus and compromise really do matter.
I guess if prior public service is such a gem that it can motivate people to want to do it all over again, there’s something to be said for that. Each of the Fab Four was already a sitting public servant. They liked it enough that they wanted another round. Two had expiring terms and may not be back, even if we want them.
In 2014 the same ritual will happen to me. The usual friends and barely-knowns will plead with me to run and bring some sense to public service.
I’ll say the same thing I always do: “Others run. I write.”
I’ll never say the real reason: “You crazy? I’m not who you think I am. You’re looking for great reality. You want live entertainment. You want a show. Go see Michael Goldberg. He knows things. Really.”
The writer (email@example.com ) is a founder of the Aspen Daily News and appears here Sundays. Michael Goldberg is a founder of Belly Up.