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The political rookie’s campaign somehow managed to limp into election night with just enough money left for a small party. Being a first-time candidate always meant a shoestring budget. That was certainly true for Kelly, and even before this event the campaign bank account had been reduced to almost nothing. The only place they could afford on the final night was the tiny upstairs function room of a Newburyport seafood restaurant.
She did have some enthusiastic base of voters. They maxed out the capacity in the room as they squeezed in the two staffers she had managed to hire, some supporters, most of whom had worked as volunteers, a donor or two, and some family members. Even with that small number of bodies the tiny space was standing room only, and hard to walk through.
At least it was a nice place, and Kelly knew the owner. He did the whole thing at cost as a favor to her because she had helped him with a legal matter a year or two ago, and had done it pro bono. He was a nice man, and at the time he was just trying to keep his business afloat, and he had been in a position where someone was trying to take advantage of him. That sort of thing bothered her in a visceral way. It wasn’t necessarily what drove her to become an attorney, but when she got the chance to help someone like she always put everything into it she could.
The room was crowded, and the building was old, but the view over the water was amazing. The moon could be seen out over the water, causing a picturesque reflection. The city lights blocked out most of the stars, but the moon over the water was worth the drive.
Given how nervous Kelly was waiting for election results to be announced the calming effect of the view was becoming more important with each passing second. This was a local election, and it shouldn’t take long to get the real numbers, but it was being overshadowed by the stunning and improbable Presidential Candidate Donald Trump that had dominated the airwaves. The potential of getting the results quickly was the one small bit of good news keeping her upright, because her nerves were shot in ways she had never experienced in her lifetime.
It was manifesting itself in ways she wished she could control. Her hands were shaking, if she stood in one place too long without some kind of support, she was sure she would fall down, and wasn’t sure how to make it through another hour of this until all the polls closed. Then, on top of that, there was however long it would take for the final vote counts to be announced. The second hand on her watch seemed to slow to a crawl.
Located less than an hour north of Boston, the coastal town of Newburyport was a home away from home to sailboat enthusiasts from all over the region. The typically calm waters were only one aspect of this nearly tailor-made little sailing town that made it attractive. It was convenient to a number of highways, the town catered to those who chose to drop by for a day of taking out the boat, dining, antique shopping, fantastic ice cream, and, of course, the breathtaking water views, that is, when the New England weather chose to cooperate. Some months in the spring and summer it was challenging to find a parking place anywhere in town, whereas in the winter months you could jog down Main Street with no fear of being hit by a car.
The people milling around the room continued to get louder, not to mention more inebriated, as the clock seemed stop. The lone bartender was pouring drinks as rapidly as possible, which was exactly what he was supposed to do, but that was only making the noise in the room increase all the faster. Alcohol had a way of doing that to people. Her political supporters might be few in numbers, but when they started drinking, they could put away a lot. Kelly was glad it was a cash bar, there was no way she could have personally covered the expense as the campaign funds were completely gone after paying for the room and catering.
It didn’t help matters that Kelly was exhausted from the months of splitting time between work and campaign activities. Combining the lack of sleep with the stress of it all was taking every bit of the emotional strength she could muster to keep her cool and not run screaming into the nearest corner of the room. It was an absolute certainty that once there she would assume the fetal position and begin drooling into a bar napkin while mumbling something no one would understand.
That image got stuck in her head. She wondered how it would play out if that picture were loaded onto social media and jokingly thought that if she lost the election it might be worth doing, and perhaps there would finally be some press coverage. At least it would make her feel better, and perhaps later, after the disappointment passed, it might make her laugh.
She pushed that from her mind. There were more important things going on than some future ability to laugh at her current situation, and potential career mistake.
Everyone in the room believed in her, and had agreed with her reasons for running for office in one way or another. She couldn’t let them know just how bad the nerves were, or how deep the doubt was running, they were owed that much. Besides, one of her campaign themes had been “youthful energy.” If she passed out before the results were known, that wouldn’t be good for whatever small public image she had managed to craft, and in politics image mattered. Win or lose tonight she hoped to have a future in public service, and to be a part of something larger than herself. Tonight’s election was to be the first of many steps in accomplishing that larger goal. At the moment, she didn’t really desire a higher office, and really just wanted to help the people of her local community. If not this, then certainly city council, or some other lower office, but this was not the end no matter what, hopefully. On her mission to make a difference that drive had to go further than one election.
Her campaign manager was sitting at one of the high-top tables with a pen in one hand, and a cell phone held to his ear with the other. He was straining to hear whoever it was calling in election results from polling locations around the district. Some locations closed earlier than others, and results were starting to trickle in. He scribbled numbers during each call on a bar napkin as fast as he could, then he handed the napkins off to someone who would run over to adjust the totals on the white dry erase board leaning against the bar for everyone to see.
When she started the campaign, she had images of electronic tally systems and some official computer system all linked together that would instantly spit out the results the moment the polls closed. The reality of the situation was much different. She wasn’t sure what form of black magic was going on in the background, but it wasn’t as straightforward as she had originally imagined.
The whole night was turning out to be a real nail biter. Kelly supposed that it was better than the election being an obvious blowout with her giving a concession call within minutes of the first vote tallies being reported. That would be too much to take. It was her first time as a candidate, and first timers rarely win, but hey, it could happen, she had been hopeful throughout the entire process.
Maybe it wasn’t hope, and had just been a long-term delusion.
The incumbent was vacating the seat, so theoretically it was open for anyone to win. There had been no clearly defined leader, at least when the campaign season started. She had no idea who might be in the lead now, and the longer it took to find out the crazier the butterflies in her stomach were getting.
With each phone call the vote tally would stay frustratingly close. At any given time she was ahead by a few tenths of a percent, and then one call later she fell behind by some razor thin margin that would allow those in the room to hold out hope, yet serve to make everyone even more anxious. Win or lose, it was going to be close, and at this point it would be best if everything was just over.
It was an emotional roller coaster unlike anything she had ever experienced in her constantly preplanned, highly organized, and meticulously executed life. There was a job, a job she knew she would be good at, hanging in the balance of those damn phone calls. It was more than a job really; it was a sense of purpose which had been missing in life, especially in the past year with the allegations of racism, misogyny, and even fascism being conjured up by an out of control media who seemed hellbent on getting one of the two major political party candidates elected to the oval office and throwing the other into the political waste can. She wanted to scream, but had to settle for digging the remaining fingernails into the palm of her hand, constantly having to be sure to stop short of drawing blood.
The bartender had tuned all the televisions scattered around the room to every possible local news station. That way, no matter which affiliate had results first those who came out tonight wouldn’t miss a single second of celebration, or grieving. Her head was constantly pivoting between them. She couldn’t help but wonder if the bartender cared what the results were. It might all be the same to him. People would drink in celebration or sadness, and the tips would be larger the more they drank.
The local Fox affiliate changed from a weather report to show a picture of a former Speaker of the State House.
Finally, at long last, the election, or at least something politically oriented would become the topic, instead of the fluff stories they had been using to fill time before they had actual election results to report. Sure, they had the obligatory countdown timer ticking off the seconds until voting was officially over for those precincts that closed first, but that didn’t help at all in the quest to know the results.
For a brief moment she wished she had a boyfriend to lean on, but that was only because the one drink she had allowed herself had gone directly to her head. It didn’t help that her heels were really hurting her feet. She shoved those thoughts away, and went back to flipping between TV screens hoping for more numbers to be released than they had managed to gather here in the room.
The way the night was going made Kelly think about a conversation she’d had with her father. In the end, it had been the singular event that shoved her from thinking of putting her name on a ballot, to taking the plunge. Many people who follow politics throw the phrase “why don’t you just run,” out without much thought. It takes a real motivating event in someone’s life to get them to do so.
Thoughts of her father started to calm her, and she wasn’t sure why. The two had argued about her candidacy and there was now a wall built up between them. In his opinion, which he had voiced loudly and frequency, she was in the wrong political party for his business. They hadn’t spoken in a while as a result, but she still loved him, and he would always be her dad.
The man had one of the thickest Boston accents conceivable, and had been on a real tirade that night, “Massachusetts is one of the most one-pahty States in da Country. Everybody heah knows it, and if you are part of that damn near monopoly of office holders you get to abuse your position without fear of any real election challenger. We have years of stories about the waste, fraud, and corruption that has taken place down on Beacon Hill. Beacon Hill, hell you may as well call it Bacon Hill with all the pork they throw around to their cronies, all at my damn expense. I can’t do no business heah in this state at all unless I get in bed wit them. That’s why I gotta support ‘em every time, no mattah what. Donations, donations, donations. All those state-level politicians takin’ from everybody they can, and givin’ to friends, or stuffin’ their own friggin’ pockets. Then, who can forget that one guy with a brother who is a known mobstah. Tell me that freakin guy is on the up and up. Tell me he actually earned that multi-million dollah brownstone he lives in. Go ahead, I dare you to do it without laughin’. Remember that three Speakers in a row have been indicted, with one still in jail for steering a massive state contract through his own law firm. Bastahd didn’t even try to hide it. He just got lazy. Evah wondah just how we got into this mess? Wanna know how we ended up with the politicians we got? Wanna know why stuff ain’t never gonna’ change around heah? It all starts with another in a loooong line of rigged elections.”
They had their disagreements from time to time, what parent and child doesn’t, and it was impossible to believe every election was rigged, but there was no way to ever convince him of that. The two of them may not be on the best of terms at the moment, but that had happened before, and she was sure that, in time, all would be forgiven. Even if, in his eyes, she was a member of the wrong political party, and he could not understand that she wasn’t out to destroy his law firm.
She looked around at the crowd. In addition to those who had been involved in the campaign in some way, there were a few, and given the size of the room, very few, political gadflies. These were people who turned up to whatever political event was closest to their house. There was even one very junior reporter from a local, very small newspaper. Everyone was milling around the room waiting for the all-important final vote count.
Suddenly she realized something that had been overlooked before. Almost everyone was looking at her. If not directly, then out of the corner of their eye. She suddenly became extremely self-conscious and hoped that no one noticed her look of complete exhaustion. If this was how tiring it was to run for State Representative there was no part for her in a state-wide, or worse, a federal election at any point in the future. At least not as a candidate. Maybe as a local volunteer for someone willing to take that plunge, but that was it. Nothing where all eyes would be on her.
She decided to mingle in an effort to keep her mind focused, and off of things that made her uncomfortable. Shaking hands with everyone in the room would fill time. Meeting people and pressing the flesh had been their campaign style, and now it was becoming second nature.
She looked up and saw her on face on television, her jaw dropped, she couldn’t believe it. The room instantly exploded with sound.
“Shut up, SHUT THE FUCK UP!” her campaign manager shouted, red-faced and sweaty.
The news was discussing her race. Maybe they had better sources for gathering final vote counts than anyone in the room. Her heart was racing faster and faster as everyone strained to hear what was being said. Had she won? They wouldn’t show her if she had lost, or would they? Perhaps the loss was so staggering, but then they would show the victor, so maybe?
The talking head, who had flatly refused to meet with her during the campaign when it might have made a difference, was trying to explain who she was, and what she stood for. If only he had given her an on-air interview during the campaign, then maybe the results wouldn’t be so damn close. Just maybe she would have a lead that wouldn’t vanish every few minutes, and maybe he might be able to do some accurate reporting, but since when did accuracy stop a talking head from spewing forth whatever was on the teleprompter?
“Meet Miss Kelly James. She is the Republican candidate for the First Essex House District. She is a newcomer to politics and only 32 years old. Rumor has it she was thrown out of her old man’s law practice when she announced her decision to run as a Republican. I guess the old man just couldn’t tolerate any political disagreements about the direction of things at work. His firm is known to represent some union labor organizations, and a few prominent members of the democratic party leadership on any number of their personal matters.”
“How did they know that? He didn’t throw me out, I mean, not really, I quit,” Kelly whispered to no one in particular. He would have never fired her, but she knew he wanted to at the time, which was why she quit. Anyone else he would have thrown out.
“Her family…disagreements are not the story of the night. The shock is that most people thought this particular race would be a landslide for the Democrat City Councilor instead of a Republican who has never been involved in politics at any level. The surprise of the night for those of us here in the newsroom is that this one is really really close. There are a few wildcards being played out tonight that just might turn the results in her direction,” the talking head said with a smile.
“Also, remember we have a Presidential election going on. The billionaire versus the lifelong insider is finally coming to a head. We won’t have official results on that one until much later in the night, but the first east coast numbers could give an idea of which way people are leaning. According to exit polls the race for President it is going to be a very close one, perhaps closer than anyone on either campaign is comfortable with.”
Kelly was standing next to a Republican State Representative from the Second Essex District named Lenny Mirra. The talking head kept talking, but she was no longer hearing anything that was said.
“God, where the hell are the results? I mean seriously, this damn close? How can it possibly be this close? How did you stay so calm on your first election night?” Kelly asked. She wanted to pay attention to the news in case they had actual information to report, but she didn’t want to hear them speculating about any race, much less hers.
It was an annoying part of modern life that news
people seemed to all be in a race to “predict” the outcome of something. When that shift had occurred was unclear, but sometimes they tended to report these predictions as facts so they could later go back and report that “they were the first.” When they were wrong the recanting of a news story never seemed to have the same vigor on the air.
Lenny smirked, and suppressed a laugh, “You think I was calm? I decided after that first election that there was no real use being nervous. Look, there are only a few minutes before the last of the voting locations in the district close. There is nothing you can do to make any difference at this point. In other words, your fate is sealed, so stop worrying,” he said, pointing to the television as they showed some b-roll of sealed ballot boxes followed by ballots being put into electronic counters. “You did everything possible, Kelly. You ran a fantastic campaign. It is too late to be nervous. What’s done is done, and nothing can change the outcome now. So, calm down and have a drink, which will certainly help your nerves, or better yet eat something. The calamari is really very good.”
“There is not a chance in hell of me eating anything right now. The mere thought of it makes me want to throw up all over your suit. I don’t know who your dry cleaner is, but I’m sure regurgitated calamari would be a tough one. I do think I hear a Grey Goose martini calling my name,” she said, forcing a smile. Drinking more might be a bad idea given how tired and slightly buzzed she was already, but being desperate for anything to calm the nerves running a marathon in circles around her stomach it made certain suggestions sound better than they might otherwise be. Maybe a second drink would be ok, if she could sit down.
She looked over at her campaign manager who was still fielding a never-ending series of phone calls. In between he would scribble down numbers. Then he stopped scribbling and began rapidly punching buttons on his calculator.
“Amesbury Second precinct is in, 1629 to 852. We killed it over there!” he shouted. He broke a smile, an actual smile. She hadn’t seen that since the only successful, mildly successful, fund-raiser they had thrown.
The room erupted in cheers. She hoped the people downstairs weren’t upset by the noise, but then decided, to hell with them. This was her night, win or lose, it was her night damn it, and she was going to soak it all in. This could be her last night in politics, or it could be the start of a whole new chapter in her professional life. It was impossible to tell yet.
Lenny was right, there was nothing that could be done at this point to influence the outcome, at least not legally, and she wasn’t going to stoop to that level to win. Massachusetts politics had enough of that kind of well-deserved reputation, she would never be the person to add to it. The exploits of a certain mayor in Lawrence when it came to ballot box stuffing could fill several textbooks on political corruption. But that wasn’t how this would end.
The Republican Representative from the 3rd Essex District, a very large man named Cliff, spoke up, “That is good, but you gotta’ do wicked good in your hometown if you’re going to make up his votes here in Newburyport. Salisbury is the real wild card here. I have no idea how those people are going to go.” Cliff thought he was helping, but he probably made it worse by bringing up Newburyport. Everyone in the room knew that area was a democratic party stronghold.
“We campaigned really hard there. They didn’t know you, or the Democratic candidate when we started this whole thing, and they can go Republican. If memory serves, both Scott Brown and Mitt Romney carried it huge, so I don’t think there is much to worry about out there,” Lenny said.
“Let’s hope Charlie has some coat tails. If we take Governor over there, she could do very well, and essentially have this whole thing nailed down,” Cliff said, talking about Kelly as though she weren’t standing there listening to the exchange. That kind of thing had been annoying when the campaign started, but over the past few months she barely took notice of it.
“Let’s not jinx anything with early predictions, Cliff,” Kelly said.
“Oh, don’t be superstitious,” Cliff chided.
Her campaign manager stood up and shouted across the room to the person near the dry erase board, “You! With the marker. Third precinct in Newburyport is in, 989 for Edwards, 540 for Kelly,” he seemed pissed.
The were some gasps from around the room, and people started whispering to each other while trying not to look in the candidate’s direction. Kelly could not help herself anymore, and started nervously biting her thumbnail.
Lenny sprang into action. He stood up and blocked the white board, so no one would be focused on incomplete numbers, as he addressed the crowd, “Look everyone, that’s Plum Island. Whole lotta’ environmentalists and trust fund people over there. They haven’t gone Republican in decades. That isn’t bad at all coming from those folks. That means there is crossover appeal. In other words, independents, and maybe some conservative democrats are swinging this way.”
The campaign manager came over to join Kelly’s small group, he looked like the vein cutting a jagged path down from his hairline was about to burst out of the center his sweaty forehead, “Okay, I have some news, we are just waiting on a single precinct total. The first over in Amesbury, and so far, as a total, without them, Kelly has 6589, Edwards has 7022, and Poinsby has 1243. We know that place is going to go heavily our way. But we don’t know how heavily until it is counted. Who knows someone over in the first? We need a person on the ground. I can’t get anyone I know to answer the freakin’ PHONE,” he rubbed sweat from the back of his neck as he spoke.
A supporter who had been standing nearby took his cell phone away from his ear. He looked like a kid that was afraid to ask a question in class, but really wanted to know the answer.
“What is it, it’s Hank, right?” Kelly asked.
“Ummm, you won’t believe this. It is wicked bad for team Kelly knowing anything concrete anytime soon. My wife is over there, and was about to come this way once we verified the count. Um, she says some lady brought her kid into the polling station with her and the kid drooled candy or some kind of sticky shit onto a ballot. That ballot got put into a vote counting machine and it jammed up the whole thing. It was the only vote counting machine they had at that location. They gotta count everything, every single ballot, by hand,” he said while actively avoiding making eye contact with anyone.
The crowd groaned as Kelly relayed the message to the room. People sat down and prepared for a long night. They were all too invested in the results to leave before the final counts were in. Some of these people had been with her from the start, and they would be here until the outcome was known, one way or the other. Everyone else, well, some just liked a good party, others wanted to be able to have a chance to tell a story later about how “they were there when the meteoric rise began.” Then were relatives that would probably sneak out if they could, and not hear about it at some future family get together. No matter which way she thought about it, the room was not going to thin out anytime soon.
There were multiple discussions about the news reports in the room, mostly on the status of the Presidential race, and those were steadily morphing into argument. The room was full of Republicans but that didn’t matter. Part of the room kept gloating with, “I told you so,” about how they knew the early polls about Hillary’s dominant lead had the results locked up were proving to be wrong. Some kept saying that Trump was not a “true” conservative, whatever that meant. It was like if you didn’t agree with every single policy that the most fringe members of a political groups held, well then, they felt it necessary to be sworn to hate you for all time.
Kelly hid her face in her hands, the stress had been about to end. Almost every precinct had reported in. Now, with just one to go, one she was counting on to win based on party voting registration numbers, and it was going to take all night to get the results.
When Kelly lowered her hands, her face was a huge smile as she laughed out loud, almost hysterically, “Well, we knew I was a longshot. I guess it had to be a dramatic finish. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be my campaign. But seriously, candy? A freakin’ kid and a piece of candy is the cause of us not knowing the results? This is a local race, we should be done by now.”
Kelly wasn’t sure why she was laughing. It was either that or scream, and the lesser of two evils had come out. If there was a psychiatrist had been in the room they might have put her on some kind of medication right there and then, but she didn’t care, she would almost welcome it.
Hank, who had delivered the bad news, came over and stood beside her, “Who the hell brings a kid into a polling booth? Then, on top of that, what special kind of moron puts a fucked up ballot into the counting machine, and just assumes it’s going to work? Seriously, can we overhaul public education, and like right now?”
Kelly had a legitimate laugh at that last one, it was one of her campaign themes. Education was something people of all political parties seemed to want to improve. No one ever considered it to be doing well.
“Well, if I win this thing, I’ll see what I can do,” Kelly said.
“Seriously, I am not kidding, I really want to know, who puts a freakin’ ballot into a ballot box with a piece of candy stuck to it? Why not just set that one aside and count it by hand instead of messing up everything so they have to hand count the whole freakin’ pile? How accurate is that going to be? How careless are they? Do they just want to get paid overtime that badly?” Lenny ranted, uncharacteristically showing stress.
“Well, looks like it’s gonna’ be a long freakin’ night,” Cliff said, continuing the local linguistic trend, even though his accent was typically not that thick, with a smile. He appeared to be enjoying the whole thing. Maybe he just got some perverse inner pleasure from watching other people squirm. Why shouldn’t he? He didn’t even have a freaking opponent in his election. He could afford to stay calm. Kelly wanted to slap him, but thought better of it.
She turned her attention back to the news. Maybe results from other races would help her state of mind, but she found no escape. She found that she could stare at the screen, hear the words, and still not retain any of it. There could be a nuclear explosion somewhere in the world, or even a foreign military about to invade Boston Harbor intent on taking over the city, and her mind would still be focused only on her election results.
The TV news was a few minutes behind getting the same information as those in the room. “Well, it looks like Miss James is going to have a long night. There has been an error, apparently some kind of feeder jam in one of the electronic counting system, and there will have to be a manual count in what turns out to be one of the larger areas involved in that race, which is currently way too close to call.
“Meanwhile there are a few hundred other elections going on here in the Bay State. We’ve got 160 state representatives in the Commonwealth and 40 state senators. Every single one of them runs for office every two years. Most of those results will be known soon, some people are even running unopposed, but we will rundown all of them for you. In addition to all of that, the Governor’s seat is also up for grabs. Those results will take a little longer given that everything must be tallied together from the entire state, but we will have them tonight. This is an exciting night, and it looks like, for one or two of these races, it is going to be a long one.”
The Republican candidate for Governor, Charlie Peekman, was all smiles, and was showing his typical completely calm outward demeanor. He was poised, steady, and looked to be the very appearance of what would be expected of a governor.
The results coming in from the suburbs were great, and the vote tally in the big cities, where democratic voter rolls were much higher than republicans, was a lot closer than anyone had expected. The ballroom at the Grand Hyatt located in downtown Boston was set up with a huge screen in the front so the election results could be seen from anywhere in the massive room.
If Charlie was nervous at all, it didn’t show. He was the kind of person who never seemed to lose control. He became passionate about things, but never showed stress, even when his opponent stood on stage during the debates and lied. This was something that both endeared him to his supporters, while simultaneously infuriating his current political opponent. The democrats had tried, and failed, to get under his skin on every topic imaginable. That had worked to his great advantage during debates, not to mention the public appearances where protestors made any number of attempts to disrupt his larger events.
Charlie stood next to his campaign manager, who had just gotten off the phone.
“Charlie, we’re doing pretty well. It looks like the Trump thing is going to help us far more than we thought. We got both Waltham and Glawstah in the bag. Glawstah! They are going to have that, along with some new specific numbers on television any second. If my arithmetic is correct we are up, and will win this thing with some room to spare.”
“Well, that is good news. Every poll had us losing in both of those up until a few days ago. Looks like her blunders across the last week or two have played more in our favor than we thought. I’m going to pretend I don’t know any of that and work the room for a bit,” Charlie said, his confidence growing with each passing minute. He loved meeting people.
Any casual observer might thing that tonight was just another night for him. Even if he lost there would be time taken to shake every hand in the room, and pose for a picture with anyone who wanted one.
There already had a plan in the event he lost. He would go home, get some sleep, regroup, and determine what the next step in professional politics would be.
The massive display screen and the PA system were turned to the local Fox News as Charlie’s face appeared.
Charlie listened to what the newscaster was saying. There was no way they were going to call the race yet, or he would have already known.
“So, you might be asking why there is so much interest in the results from Waltham and Gloucester? They are what we like to call bellwether cities. The way these two cities vote is usually the way the rest of the state votes, and no Republican in modern history has won the Governorship without them. It’s been that way for a long time, so Charlie could be in for some good news as the night progresses, but there is not enough of the total vote count in just yet to call this race either way.”
Charlie worked his way over to his running mate, the Lieutenant Governor candidate, Katy Polcari, and said quietly so only she could hear, “We’re gonna’ do dis!”
The ballroom at the Boston Hilton served as the election night command post for the democratic candidate for Governor. While the décor in the room was remarkably like the Hyatt, this room was much less festive than the one across town. The candidate, Cora Marshall, stood behind the stage, and far out of sight of any of the people in the ballroom.
She was not mingling with her supporters, and had absolutely no intention of going out there, at least not until her victory was announced. At this point in the campaign keeping the crowd happy, and even working the donors for the next campaign, was a job for her staff. She was done with campaign activities until things were official, even then it would be to celebrate, not a working event. There would be a speech, perhaps some time taken to see one or two of the more important people, talk into a camera for television and be on her way home to get some rest and prepare for being sworn into the office she deserved.
If those people in the ballroom claiming to be on her side wanted time with her, they should have done more to help during the campaign, or even more importantly, coughed up more campaign funding. If they had, this thing would all be over by now. Instead, the results were annoyingly close.
Campaign money was all that really mattered anyway. Just run enough ads, say enough negative things about the opponent, and anything was possible. It just had to be done more effectively than the other guy, and that meant just buy more ads. Burn those messages into the brains of voters and victory was almost assured. Money meant victory in politics. Donors thought the whole thing was about idealism, or even about some specific position on a key issue, when it was really all about the money.
Let the supporters think whatever they want. Slime the other guy as much as you can, occasionally throw out a soundbite about a policy area using phrasing so generic she could never be held to anything, and you win. Then, once in office, just avoid taking blame whenever something didn’t go the way it was supposed to.
It was how the game was played at this level. Thanks to their lack of focus on money, resulting in what she considered to be a shoestring campaign budget, things weren’t going the correct way, and that was pissing her off. Did the state party think she was going to do the fundraising on top of everything else?
Cora was speaking to a regional campaign director on the phone, “Did Southie or Dorchester even bother to show up to vote? Is everyone in those areas stoned today? We got an IBEW union headquarters approved for them, that should be enough motivation. They can’t do their part and get their people out, just this one time? We are barely winning, even in those areas. If we don’t get huge turnout there everybody knows that the suburbs, and the western part of the state will kill us. What the hell is wrong with them? Do they not make enough from their useless no-show jobs? Do I have to promise them a damn raise to get them to work hard two days every few years to make sure I get elected so I can keep them protected? How else do they expect me to keep their bullshit, completely unnecessary, and irrelevant jobs safe from the budget cuts that this guy is going to want to put in place? You think Charlie is going to continue the gravy train? Hell no, he’s going to cut that shit off.”
She hung up the phone, tossed it to a staffer, and yelled, “I need to speak to Tony Pannini. NOW, not whenever the hell you feel like it!” She rolled her eyes at how incompetent some people could be. Did they expect her to dial her own phone? Tonight, of all nights? What if he didn’t answer his cell? Was she expected to keep calling around to try to find him, or hope he picks up his cell? That was for someone else, someone less important.
Cora was as mad as she had been in her entire life. She was the former State Attorney General, and the current democratic candidate for Governor in the State of Massachusetts. It had been her mission in life to do all of the right things to get to this election. Her family was even from the right part of upstate New York. She was born to be a Democrat, and deserved to be Governor. It was her turn. Dues had been paid, and these people didn’t seem to get that simple fact. Who else was capable of taking that leadership position and doing the right thing with it? Charlie? That was a laugh. He wanted to cut the budget, and lower taxes. Didn’t he understand that would reduce the power of his office?
Maybe she should have stayed in New York. That would have been easier. Maybe climbed the ladder in that state party. They knew how to run the party, not like here. The lazy party officials here didn’t want to do anything for anyone but themselves.
She had attended “Hahvahd” Law School. Most people called it Harvard, but if you went to school there, and you lived in Massachusetts, you pronounced it properly. Had she not run for a series of lower offices, become the Attorney General, clawing her way up every step of that ladder, and helped those party faithful at along the way she could have been one of those overpaid professors with tenure whom everyone on television is always complaining about, but insists on sending their kids to their classes. It was a strange thing if you thought about it long enough. People complained about professors, complained about University polices and politics, but insisted their kids go to college and sit in those classrooms to ensure their progeny’s future.
Maybe she should have just avoided all this hassle and stayed the Attorney General. Well, there was no going back now, may as well get these people to fall in line before it is too late and the polls closed. If that didn’t work there was always a way to file a lawsuit to alter the outcome if things got really bad. There had to be votes someplace that could be “found,” or some others that could be rendered “invalid.” It was not the best way to get to the goal line, but it was the outcome that mattered, not the method.
Didn’t those people out there going to the polls know that she was the best choice if they wanted to be provided for? Who else was going to give them everything they wanted? Who else was going to make sure the EBT cash kept flowing without question? The other side had that woman investigating fraud in that program every time someone around her put in a lunch order. Fraud, as if that wasn’t in every program, and could somehow, magically could be prevented if there were enough press conferences on the subject. Why that program? Why not all the others? It made no sense.
If you were against fraud you had to go after all of it, not pick and choose the one program that might satisfy your base voters and help some dumb politician to find a way to get on television and beat that same tired drum over and over. Being against fraud was reasonable depending on which donors you wanted to impress, but targeting specific programs meant you were targeting specific groups of people, and obviously, the poor were the target in this case.
A junior campaign staffer, whose name she could not possibly have cared less about, handed her the phone, “TONY! Where the hell are your people? Someone told me that half the polling locations don’t even have sign holders!” she paused, listening as he spoke.
“Whad’ya mean they wanted to get paid overtime after four o’clock?! They won’t be getting ANYTHING EVER AGAIN if we go down tonight. We used up so many favors to get that useless convention center expansion funded that I now owe people, and it was all so YOUR guys would have a place to park their fat ASSES this winter! Would they prefer to be out working on patching roads when the temperature goes below freezing?”
Anyone within three feet could hear the person on the other side of the phone shouting back at her, “Whoa, Attorney General Marshall. Not all our union jobs come from you assholes up on Beacon Hill. In fact, one of our main benefactors is out calling in favors for my guys, and their fat lazy asses right now.”
She did indeed get his meaning, and she wasn’t sure it would matter if his people got out there now. Not with how the exit polls were looking and the everything starting to close. She threw the phone at the staffer and stormed further away from the room full of supporters. There was no way she was going out there until she had a chance to think.
The Democrat State Representative currently serving as Speaker of the House was so comfortable with his re-election that he didn’t even bother throwing an election night party. He would conserve his campaign funds for someday when it mattered, if it ever did.
He didn’t have an opponent, so it wasn’t even worth looking at the numbers. That didn’t stop him from holding fundraisers, but that was expected. The Republicans wouldn’t waste their time or money going up against him, not with how much he had in the bank.
Speaker Peter Onassis Slane had been in his office most of the day waiting for results to come in for other, less important people’s seats. He wasn’t going to attend any campaign party that might have press in the room if there was any chance it would later turn out to be a loser. That would be bad for his image. Image was everything when you were Speaker, so he would end the night at whatever party was the “one people would talk about.”
“Doesn’t look like Cora is gonna’ make it. Shame. I thought we had her just about trained,” he said to the few trusted staff members who were sitting around the room sipping cocktails.
There was a rule about alcohol in State House offices, but this was after hours, and rules could be bent, if not broken. This was especially true on election night if you were Speaker. Hell, if you were a Democrat in Massachusetts you could pretty much do whatever the Hell you wanted. It was like being a Republican in Texas. You were safe as could be once you got into office, unless someone from your own party challenged you in a primary, but no one was stupid enough to do that to him. The result was that he could do whatever he wanted. Being a politician was simple once you were in office, and doubly so if you were one of the ones in a leadership position. It was easy to alter those rules to fit the mood of the day.
There was a rule about smoking in the place as well, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying the occasional cigar with his feet up on the desk. It was a great way to relax.
A member of his staff asked, “You think Charlie will play ball?”
“There are ways to get to anyone. They all come around, sooner or later,” Peter smiled slyly as he spoke. Everyone had dirt in their past, and when needed, used to get them to comply with his wishes. Everyone. He had built his career on finding that dirt, being exceptionally good at hiding his own, and making expert use of the secrets that people didn’t want in the public eye.
He slowly walked to his desk, sat down, put his feet up, and smiled smugly. Some people said his initials summed him up. With initials like his, he had to become a politician. He thought about his half-Greek, half-Irish heritage and knew many people thought it meant he had to be a ruthless son of a bitch. It was “in his blood.” Then those same people would give a lecture on the evils of the inherent racism in society to some donor group, even though these thoughts were inherently racist.
If that wasn’t enough, he grew up in Southie, the local name for the south side of Boston. It was there, on those streets where the notorious mobster Whitey Bulger grew up, and started his life involved in organized crime. He had been asked many times if they were related. Apparently, they looked alike. Peter had denied it so often, so passionately that people probably thought they were. Let them think what they want, if he kept winning what fucking difference did it make? Staying in office, expanding his power base, these were the only thing that mattered.
He thought about a story he told, and retold, about his mother during every election cycle. All about how she scrubbed floors to put him through college, just like all politicians’ moms. His mother didn’t scrub floors for money. Her real income had been far more nefarious.
He wondered how he could use the incoming governor to move closer to his little piece of Camelot. After all, his mother’s brother married a Kennedy. He deserved to enjoy that kind of luxury, instead of just seeing other people do it. He would get his life of yachts and private planes, one way or the other. The legality of it all could be managed, especially if you were the one writing the laws. Given what he did for a living, almost anything could become legal.
“Well, we have to admit, and find a way to use to our advantage, perhaps in fundraising literature, that the red team is gonna’ pick up a few seats. They won’t have nearly enough to do anything we don’t want them to do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t spin it to our benefit to mobilize the base next time around. Spun correctly it can accelerate our fundraising. Someday we will get smaht and change things so our terms are longer than two years,” he said to no one in particular.
“How we doin’ in Wustah?” he asked his staff, allowing his accent to come through loud and clear. That was something he would never do when he had a chance of being recorded. That just wouldn’t do. But here, in private, he let it slip out from time to time.
“It’s close, but the way things are going it looks like Colarusso is gonna’ take it,” some nameless junior staff member said, naming the Republican challenger as the probable winner.
“Freakin’ Fregosi! Bastahd couldn’t stop himself. He just had to send a picture of his cock to his girlfriend. Told him a million times not to do that shit on a State House computer. You can do it, if you are smart about how. That way if it leaks out who cares, it’s just another picture of a dick, coulda been anyone’s, just don’t use the damn state run email system. Meh, whatevah, he had it comin’, been caught stuffin’ too many staffers anyway. When the voters are done kickin’ his ass to the curb, his wife will finish him off. I oughta’ give her a call and, console her,” Peter said, thinking just how hot that man’s wife was, and how pissed off she was the last time they had spoken. She probably wanted to exact some revenge, and if he could help her out, well, what harm would it do.
“His dick?” someone on the staff asked.
“Yeah, from a freakin’ State House computer,” Peter said.
“Freakin’ idiot,” the hot intern said, with derision.
“Well, he’s done,” POS said with a wave of his hand. “How we doin’ out west?” Peter asked, moving on to things that might matter.
Kelly looked at her watch. It was almost midnight.
Her campaign manager shouted from his perch on a barstool, “QUIET EVERYONE! Yeah, okay, got it. Let me repeat this back to you, make sure I got it right. 1,637 to 1,194? Holy shit, WE WON! We freakin’ won by ten freakin’ votes!”
The room erupted in cheers. People jumped for joy, hugged each other, and tossed whatever paper they had into the air.
Kelly was almost in tears, “Oh my God, I can’t believe we did it. I can’t believe this is over! I’m going to the State House, me, I’M GOING TO THE STATE HOUSE!”
“You did it, Kelly. You. You worked your ass off, and you did it. You earned this one, Representative James!” Lenny said, vigorously shaking her hand.
“No Lenny, we did it. This could not have happened without a lot of help, especially from you. I will never forget it,” Kelly said, dropping his hand and giving him a hug. She wondered for a moment if he was married, then thought that if he weren’t and she did anything about it, things might be awkward given they would be working together.
Cliff looked at her and winked while extending his hand, “Just remember my name when it’s time to pick a Minority Leader,” he said with a wink. He knew it was never too early to gather support from the newbies. They didn’t know any better, at least not yet. They didn’t know what his secrets were, and if he could become minority leader there would be ways he could use his position to keep them hidden.
Cameron Edwards could not believe it. His supporters were quickly and quietly putting on their jackets. If they came near him at all it was for a weak handshake, with minimal eye-contact, and some small comment of how he’ll bounce back, or some other equally useless apology.
He knew what every one of them was thinking. That he blew it, that this loss was his, and his alone. They probably thought that he was so clueless about how to be an effective candidate that a newcomer had beaten him.
He sat down heavily on a barstool.
“I can’t believe this. Ten votes. Ten FREAKIN’ votes,” he said as he buried his face in his hands.
His campaign manager was angry, “Cam, don’t give up. We’ll call for a recount. Someone else will pay for that. We can’t quit after getting this far. We can easily find ten votes of hers to have thrown out, or we can do what Willy Lantigua always did over in Lawrence, and find twenty-five more votes that were somehow ‘forgotten.’ Maybe there were some mail in ballots that were ‘mailed’ but not opened and put into the final tally.”
“You don’t get it. This was ours. This is the stronghold for our party. We don’t lose here, not ever! It should’ve never been this close. If we had sent one more mailer, aired one more radio ad, had one more volunteer, or even spent one more day knocking on doors, we could have had it. Where the hell was the state party? They’re only helping the guys down in Cambridge where they don’t NEED any freakin’ help. They didn’t give us a freakin’ dime. Not a single volunteer. Did they think we had this sewn up? God forbid the freakin’ union guys help someone outside Boston. Where the hell were they? Sucking down drinks with the damn party leadership. That’s okay. I know enough dirt about everyone, and if I am going to go down like this, I’m takin’ people down with me.”
He had a look on his face that could only mean he was out for revenge.