Civic Engagement

November 16th, 2017

Politics has content, Ken says. To this point Karen gives a half-committal nod. They are walking and talking, in search of a seat, before the council goes into session. This will be a first for Auerbach, the sole new member elect. Despite a memorable campaign season, the year has been good to incumbents.

A bank of video cameras –six of them, thrice more than usual— line the chambers. The reporters group themselves in small knots, each according to their medium, print or digital or television. They type pensively on their laptops or chat with colleagues. Karen waves. Few in the crowd seem unknown to her.

Ken winces as he shakes hands. He makes eye contact, briefly, then shuffles away. This person has given up the city beat for tech. That other writes openly, shamelessly, about her friends in the local music scene. The task at hand is utterly beyond their measure. Politics has content. Ken says it again, mouthing the words as if they were a curse.


The familiar outline of the chambers has taken a new aspect. The blinds are drawn and the lights have dimmed theatrically. And there are the theatrically dressed constituents, some of them inside the chambers, some without, a crowd running along the glass hallway, over the skybridge, down to the lobby, men and women decked in capes and cloaks and flowing dresses. More than a few carry handwritten signs in support of Auerbach. They show the glyphs and celestial imagery the councilman elect has adopted. The day already looks to be his.

To the rear a security guard sets out extra chairs of the standard folding variety, the only ones untaken, placing them adjacent the fire exit. The room has achieved maximum capacity. Auerbach supporters look wistfully through the glass. They wave their signs at the reporters. Ken resumes his prior line of reasoning: politics has differential effects, he thinks, on the people it takes as an object. That’s the point, after all: power. Otherwise it’s just theater for the dull or worse than theater, a medicine show. He gestures for Karen to take a seat, palm open, scowling.


The councilmembers file into the chambers. President Quiñones appears first. She looks restful, having retained her seat by a high margin. Councilwoman Bishop follows her, along with Councilman Johnson and Councilman Fiske. The two councilmembers-at-large, Follett and Cassel, pass a phone between themselves. Whatever there is on it appears amusing.

This could work to our advantage, Karen says. She takes a seat beside her colleague. If he miscasts a spell, she says, referring to Auerbach, and sets the room ablaze, we have the fire exit right here. She probes the carpeting of the aisle with her shoe. It’s a newish building, but who knows what kind of materials the contractors used?

Ken deepens his frown. Councilman Fernald is lingering beside an elderly constituent. The woman has some issue with moorage at a city-owned marina. This will be on the council’s agenda, Fernald assures her. I’m on your side. Councilman Hartwell slaps him on the shoulder. They approach the dais together. The television crews assume position. The lights dim further. The council is coming to order.


Politics considered as style, Ken says, considered as an extension of personality, considered as those things only, is a degradation of the concept. He gestures towards the empty seat: Auerbach’s. Roll is being called. Fernald is present, Johnson is present, Fiske is present. Bishop is present. It is, quite literally, in terms of emphasis, Ken says, the favoring of style over substance. Follett present, Hartwell present, Cassel present. President Quiñones is present. Auerbach has not, so far, been present. Quiñones repeats the name: Auerbach, Auerbach, Auerbach. His supporters follow along. A chant begins.

This is my point exactly, Ken resumes, throwing up his hands. My point. Look at the rest of them. They’re wearing pantsuits and blazers and khakis, they’re boring. That’s the point. They’ve subordinated their selves to the service of a higher goal. They’re here to discuss a goddamn marina. Find me a better definition of an adult. Find me a better definition of what Auerbach is avoiding.


To this Karen says nothing. She places a hand over Ken’s head, directing his gaze towards the glass hallway. The councilman elect is making his way through the crowd, shaking hands with his supporters. He holds eye contact. He repeats the names given to him. They crowd around him, his supporters, many on the verge of tears. Auerbach, Auerbach, Auerbach. Their chanting reaches a crest, hysterical and loving, as he enters the chambers.

Auerbach, our councilman elect. He wears a saffron robe emblazoned with golden suns and golden moons. Across his chest the city seal is embroidered with silver piping. Auerbach strides forward, confident, swinging an ashwood staff. His hair flows behind him in great silken strands. He acknowledges the cameras. A forest of strobes erupts within the darkened chamber.

Quiñones calls the council to order once more. Her voice trails into nothing as the clerk reminds her of the repetition. That sense of ease has vanished. Bishop frowns and says nothing. Follett and Cassel remain amused. Fernald and Hartwell attempt to look at their papers. Johnson shakes his head. Fiske stares into middle-distance, mouth open, as if he would swallow the microphone.

Auerbach mounts the dais. He says his name. He is present. His presence fills the room. A jet of saffron flame discharges from the staff and licks the ceiling.  Cheers resound within the chambers. Karen joins in despite herself, applauding. Ken brings a hand up, as if to present one last point, but it falls mutely to his lap. There is nothing more to be said in the presence of our councilman elect, nothing to be said under his brilliant light, the saffron flame, his charm.