There was a time, back in 2004, when I took part in a presidential debate. The winner of my election, needless to say, didn’t get to move to the White House. Rather, in our small Maryland town, you’d win the distinct pleasure of serving the public as a member of the town council where you’d ultimately serve as President, or chief elected official. Most towns call this being Mayor, but our town is weird, so we call it President of the Town Council.
I’d moved to our Eastern Shore town to fulfill my lifelong fantasy of fixing up a Victorian house and raising kids who could ride their bikes to school. As soon as I landed on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I realized how different it was over here. I was an outsider. No big deal. But one of the reasons we’d moved over here was the pace of development on “the Western Shore.” Subdivisions were sprouting up like zits on the face of Frederick County where we’d lived. I soon learned that the local real estate developer type was running for the council seat and that two huge subdivisions were planned at the north and south ends of town.
I’m not sure what “save the small town” hysteria swept over me, but I decided to run for office. I campaigned against the guy whose company had an interest in the coming sprawl and another local boy. My three kids in tow, I demanded the town slow development, initiate a recycling program, and save the town’s last piece of waterfront from another developer with plans for 13 townhouses.
I won by two votes.
In our debate, my research, note taking, and some excellent advice from a local congressional staffer to “try to make your face more neutral because you have a tendency to express all your emotions on it” definitely came in handy. I’d never been afraid of public speaking, but I was afraid of rednecks, so I was a little scared. Let’s just say the parking lot of our local high school is covered in more camo print than a deer hunters’ convention. Anyway, I always felt the debate was one of the reasons I’d won the election (that, and the local boys splitting votes), the results of which were hand counted three times by head-shaking folks who were wary to embrace the first town victory of a “come-here.”
I served the town for a three-year term, my last year as President. While Vice President, I gave birth to my fourth kid. I made $300 a month in that town council position; a job that took around 25 hours a week, often more when the town ran out of sewer for the subdivisions, halting development but causing $100 million lawsuits (at one point during this, I took notes on the side of my meeting agenda of how far apart my contractions were).
I was able to slow the development because of the sewer crisis by renegotiated public works agreements that also scored the town some things they hadn’t asked for the first time around (parks and trails got completed because I was pissed at big money out of town developers suing our small town). Recycling finally passed during my presidency. We bought the waterfront, though certain citizens still whine about the money it cost the town, and it’s a park today with boat docks, picnic tables and a playground. And, small towns being what they are, the guy I beat ended up directing me at the local theater (where we were both board members) in A Streetcar Named Desire.
I’m not comparing national and local politics. I can’t imagine what Obama has to deal with. I don’t even understand his running for reelection. I used to wear a disguise to the grocery store and go early Sunday mornings to avoid people complaining about barking dogs—he has to deal with the economy, national security and Mitt Romney’s helmet hair.
But I will say this: politics, or as I came to know them, politricks just suck. You work your ass off and then people hate you no matter what you do. The townspeople said they wanted less truck noise through town, so I drafted a truck ordinance, and then I got accused of trying to shut down farming. I can’t imagine at the national level how thankless the job really is. I know parades, ribbon cuttings for new businesses, and old ladies’ 100th birthdays were the favorite parts of my job, and I’m sure our presidents have a few favorite moments (not to mention helicopters) of their own.
I’m not a very political person nationally, just a run of the mill liberal Democrat. I admit I get more news than I should from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, mainly because I have a massive crush on him. But I gotta say, when I watch presidential debates, I do think one thing, even though I know it is a ridiculous thought: Careful what you wish for.
—Mary McCarthy (@marymac) blogs at Pajamas and Coffee.