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Authors: James Duffy

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Dog Bites Man

BOOK: Dog Bites Man
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2001 by James Duffy
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-1730-9
ISBN-10: 0-7432-1730-6





n less than a week, on New Year's Day, Eldon Hoagland would be sworn in as the new mayor of the City of New York. He still could hardly believe it, but the stacked shipping cartons crowding the desk in his modest faculty office and the two city policemen guarding the door confirmed his changing status.

Incredible, he thought. Unreal. The David Grey Professor of Political Science leaving Columbia University for politics. A Swedish-American originally from Fosston, Minnesota, population 1,500, becoming the leader of over seven million New Yorkers.

As winter darkness settled outside, he reflected on the tectonic shift in his circumstances, a shift that had occurred in less than ten months' time.

.    .    .

It had all started over dinner at Wendy Halstead's Park Avenue apartment. Wendy was a woman who fancied herself a combination of Dolley Madison, Eleanor Roosevelt and Pamela Harriman. She was not entirely wrong, as she had Dolley's amplitude, Mrs. Roosevelt's plain looks and Mrs. Harriman's rapacity. Plus unlimited funds put at her disposal by her husband, Ralph, a minor-league conglomerateur whose acquisition and resuscitation of moribund rust-belt industries had proved enormously successful.

Wendy had ambitions to become an ambassador's wife. She would have preferred an ambassadorship in her own right but realized that Ralph would never be a willing consort. So she had built up his credits by supporting Democratic politicians (with his
money and in their joint names) at all levels. Aside from a noisily flapping checkbook, she sought further advertisement for herself and her husband by giving frequent dinner parties for local and visiting politicians, journalists and assorted intellectuals with an interest in public affairs.

Invitees did not refuse her summonses. Presence at her table not only confirmed their status as members (or at least acolytes) of the power establishment but offered a chance to dine on the extraordinary preparations of her very own prodigy-protégé chef, Marc Murffay, whom she had co-opted when he graduated from the Culinary Institute. And Ralph, while a
premier cru
wine bore, did serve—if one could ignore his didactic descriptions of hillsides, rainfall, soil conditions and storage techniques—rare and exquisite wines not usually quaffed by the guests. Especially the academics, used to the latest bargains from Chile or South Africa.

Eldon had long been on Wendy's guest list. His dispassionate, professorial views, seeded with dry humor, often kept her soirees from degenerating into shouting matches or, conversely, being stultifyingly dull. Not that he was merely a donnish, pipe-puffing scholar. Far from it. His more acid observations were eminently quotable—to the point where they occasionally landed him in trouble. His comment, for example, that if a certain local congressman "spent as much time and energy on public matters as he did with the bottle, he would be the greatest legislator since Henry Clay," had made its way back to the frequently lubricated subject and the two men had not spoken since.

At the dinner, Eldon recalled, Wendy, as was her custom, made her well-fed guests sing for their supper by responding to the question she posed at the beginning of the meal. That night it was: who is going to be—and who should be—the next mayor? This
was an issue of some immediacy, as the city's term limits law (enacted through the efforts and expenditures of a wealthy "civic reformer" who mistakenly thought that shorter terms for incumbents would eventually give him a chance for elective office) was about to bring the current administration to a close.

Giggles and guffaws greeted the names of the two announced Republican candidates—a law-and-order black minister named Otis Townsend, who favored the death penalty and increasing the already draconian sentences for narcotics offenses, and a successful Wall Street trader who had convinced himself (if few others) that shaving basis points on bond trades was really the equivalent of political expertise.

Everyone surmised that the Republican governor, Randilynn Foote, would not intervene in the expected primary. A tough-minded politician, she had become the state's first woman governor in a very tight race by verbally bullying an able but ineffectual Democrat. Since her election she had made no new friends in office to broaden her power base. The two GOP mayoral candidates being generally seen as clowns, it seemed unlikely that she would squander her limited prestige by making an endorsement.

If the two Republicans were ridiculed, the names of Democratic possibilities thrown out across Wendy's table, party hacks and petty officeholders, elicited groans.

"I doubt that a one of them could walk and use a cell phone at the same time," Ralph Halstead observed.

"Those three fellows who want the nomination have a combined IQ less than Professor Hoagland's," observed Justin Boyd, editor of Manhattan's new and irreverent weekly newspaper,

The dozen assembled guests laughed at Boyd's crack. Then
something strange happened. Everyone turned to Eldon, sitting at his hostess's right, as if seeing a divine manifestation. Wendy, suddenly aflame, shouted, "Of course! That's it! Eldon Hoagland for mayor! Perfect! Don't you all agree?"

They did. The Hoagland bandwagon had started rolling.

"It will take a lot of messaging and a mountain of cash," Boyd said.

"Don't worry about the money," Wendy cut in. "Ralph will do the fund-raising. There's no one better at it." Her husband looked pleased at the recognition.

Within minutes the others, all good New York liberals, eagerly chimed in. Eldon tried to brake the exuberance.

"That's the silliest idea I've ever heard. The only time I ran for office—for president of my high school class—I lost. Please, let's change the subject."

The putative mayor's protest did not stop the groundswell as the group worked its way through dinner. By dessert (and after a generous quantity of Ralph's wine), there was no longer a facetious edge to the conversation.

Boyd, seeing the possibility of an enlivened political season that would give a boost to his fledgling paper, led the charge.

"What the devil's wrong with having a mayor playing with a full deck?" he asked. Wasn't Eldon the leading academic expert on big-city problems? Hadn't he already had a fair amount of exposure on TV? And didn't he have other bona fides—as a participant in the civil rights marches of the sixties, a proponent of (sensible) affirmative action policies at Columbia, a family man with his wife, Edna, actually living with him?

Edna, a medical doctor, tried to come to her husband's aid. "Look, friends, my husband is brilliant. I know that and you know
that. But there's no way he could run this city." She didn't add then (but made her views clear to Eldon on the way home) that he had been less than a success as chairman of his department, unable to reconcile the older traditionalists with the younger, politically correct gang.

"Why, with his delicate stomach he'd be vomiting like George Bush if he had to eat knishes and tacos out campaigning. He gets sick on McDonald's hamburgers for heaven's sake."

The others laughed good-naturedly and continued their strategizing. Only the Hoaglands' departure after a final nightcap brought the rally to a close.

Wendy and Boyd floated the idea of a Hoagland candidacy far and wide; within weeks there was pressure from many quarters for him to run. When Eldon talked the matter over with Edna, she was still cautious, warning him of the pitfalls and the uncertainty that would be brought into their secure, steady academic existence. But in the end he decided to run, and from that moment forward his wife was totally supportive. Whatever reservations she had, she kept to herself, including her realistic assessment that, as the city's first lady, she would have to curtail or perhaps even give up her busy practice as a dermatologist.

Eldon reflected on why he had made such a rash decision. A sense of duty? Yes, that was it. Princeton in the Nation's Service: Woodrow Wilson '79, Adlai Stevenson '22, Eldon Hoagland '54. A chance to practice what he had preached as an urban affairs specialist at Columbia. A chance to break out from giving an outsider's advice on city matters to his students and that part of the general public who watched earnest Sunday morning PBS talk programs.

Once he was in the race,
The Surveyor
came to resemble a cam
paign handbill with its lavish praise of the dream candidate. George McTavish, New York's senior senator, to whom Eldon had been a backstage adviser on several tricky urban issues, endorsed him vigorously; he was delighted to have a candidate who would not embarrass him or the party, as the throwbacks eager for the nomination surely would have done. And he not only endorsed Eldon but convinced the president to buy off the three stooges—a federal judgeship for one, the Vatican ambassadorship for another, a promise of more serious attention to patronage and project requests to the third.

Eldon emerged as the unopposed Democratic nominee. The Republicans, meanwhile, committed fratricide, ending up with Otis Townsend, the law-and-order black, as their candidate, after a primary campaign so putrid and moronic that Randilynn Foote continued to withhold her endorsement straight through the general election. (There never was any question that she would endorse Eldon, both because he was a Democrat and, he was sure, for personal reasons going back into the distant past.)

Prodded by Ralph Halstead, the city's CEOs and Wall Street sachems contributed heavily to the Hoagland campaign, enabling his handlers to buy expensive television time and to hire the noted image maker and all-round fixer, Jack Gullighy, to turn the David Grey Professor into a viable candidate.

The city's black and Hispanic leaders, unable to stomach Townsend, nonetheless could not agree on an alternative Democratic candidate; even though blacks and Hispanics now formed a majority of the city's electorate, they eyed each other with mutual suspicion. Ultimately they settled on Eldon as the least of white evils available. The Hispanic press referred to him rapturously as "El
Don," and those emerging from Sunday services at black churches just prior to the election were flooded with leaflets containing a photograph—which a clever Gullighy had been able to unearth—of Eldon, then a young assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, standing with the Selma marchers in 1965.

Hoagland did his part, too, by endorsing Artemis Payne, a black city councilman, for the post of public advocate, which, under the city's Charter, was the second-ranking job in municipal government.

Boyd continued his weekly drumbeats in
The Surveyor,
much to the chagrin of the members of the editorial board of
The Times,
who did not want any suggestion that their ultimate decision to endorse Eldon had in any way been influenced by Boyd's propagandizing.

The Post-News
refused to board the bandwagon. The paper was the product of a recent merger of the city's two tabloids, a marriage of convenience designed to save each from bankruptcy. The result was an eccentric publication, to say the least, its new title giving rise to precious jokes about "postnews" as a subset of postmodernism. It was edited almost exclusively by expatriates, veterans of yellow journalism in London and Australia, who had deeply conservative views as to how New York City should be run, even though they were newcomers and mostly lived in the suburbs.

The paper's editorial board also had it in for Eldon. In an appearance on one of the Sunday morning shows at the time of the merger, he had been asked for his opinion and had replied that "two wrongs don't make a right."
The Post-News
's choleric owners neither forgot nor forgave his remark. They probably were emotionally incapable of supporting a Democrat anyway, so it was no
surprise when the paper backed Townsend—a stance that disgusted some but merely amused others.

.    .    .

Glancing at his watch, Eldon realized that his woolgathering had to cease; he could savor his easy election day victory in all five boroughs some other time. He took out his pen and signed with a bold signature the letter of resignation from Columbia he had prepared and printed out earlier in the day. He had closed the door on academia and opened a new one into the public arena. Where he hoped he would be a gladiator and not food for the lions.

BOOK: Dog Bites Man
8.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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