In December Councilman Steve Kozachik asked me if I would moderate a town hall forum in his ward featuring every elected official west of the Rincons. I said ,” No.”
“What if I appealed to your sense of community spirit?”
“Do you love free speech?”
“Would you like to make one?”
“ You can make fun of us.”
” When and where?”
He told me he hoped I would lighten the mood of the event. The last time I faced a challenge like that I was invited to spin circus plates at a funeral.
When I learned the town hall meeting would take place at the Loft I hesitated. Any lover of fine cinema knows The Loft has a strict dress code that would keep me out of the theater. I do not own a black turtleneck shirt. When I mentioned this to Koz ( Everyone calls him Koz except Frank Antenori) he offered to loan me a beret that he once wore to the premiere of “Revenge of the Nerds” in hopes of winning a Maynard J Krebs look-alike contest. I declined this kind offer and braved the event with a cow skull bolo tie around my neck, a fake goatee , a set of bongos under one arm, and a clipboard under the other.
There was nothing clipped to the clipboard. But that was not the point. Rule #1: Always carry a script so you can blame the writer when the joke bombs.
Arizona’s pantheon of elected Gods sat at a long table in front of the movie screen. The small town tableau looked like DaVinci’s Last Supper only no one was going to spring for the check .
My first concern was timing. How would I inform the state reps, state senators, county supervisors, mayor and councilman that their time was up? I relied on the stopwatch app on my handy dandy I-phone which I held up to my neck-high wireless microphone so the audience could hear the chimes that signaled the speaker’s minute was up. I looked like a tracheotomy survivor with an artificial voice box that rang like a doorbell. On one occasion it chirped like crickets when a certain congressman had gone over his 14-hour speaking limit.
I did enjoy the raw power of congressmen and legislators clutching their microphones looking up at me like needy wide-eyed alley cats, the kind you see painted on black velvet, their big eyes saying,"Please, call on me, let me answer this question." I felt like I had arrived in an alley with a freshly opened can of cat food. They looked so happy when I said their names.
After Rabbi Cohon offered up an invocation setting a civil tone I used the remaining time to thank other participants and the audience for coming and said that concludes our evening’s program. Bada-boom bada-bing. He smiled.
It was a delight to see Frank Antenori there in the 3rd row in full camouflaged gear with a satellite dish on his head and an infra-red camera taping the proceedings. The people behind him did not complain once about not being able to see over his leaves.
My gun buddy Charles Heller was there and so were a few commies. Mostly there were people there who were hoping to see the movie "Hitchcock". They stayed.
The non-partisan event featured 1000 democrats and 2 brave republican officials: State Representative Ethan Orr and Ward 6 Councilman Koz ( Did I mention everyone calls him Koz except Frank Antenori?) who pleaded with voters to not run him over when he’s out jogging. These two gentlemen and their chums form across the aisle were so constructive, pragmatic and reasonable this political cartoonist despaired.
We all agreed that the lizards running the state north of the Gila are poopyheads. I noted for the hundredth time the only good thing to ever come out of Phoenix was I-10 in hopes there might be one Tucsonan in the audience who had never heard me say that before.
I sorted through the stack of handwritten questions and read the most provocative questions that would have the widest interest for those in attendance. I read them with zeal, annoying some who felt the evening merited a more serious tone. Thank God this was democracy and not opera. A lover of free speech and democratic values I ran the event like Josef Stalin.
Here’s what I learned. The people who serve our community are not the people we see on FOX or MSNBC. They are decent public servants. Oh, God, I’m choking on my own...give me a minute. Okay. That’s better. Never mind. I don’t know what I was saying. I better lay down for a while.
The dais answered questions about guns, the F-35, Rosemont, education, mental health, economic growth, roads, TPD response times and one soft question,”Should we do this again?”
As much as it pained a good conservative like myself to be among so many bleeding heart liberals I enjoyed the great democratic experiment. After the event Koz said he wished I had spoke up more and had made it a genuine roast. I would have but what many of them had to say was important. Maybe next time. This time I was struck by the Lake Wobegon/ Frank Capra feel of the night.
I had never seen politicians applauded before. I still haven’t recovered. I hope it happens again.
Not the politicians applauded part.