Episode Four

Rebecca Changes Anytown Part 2

Rebecca is campaigning for mayor of Anytown. It’s June 1990, the election is in November. The campaign is going great. Her volunteers now number nearly 500. They have wonderful campaign literature designed by Chandra Milbino and her crew. The volunteers are handing it out door to door, talking to everyone who’ll let them talk. 

   The most persuasive piece of literature is, as Rebecca predicted, her bankbook. When the campaigners tell folks about her vows of poverty and openness, then display her bankbook, the stiff atmosphere softens. 

   “Really? She’s doing that?” 

 The third poll by the local newspaper finds Rebecca leading the Democratic incumbent by 12 percent, with the Republican challenger a distant third. Shortly after this poll, the Elections Board suddenly finds that Rebecca’s campaign filed an improper and possibly false SEI (Statement of Economic Interests). Of course, her SEI is mostly blank because she has no reportable interests, as described in the filing instructions. She put her name and date at the top of the page, signed the bottom and turned it in. She goes down to the EB office and explains her situation, but to no avail. The clerk on duty, clearly following instructions, simply reasserts that her candidacy is disqualified due to improper reporting. 

   Rebecca is delighted. “This is it!” she declares to her campaign team. “They can’t possibly recover from this blunder. How can we take advantage of it?”

   Jimmy says, “We could sue. I bet we can beat ‘em in court.”

   “We could get a thousand people in front of City Hall,” Sally offers.

   “Let’s go talk to to Mr. Jackson,” Tashua suggests, “let’s record the conversation, then let’s decide what to do based on what he says.” 

   After another thirty minutes of discussion, Rebecca sums up, “OK, seems to me that most of us like Tashua’s idea, so I need a camera crew. Who’ll go with me to record my meeting with Mr. Jackson?” The team is assembled.


   “What’s this?” Mr. Jackson voices his surprise and irritation. “You said you wanted me to explain the problem with your SEI.”

   “Yes, that’s exactly what I hope you’ll do. I just want to record our conversation so I can convey it to my supporters without any error. You would prefer that, too, wouldn’t you?”

   “No, I don’t see the need to record this conversation. Please ask your crew to wait outside. I prefer to have a normal conversation.”

   “In that case, I guess I’ll have to go to my supporters with nothing but this recording of you refusing to talk to us on the record. Please don’t let it end like that. All I want to do is make sure that we all leave this conversation with the same understanding and same message to the outside. What’s the problem with that? You know how easy it is for people to misinterpret things or remember things differently. I just think it would be best to have a clear record of what goes on, so we can both refer to it. It would help you, too, wouldn’t it?”

   “No, this is highly irregular. I see no need for it, and I will not allow you to bring your camera and sound equipment into my office.”

   “I’m very sorry to hear that. When I’m mayor, all conversations like these will be recorded to ensure complete transparency and the ability to go back and find the truth.”

   “You won’t be mayor. You’ve been disqualified.”

   “I’ve been disqualified by someone who will not even have an on-the-record conversation about why. You have just helped me make my best campaign video. You can’t stop the people from writing my name in on the ballots, and if I get the most votes, I’ll be mayor, right?”

   “No write-in candidate has ever won.”

   “Great, then I’ll be the first, unless you’re willing to show me on the record exactly why you’re disqualifying me. Come on, just show me my form and show me exactly which part I failed to fill in. Why are you resisting this? You have me dead to rights, don’t you? I should have filled in something. I failed to do it. Please, just show me and my supporters and the general public exactly what I did wrong.”

   “Young lady, I am not going to let you barge into my office with a video camera.”

   “Why not?”

   “Why should I?”

   “In the interest of transparency and openness, just to make sure that everyone understands exactly what’s going on. After all, I’m leading in the polls. I had a good chance of becoming the next mayor. Now, all of a sudden, you’re disqualifying me. Don’t you think the public has the right to know why?”

    “If you were a reporter and if you called in advance for a televised interview, that would be different. You just show up with a camera and expect me to let you in?”

    “OK, I can think of two ways around this. One is, we don’t bring our camera or sound equipment in. We only bring our cell phones. Another is that we call Channel 5 right now and tell them what’s happening and they come down to do an official story. Which do you prefer?”

    “Ms. White, you are wasting my time. I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave.”

    “OK, thank you very much for your help.”


Within days, this video is going viral, not just in Anytown but all over the world. The beautiful young black woman whose efforts at transparency are openly rejected by an old, white bureaucrat elicits outrage, and the fact that Anytown is getting this global publicity ensures that every voter in Anytown knows the story; most watch the video. As Rebecca predicts, she’s elected mayor by an overwhelming write-in landslide.  

    In her victory speech on election night Rebecca thanks her supporters and the citizens of Anytown, then goes on, “In particular, I want to thank whoever persuaded Mr. Jackson, chairman of the Elections Board, to disqualify my candidacy. The patently obvious attempt to use opaque, incomprehensible red tape to throw me out of a race I was winning, followed by a refusal to explain the ruling in front of a camera so all could see exactly what I had done wrong, was a tremendous help in electing me with a strong enough mandate to make major changes in the way this city relates to its people. We’ll start in the mayor’s office. All my meetings will be recorded and kept until I leave office. Anyone who wants to record any meeting with any city employee will be welcome to do so. And every meeting regarding contracts for public works projects or any other city expenditure will be recorded and the important ones will be podcast on the city website. It’s time to bring government and decision making into the light.” Wild applause and cheering.

   Thus begins the most open, honest, and inclusive municipal administration in the history of cities going all the way back to Athens.

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