John Linnemeier (left) and Darryl Neher (dreadlocks)


By John Linnemeier


According to Howard Dean, to get a D in democracy, you have to vote.  That’s barely passing.  To get an A, you have to run for office.


Outside the American Legion hall, a couple of inches of two-day-old snow still lingered on the asphalt. Inside, the party faithful were polishing off the last of their desserts. Things were off to a great start!  I’d just delivered a ten-minute stem-winder to the monthly Democratic Party meeting and it had gone well. Initially glazed and polite, the eyes of listeners grew more attentive as I got into my rhythm.  I started to detect several heads in the audience nodding in agreement. After a nice round of applause I took my seat feeling pretty good.

I’ve just described my campaign’s high-water mark.

Shortly afterward they called me and several candidates for city commissioner up front to answer questions from the audience.  A sweet little old lady I’m very fond of asked me how I felt about all the new construction going on downtown.  I told her I thought it was a good thing. Students had to live somewhere and this got them out of the nabes where their houses looked unsightly and their monkeyshines irritated townies.  Besides, they were reviving our downtown, which, like most small Midwestern cities was in danger of becoming moribund. My only complaint was the ugliness of the architecture.  That pissed her off.

Someone wanted to know my thoughts concerning the hospital’s plan to move to the periphery of town.  I said I didn’t like it, but figured it was a done deal.  My glib candor wasn’t playing well.  The thought that maybe I didn’t have the makings of a politician flashed fleetingly across my neural synapses.

Much worse was coming.

I started to feel woozy but figured it wouldn’t look good if I asked for a chair… decided to suck it up.  I should mention here that I was born with the blood pressure of a reptile. I was once unfairly accused of not having a pulse. In some ways my torpid metabolism is a good thing (I’m less likely to die of a stroke or heart attack), but it also makes me vulnerable to occasional fainting spells.

I fell into the arms of Dave Rollo, the District 4 City Council Rep saving me from a full face plant and woke up flat on my back on a cold linoleum floor looking up into the faces of my concerned fellow Democrats.

Off to a poor start but not dead yet… I had a plan.

I’d entered the mayoral race more as a protest than as a serious candidate.  I didn’t think it should cost big bucks to run for local office and wanted to show that you could run a viable campaign on a shoestring.  What bothered me even more was that despite several incidents involving the theft of public funds no one was talking about corruption.

As I’d warmed to the challenge it gradually dawned on me that despite the fact that I was completely inexperienced, too old, totally unqualified and not sure that I wanted the job, I still had a shot.

I might have been the best mayor ever. Power naps and musician’s hours would be my M.O.

Bloomington is a small, mostly liberal city, demographically dominated by a large student population who rarely vote.  The only real contest is the primary.  Any Democrat who wins the primary is virtually assured of winning in the general election.  John Turnbull, the unopposed Republican candidate, though blessed with common sense and well-spoken in a folksy sort of way, never had a prayer of winning.

Both of my fellow Democratic primary candidates, John Hamilton and Darryl Neher were formidable opponents:

John was confidant, eloquent, well versed in the issues, and had a great head of hair…a Harvard grad and smart enough not to mention it.   He came with a terrific resume… a former top aide to Governor O’Bannon, he’d headed the Family and Social Services Administration and the Department of Environmental Management for the state. He’d founded a highly successful NGO.  There was lots of money behind him.  In my opinion, too much of it came from well-heeled pals back in DC.   One of his $1000 donors was a guy named Cantwell F. Muckenfuss III.  I couldn’t have made it up.

Darryl was quick witted and wizard smart too… a business professor beloved by his colleagues and a local TV celebrity.  With one of God’s greatest grins and what theater people refer to as “stage presence,” he could fill a room with good vibes just by walking in the door.  He’d done a solid job as a city councilman and been elected chairman by his fellow council members.  The sitting mayor, who had the strong support of our large, politically savvy LGBTQ community, had endorsed him.  Like Hamilton he’d heaped up a sizable war chest. The afternoon’s rental fee for the Buskirk-Chumley Theater where he announced his candidacy cost more than my entire campaign.

My only clear advantage was that I was undeniably better looking than either of my worthy opponents.  I figured that plus my superior strategy might just be enough to propel me into office.

Low voter turnout was crucial to the scheme.  Luckily it was an off-year election, which made a big turnout less likely.  The incumbent, Mark Kruzan, had chosen not to run for a third term.  That was good too.  But what really got my hopes up, was that my two fellow candidates seemed likely to split the “establishment” vote.  I could make a virtue of my meager funding by running on the slogan, “Powered by Volunteers Not Money.”  Then I planned to discharge my secret weapon…Marijuana Decriminalization!!!

I’d rally students and dissolute citizens to my cause. With the majority of the vote equally split between John and Darryl, I figured a few thousand votes would win it.  There had to be that many dopers in town.  Finally they’d have an issue important enough to wake up in time to cast their ballot before the polls closed.  As decent citizens looked on powerlessly, the votes of scofflaws would propel me into the corner office down at city hall.

Anyway, who knows, I might have been the best mayor ever.  I saw myself operating as a chairman of the board kind of administrator aloof from partisan bickering.  Power naps and musician’s hours would be my M.O.  Look at Ronald Reagan.  The guy couldn’t have made it as a clerk at 7-Eleven yet he steered the free world into a radically different channel. Unlike the Gipper though, instead of former lobbyists, right-wing hacks and yes men, I’d surround myself with capable energetic appointees… young people who shared my vision.  They’d be tactics, I’d be strategy.   Before work every morning I’d organize laughing yoga classes for anyone who wanted to participate.  We’d build on the city’s strengths, a hip, high-tech Eden of tolerance, art, and music.   We’d spay and neuter those pesky urban deer, convince the cops, firefighters, and EMTs to turn the sirens down a few notches, and set up tighter accounting procedures to eliminate fraud.

Ah, but it was not to be.


Editor’s note: this is the first in a three-part series. Next month:  Kissing Babies on the Campaign Trail