Micheal Martin is sitting nervously in a small waiting room in North Dublin, a battered jotter with “Election 2016 strategy” written on the front cover in his best copperplate.
“The mayor will see you now,” the young official says, and leads him into the modern glass and timber office of the first directly elected executive mayor of Dublin Fingal. A number of whiteboards are dotted around the room, with budget projections and policy concepts scrawled on them. Behind her, on very full but tidy bookshelves, a picture of her and Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York sits between reports on urban renewal and poverty reduction. The county flag, Dublin flag, tricolour and EU flag all stand behind the desk. It’s all very The West Wing.
Her office is nicer than his.
Averil Power offers him a seat, and a cup of green tea. He comes to the point quickly.
“I need you to run in the general.”
“Micheal, I’ve only been in office for a year, since Big Phil brought in elected mayors. And you know the Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It law as well as I do. I’d have to resign as mayor first, in order to run.”
“Yes, well, I know, but…”
“I like being mayor. I control a budget of €215 million. We’re doing really interesting things here. Breakfast clubs for low income kids, commercial-rate free enterprise zones, more social housing. It’s not like the Seanad at all, Michael. I don’t have to sit with aul fellas banging on about Garth Brooks or seagulls or listen to Norris talking about people’s fannies. I get to have quiet meetings with the county manager and experts and we calmly discuss our options and make actual decisions that matter. Decisions that actually matter, Micheal!”
“That’s great but…”
“And anyway, you know damn well Big Phil put all the mayors 100% in charge of the Local Property Tax. My face is actually on the bill people get through the letterbox. My face! It’s the law! I set the property tax rate, and Big Phil has made sure everybody knows.
Someone told me recently that he’s so devious, Micheal, that he’s started making witty asides to himself in a southern US accent. The point is, there’s no guarantee I could actually win a seat anyway. At least if I serve my full term I can show people how I spent their property tax…eh… Micheal, are you crying?”
“Please Averil! Nobody will run. Hanafin wouldn’t even let me into her office. I had to shout through a letterbox. Then when I got into the office she wouldn’t let me out of the headlock until I called her Mayor Hanafin. Look, I’ve still got the teeth marks on my ear.”
Martin slumps back in his seat.
“I was talking to Gerry, and the Shinners are the same. All his lot are loving being mayors too. He’s actually thinking about running his teddy in Dublin South, and a cardboard cut-out of Spiderman in Cork South Central! This was Big Phil’s plan, you know. Let us win all the mayoral elections and lose all our best candidates. And every time we try to bring up the Property Tax in the Dail Enda starts telling us that it’s our mayors that set it. I’m wandering around the country pleading with people to run. Last night I was so tired that I ended up in a drive-thru McDonald’s in Roscrea! A McDonald’s! I asked the young fella taking my order had he ever considered seeking public office. He turned me down, Averil, he turned me down! Bwaaaaaaa!”
“Here, take a hankie. They’re recycled from decommissioned landmines. Hillary gave me them. Come on, you’ll ruin your lovely shirt. Don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve!”
“Why didn’t those bastards in the government just keep talking guff about political reform? Sure nobody ever really asks on the doors about it anyway, I mean, I’ve never been chased away from a solid Party List using D’Hondt house! Have you? But no, they went and actually brought in reform, and look what it’s done to us and the Shinners. All over the country all our best candidates are runnin’ things and making decisions and now you’re all too good to be TDs!
But someone’s got to sit on the backbenches, Averil, someone has to sit behind me besides Willy. You know how bad it’s gotten in the PP? I’ll tell you. Two of them are dead. Dead! One of them died in his sleep, and the other one tried to read that Thomas Piketty book by accident. We’re carrying them in and out of the chamber like “Weekend at Bernies”, and storing the cadavers in a freezer behind that huge pile of McGrath’s unopened Economist magazines. Sure, nobody’s noticed, and the Irish Times praised their debate attendance records, but it can’t go on Averil, it can’t go on!”