Columns » Outsider

So you want to be a player



It's that time of year again -- the woods are thick with elected official wanna-bes.

The 36 people who have -- as of press time -- officially expressed an interest in running for mayor or Council all have a story, and all the stories are the same. They just want to serve, to make a difference, to give back to the community, to help move the city forward, to get us back on the right track, to ask the right questions, to work cooperatively for the greater good, to give government back to the people ...

Who knows, they may even believe it. But there's a subtext -- a principle that joins everyone running for office with all the candidates in the history of the Republic, past, present and future.

And what might that be? It's easier to express as a negative, and no one put it better than the heavy metal band Everclear:

"I don't wanna be a loser/I don't wanna be an almost was/I don't wanna be a white trash workin' class chump/That's why I wanna be a Rock Star!!/I wanna tell the little people/They can kiss my ass!"

In other words, they want to be players.

And that's fine. Once upon a time, I was one of them: I ran; I won; I was a player. I liked it at the time; liked hanging out with/sucking up to the Power People. In retrospect, it seems totally weird -- as if I'd spent years touring with a no-talent '70s punk rock band.

Candidates be warned: If you manage to get yourself elected, you will, as our present mayor's former husband once warned me, find yourself attending dozens of events/functions that, if you had any sense, you'd pay good money to avoid.

Every culture has its rituals, its means of distinguishing tribe members from outsiders. For the powerful, the testimonial dinner has all the resonance and authority of a Northwest Coast potlatch in the early 1900s. And if the person so honored is numero uno in the local pecking order, the rest of the power people know what they have to do: show up or else.

And so it was on Jan. 15, when no less than a 100 folks from Colorado Springs traveled up to Denver to attend a banquet honoring El Pomar honcho Bill Hybl, who was named 2003 "Citizen of the West" as part of the festivities surrounding the annual National Western Stock Show.

Think about it; on a winter Wednesday night, five score and change of the local oligarchy dressed up in fancy clothes, drove up to Denver, ate bad food, listened to boring speeches, and then got in their cars and drove back to the Springs.

Now, if you're like everyone else in the world, you've had a few fantasies about what you'd do if you had a lot of money. My guess is that those fantasies might involve more leisure, more travel, cool cars, a house in Aspen/Crested Butte/South Beach, and maybe even generous contributions to your favorite charities.

I'll bet that your fantasies didn't include going to testimonial dinners in Denver on a January weeknight.

But you know something: That's why you're not rich! Yup, if you want to be an oligarch, you have to love this stuff, and be grateful for the opportunity to participate in the sacred rituals of the tribe.

Meanwhile, our fair city is once more on the national radar screen. Last Thursday, The New York Times devoted a full page to describing the economic travails of the Rocky Mountain region, quoting Wells Fargo economist Sung Won Sohn, who characterized Colorado's economy as one of the weakest in the country.

Tell us something we didn't know, Dr. Sohn ...

Speaking of Bill Hybl, who is also the past president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Times has had a field day gloating over the "dysfunctional" nature of that organization, lately embroiled in top-down controversy.

Sure, the USOC has a clumsy management structure, an unwieldy board, and dozens of mutually antagonistic stakeholders. It's also an extraordinarily successful organization, which took a quadrennial summer track meet/winter ski fest, and made them the biggest thing in sports.

And if an organization is deemed "dysfunctional" because its employees/officers/owners are quarrelsome backbiters, I have a few other candidates for your consideration.

Major-league baseball, the NFL, the Republican and/or Democratic parties, and every government except Iraq's ... where they keep their mouths shut and go to testimonial dinners when so ordered.


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