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When The Clocks Strike Thirteen

Credit for the following: Nancy Pelosi and Poltifact. Opened in 1800, the first stone was laid by George Washington in 1793. Slaves for hire--from their owners-- constructed most of the United States Capitol building, the seat of our legislature. The records reflect 385 payments between 1795 and 1801 for "Negro hire," a euphemism for the yearly rental of slaves. Slaves were likely involved in all aspects of construction, including carpentry, masonry, carting, rafting, plastering, glazing and painting. And they appear to have shouldered alone the grueling work of sawing logs and stones.
“It was a bright cool day in September and the clocks were striking thirteen,” the perfect ( “1984”) Orwellian description of our election season. I am sure you will agree, dear reader, that it has been painful.

I had a plan to meet a friend and his sweet Beagle, Sugar, for our bright cool day in September Saturday walk and talk. I peeled away as the path descended to Dyckman street in the Inwood section of Manhattan. The Saturday farmer’s market on Isham was sure to have early apples and I craved them. I was waylaid by bric a brac and books for sale on tables outside the church, and then a friendly greeting by a tall, lean man in a striped shirt and tie handing out flyers; Scott Fenstermaker, Candidate, running as an Indpendent for Congress in the 13th District, Rangel’s seat. I decided to stop and chat, not as a journalist but as a citizen. I thought to myself: good, a fresh face, new ideas, new solutions. We need politicians like him in Washington. “I don’t really see myself as a politician, he wrote to me in a follow-up email exchange, meaning that he won’t necessarily say what the electorate wants to hear and that he’s still “unsocialized,” as a politician, which I found amusing. He then launched into a deep analysis of the collapse of the global economy and its direct impact on the domestic economy. A long discourse, new ideas for me, much to ponder. And he’d taken the time to write.

After a stint in the Air Force, Scott went to Harvard Law School, graduating one year behind President Obama. He didn’t mention that he’d ever met him; he wasn’t trying to impress. And he shared that he has a daughter who is a freshman at NYU where I am an adjunct. So, most certainly, he cares about her future, what occupation she decides on, what her job options will be. The personal and the political merged in our email conversation; it felt human scale, it felt sane.

In the decade I lived in England, I interviewed many MPs in their local—sometimes-- scrappy offices which I preferred to appointments in the House of Commons which was noisy and frenetic. Out in the constituencies I was offered tea and conversation with very few interruptions. I got to know the MPs and to hear their bleakest and most optimistic musings. They lived near their offices, had families, children. I sometimes met them, too. I wasn’t handed policy papers or spin sheets as soon as I walked in, nor was I handled by PR’s. I took notes and recorded what we both had to say. Our conversation was a conversation, not a screed marinated in platitudes.

I hope this quaint authentic political world hasn’t entirely vanished from England since my return to New York, though I fear that with extra security measures and the recent murder of Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, it can’t possibly be the same. But I have fond memories of my years there as a journalist and Scott Fenstermaker brought them back to me. I wish him the best in the upcoming election and hope that he remains accessible and “unsocialized” when and if he makes it to Washington.
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