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When The Clocks Strike Thirteen

“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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