The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Chelan Incident

What it means.

My main memory of Chelan Jenkins (now Brown) when she ran for Mayor of Springfield at the age of 19 in 1995, was the Chelan Mobile. It was a van, or maybe it was a pick-up truck, it was hard to tell because it was so plastered with big signs and stickers, that went roaring down the streets of the city on Election Day blaring music while someone - sometimes the candidate herself - called through a megaphone for people to vote for her for Mayor.

Springfield hadn't seen anything like it, at least not since the days of Danny Brunton, who used to give speeches from front porches standing next to a keg of beer that would be opened for all, but only when his speech was done, thereby always guaranteeing a very attentive audience and very loud applause at the end. Of course people tended to laugh at the Chelan Mobile more than vote for its owner, but at least everyone thought it added much welcome life to the otherwise drab, cold and often predetermined political machine campaigns. Her innocent enthusiasm was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale and corrupt environment.

The leader of the stale and corrupt administration that took office instead of Ms. Jenkins - Michael J. Albano - did not fail to notice that despite her general lack of credibility she had none the less garnered nearly seven hundred votes. Chelan would not always be 19, and to keep her from threatening his administration he kept her in it by giving her appointed positions the whole time he was in office. Meanwhile, Chelan herself kept pretty busy.

She got married, had kids, opened a shoe store and got involved in the human services rackets. She got herself an organization, called AWAKE, whose letters break into the typical collection of inspiring sounding words. AWAKE supposedly does something to curb youth crime and violence, but like most such programs the only really visible results are a nice office, a nice title and a nice salary go along with it and with beautiful bennies. Everything else is relative.

But the former Chelan Jenkins is back in the political arena, this time setting her sights higher than mere local office by seeking a representative seat in the statehouse, one currently held by the longtime incumbent Benjamin Swan. There is a growing consensus in the community that Swan has served too long, but that doesn't mean that it will be easy for Chelan, or anyone else, to take him down.

For one thing, whatever his flaws, Ben Swan is a genuine civil rights hero. He comes directly from the era of Martin Luther King and he was there at all the biggest, most historic marches. There isn't a milestone in the civil rights history of Springfield that Swan cannot claim a role in. To many voters, replacing Swan would be like tossing out Frederick Douglas. No matter how long he's been in office you just don't do that!

On the other hand, Swan at times has trampled on his own legacy. He seems to have an endless series of petty tax squabbles with the city. While he has excuses for them that may be technically correct, no other politician would let them fester so and would just pay them to get them out of the press. That he won't do that makes him look at worst a deadbeat and at least a miser. Plus as a tax and spend liberal, Swan does not look good seeming so hesitant to pay his own share.

But this is Springfield, and politicians who have had far more serious scandals associated with them have coasted to re-election, so Swan is probably safe in that seat for as long as he wants it. But rumors are rampant that Swan has indicated to close insiders that this will be his last term, and if so then Chelan will have positioned herself as the frontrunner to succeed him if she runs a credible campaign and doesn't lose by too wide a margin.

However, the credible campaign part is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. Several weeks ago Chelan's people put up a website for her, and the political junkies at Masslive's Springfield Forum rushed to read it. Something didn't seem right. First of all, a graphic that was supposed to refer to Washington D.C. instead showed Washington State. Didn't the person who made the website know the difference? Also many of Chelan's positions on the issues appeared to be word for word exactly the same as other candidates running for office around the country. Was Chelan getting her positions by mindreading?

With the whole blogosphere getting into the act of ripping it apart, before long Chelan's website had become the laughing stock of the Valley. At a hastily called news conference, Chelan accused a mysterious hacker of ruining her website in order to embarrass her. Such an action would be a serious crime, but Chelan had no interest in calling for an investigation. She just yanked the website, held her press conference and waited for the whole thing to blow over. A few days ago, she re-launched her campaign with a formal announcement and rally, but even that had the occasional odd moment, as captured by Greg Saulmon of Local Buzz:

An Ad-Libbed Endorsement

Oh well, at least Chelan is providing the public with some entertainment in an otherwise dull local election year. But that's what sad about this, why is the talent pool so small? There is a third candidate in the race, Lorenzo Gaines, but for some reason he is always treated as an also ran. Certainly he seems at least as credible as Chelan, so howcome he can't get anyone to pay attention to him? The whole system stinks, and if Chelan's prattfalls do nothing but draw attention to that fact, then her campaign will not have been in vain.

No matter how far and wide my fame may spread via the miracle of the world wide web, will I ever escape the shadow of the most famous Devine who ever lived?

Andy Devine was born in Kingman, Arizona, where his father ran a hotel. During his youth, Devine was a self-confessed hellraiser, and stories of his rowdy antics are still part of Kingman folklore (though they've undoubtedly improved in the telling). His trademarked ratchety voice was the result of a childhood accident, when he fell while carrying a stick in his mouth, resulting in permanent vocal-chord injuries. A star football player at Santa Clara University, Andy decided to break into movies in 1926; he was almost immediately cast in Universal's two-reel series The Collegians. When talkies came, Devine was convinced that his voice was unsuitable for the microphone. He reportedly became so despondent at one point that he attempted to commit suicide by asphyxiation, only to discover that his landlady had turned off the gas! Devine needn't have worried; his voice became his greatest asset, and from 1930 until his retirement, he was very much in demand for bucolic comedy roles. In 1937 he became a regular on Jack Benny's radio program, his howl of "Hiya, Buck!" becoming a national catchphrase. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was a popular comedy sidekick in the western films of Roy Rogers. Later film assignments included his atypical performance as a corrupt Kansas City cop in Jack Webb's Pete Kelly's Blues (1955). Most baby boomers retain fond memories of Devine's TV appearances as Jingles Jones on the long-running western series Wild Bill Hickock, and as host of the Saturday morning kid's program Andy's Gang. In his later years, Devine cut down his performing activities, preferring to stay on his Van Nuys (California) ranch with his wife and children. Made a very wealthy man thanks to real estate investments, Andy Devine abandoned moviemaking in 1970, resurfacing only to provide voices for a brace of Disney cartoon features; he remained active in civic and charitable affairs, at one juncture serving as honorary mayor of Van Nuys. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Amherst singer/songwriter Will Adams has a new album out (above) which you can purchase by clicking here.

Speaking of music, let's revisit a magic summer night in New York.


Michaelann Bewsee said...

I thought Ben Swan's tax problems were all resolved-- do you know otherwise? Or is that a reference to the past, not the present?

Mike Dobbs said...

There may be some very interesting news that will affect that election on Friday.

Tommy said...

Michaelann, I never heard that they were resolved, but in any case they were never worth the years of bad publicity. And Mike, I'm sure there are some more twists and turns to come.

Bill Dusty said...

Oh Mike, you tease...