Representative democracy: “Hold that thought…”

I’ve noticed something lately. Council members are busy people. And they have odd – even rude – ways of getting out of conversations they don’t want to be in. Sometimes it’s even a little funny.

A few nights ago I was sitting with two other reporters – one retired, the other a full-timer – at a popular old downtown eatery once owned by a City Council member.

Sitting down was – low and behold – that former owner and now Council member. He was sitting just inches away from me at another table. Now, I’ve talked to this guy a couple dozen times, mostly out at places around town, but I’ve interviewed him, too, on the phone for different stories. Once I even ran into him the next day, and because he acted like he knew who I was on the phone (maybe he even said it), I thought I’d say hello. I’d hate to be rude, after all.

Wasn’t I surprised when he gave me the polite smile and handshake and asked how I was doing, but obviously had no idea who I am. I happened to be with another reporter – young, attractive and has her photo in the paper every so often – and he lit up like a Christmas tree, saying her name and asking her how she was doing and carrying on – all while I stood there. This has happened twice now with this same person. Both me and this young, attractive reporter think this behavior is pretty funny. And it is.

So, back to the other night. The esteemed former reporter, editor and college professor piped up to say hello to the Council member, making a crack about what a swell idea it would be to put baseball at Broadway Commons. Polite laughter ensued. Former reporter then tried to make some small talk when the Council member held up his finger and said politely, as someone was trying to get his attention, “Hold that thought one sec.”

The Council member then turned around and walked straight-away right out of the restaurant and down the sidewalk.

The three of us just looked at each other and laughed, shaking our heads.

About an hour later another Council member popped into gladhand and chat it up at a going away party that was sprouting up around our table for another group. Keep in mind, presently I’m in the throes of planning a candidates’ town hall meeting that will be broadcast live on the radio show I co-host from the newly re-opened Kaldi’s Coffeehouse in Over-the-Rhine.

Just about a day before this evening I had sent every candidate an e-mail about the forum. About four candidates have confirmed. This candidate had not. I thought I’d just double-check real quick with him that he had been told about it.

Now, I admit he was having a conversation with another person and I knew I’d have to interrupt, but I’d be nice, brief and explain real quick what was going on. Here’s what happened instead.

“Hi, excuse me. How are you?”
“Good, fine. How are you?”
“Real good. Hey, I’m Joe Wessels, we’ve met before…”
“Yeah, hi.”
“…Sorry to interrupt, but wanted to see if you got my e-mail about the candidates forum that is going to be broadcast live at Kaldi’s during the Brian & Joe Radio Show that I co-host…”

Okay, at this point, he reaches for his Blackberry attached to a belt clip on his hip.

“When is it?” the Council Member said.
“August 17, 10 a.m. at Kaldi’s,” I replied.

Right as I’m saying this I’m watching him just casually spinning the jog dial on his Blackberry and just randomly flipping through whatever. Then he says this.

“Yep, got it on my calendar. We’ll see you there.”

What? C’mon. He didn’t look at his calendar. Am I an idiot? Okay, who cares that I’m a reporter. I’m an effin’ citizen, dude. Give me two seconds. Just two. Act interested. Care a little. Less self-importance and more substance.

After that “confirmation” he immediately started chatting to that other person, adding a casually flung “Good-bye…Good seein’ ya” on me just to clinch the sweet-ass blow-off and buh-bye he just gave.

Man, oh, man. He could work for the airlines. I felt more warm and cozy gettng the hairy eyeball from the airline pilot who just jostled the entire cabin when he landed crooked on the runway and, by company policy, is required to stand at the exit and thank the plane-ful of pissed off passengers as they de-board.

Here’s another one. It’s the story I was told about a certain mayoral candidate who blew off another young professional a few months back. I’ve had my own experiences with this guy, who, in our brief exchanges, is really nice, but a little distracted.

The person who told me this story – who happens to represent the largest construction company in this area at many public events – was at a meeting in Over-the-Rhine as an employee of her company. She thought she’d introduce herself to the mayor-wannabe. The whole time he kept looking around the room while she spoke, even eyeing people and nodding as she continued on – for only like three brief minutes, she said. She just wanted to say hello, let the Council member know her company was represented there at that meeting, get a hi back, maybe wish him a good luck this fall. Despite his wandering eye and seeming lack of interest, she still handed him a business card upon the conclusion of their brief interlude.

No mind that she was a little put-off by the whole conversation, she said, but she was still nice. That’s easy to understand. But I can also see where the mayoral candidate is at with all this. It’s politics. He has to be saying hidey-ho to everyone. But, as she watched him after they were “done” talking, he immediately went over and threw her card in the trash can.

Nice.

Anyway, I met another mayoral candidate a few days ago. We’d never met before so I was eager to say hello. He was real happy to say hi to me. Asked me about the story I was working on. Then as I was answering his question he walked away. At least one of his campaign workers mentioned to me how rude that was and apologized. But, geez, dude. Seemed he could use some legal drugs – like polite pills.

So, folks, I think we might have an epidemic going on here. Member of the media or not. Enquirer reporter or online blogger. Citizen with a burnt-out street light or the head of a downtown boycott, we’re just citizens. Citizens who need our representatives to represent us. And that involves listening.

Good news, though. There’s something we all can do. That’s why I’m supporting the nice candidates – albeit privately in my voting booth – for Cincinnati City Council. Those folks, for now, anyway, still say hello and ask how I’m doing when they see me or when I approach them. The others have a few months to take those polite pills.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

7 thoughts on “Representative democracy: “Hold that thought…””

  1. I know exactly what you mean. There is a certain OTR club owner who doesn’t like homeless people. He has been rather rude to me on several occasions. How can I trust this man to represent me on Council?

  2. Joe,
    I remember a reporter saying that Bill Clinton would give each person his full attention and would keep stacks of index cards listing each person he had met that day with some vital information or some details. In the evening he would flip through the cards and remember each person.

    Part being a representative of the people is knowing who those people are.

  3. Hate to be picky, but it pains me to see the President of the local chapter of SPJ write “throws” instead of “throes,” and “through” instead of “threw.” C’mon man…

  4. Anon–

    Self-editing can be tough, especially when you just typy-typy real fast and then head off to something else.

    Even the local SPJ president can make a mistak… Thanks for pointing it out and I made those tiny little corrections.

  5. Joe,

    Thanks for your observations about this all too common behavior. Everything changes after the election because we are no longer needed. They manage to forget about citizens until the next campaign. Do you think the large contributors are forgotten so easily?

  6. Joe,

    Did said Councilman show up at the Kaldi’s broadcast? The optimist in me wants to believe maybe he *was* looking at the listing in his Blackberry?

    I see him walking around a lot (like everyone, I suppose), and would like to think he’d be more down to earth than other politicians.

  7. I apologize, I just realized there were two Council members involved. It seems that the Blackberry faker wasn’t the former restaurant owner of whom I was thinking.

    But the fact that two different representatives acted so dismissively in a short period of time is sad.

Leave a Reply