Taking Care of Business (chapter 20)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

Chapter 20

Mayor Norbert and his staff followed the progress of the legislature’s budget hearings closely – closely enough to be worried about the possibility that the draconian cuts proposed by the governor might actually be adopted this year. Again it took the intervention of Jon Ravelsky to calm them and remind them that the state’s budget process was a multi-part production in which the public events – the governor’s budget address and the legislative hearings – were little more than a show orchestrated for public consumption and to give newspaper reporters something to write about while distracting them from the behind-the-scenes maneuverings, negotiations, and intrigue that only occurred at the very last minute and that ultimately decided how the state would spend its money each year.

Even though Ravelsky allayed their anxiety, he reminded them that an important part of this process must be their public courtship of Michael Ianucci. Ianucci was a powerful figure in Harrisburg, he knew it, and he expected anyone who wanted anything from him in the state capital to show their respect and solicit his support diligently, ardently, and visibly.

During a staff meeting about the state budget, Norbert decided – over his staff’s objections – that he would take the lead on this assignment himself.

“I’ve done this my entire career,” Norbert told his staff. “If you want something from someone, you appeal directly and show proper respect. People who have power usually want their butts kissed, so if you want something from them, you have to kiss some butt. This particular butt is no different from the corporate butts I’ve kissed over the years. You hate doing it, so you just hold your nose and tell yourself that no matter how bad it smells, you’ll end up better off than before you puckered.”

All things considered, Norbert did not begin from an entirely disadvantageous starting point. True, in his run for office he had defeated Ianucci’s hand-picked candidate for the Democratic nomination for mayor, but at Ravelsky’s suggestion he had invited Ianucci to lunch the very next day at the Palm, a local restaurant that, while not particularly known for its food, was the place where politicians met with people when they wanted those meetings to be noticed by others and reported in the next day’s newspaper. At that meeting Norbert quickly made peace with Ianucci – and Ianucci, in return, promised to support Norbert in the coming election.

Both had lived up to their promises. Norbert made the maximum contributions allowed by law to Ianucci-supported candidates for council – incredibly, six of the seventeen members of council owed their positions almost entirely to Ianucci’s support and patronage – and provided ample cash to fuel Ianucci’s election day operations on the streets of Philadelphia. Ianucci’s political machine, in return, produced massive pluralities for Norbert on election day – in many cases, ninety percent or more of individual polling precincts’ votes.

Since the election, the relationship between the two men had been cordial, if not warm. Norbert had taken great pains to assure Ianucci that he had direct access to him at all times, and while Ianucci took advantage of that access only infrequently – it would have been viewed by others as a sign of weakness if he sought the mayor’s help too often – it was always there when he asked for it. They attended many political and civic events together, frequently sat together and talked, and appeared to enjoy one another’s company. Whereas the mayor’s staff took responsibility for the daily care and feeding of all other state legislators, Norbert always attended to Ianucci’s concerns himself.

Still, the two men did not know one another well and did not entirely trust one another. Norbert assumed that Ianucci’s political organization engaged in at least some illegal political activities, although he had no sense of whether Ianucci was involved with or even knew about such matters. Ianucci, for his part, was extremely leery of wealthy corporate leaders and especially large business owners, assuming that everyone who succeeded in the corporate world did so at the expense of working people. Despite their mutual suspicions they managed to establish a reasonable and productive working relationship that – only a few months into Norbert’s term as mayor – showed every sign of becoming an effective and productive alliance. Now, Norbert needed to put that alliance to the test.

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