Taking Care of Business (chapter 42)

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.) 

The Philadelphia Post was not a nice newspaper. As a tabloid, it bore the burden of the low expectations of its format before readers ever even opened it. For most of its history it had lived up – or, more accurately, down – to that image. In the 1980s it made a valiant stab at respectability and even surpassed the older, more staid Gazette in its coverage of local news. Perception, however, could never catch up to reality, so while the paper continued its strong local news coverage, it added a sharp-edged, almost nasty tone. The Post could be devastating in its treatment of some local figures, at times selecting the targets of its opprobrium seemingly at random. With a similar randomness it would adopt local issues – some important, some barely even rising to the level of the trivial – and then beat them to death just to prove it could exert great influence over its readers and public officials.

And in the bowels of the Post’s editorial offices, the people who decided such things selected Michael Ianucci as their next target.

The first step in that process was a candidate profile that made the Gazette’s feature of a few weeks earlier seem like a puff piece in comparison.

‘Pervert’ Allegations Seem Consistent with Idiosyncratic Ianucci Personality

 Allegations that state representative Michael Ianucci frequented local prostitutes hardly seem out of character for an unusual public figure with a vast array of personality idiosyncrasies, according to many people who know the long-time political powerhouse.

 From phobias about his height and cigarette smoke to fear of driving and paranoia about the use of cell phones, many people are surprised that Ianucci has managed to function in the world, let alone in politics, as effectively as he has for so many years.

 Born and raised in Philadelphia and a graduate of Roman Catholic High School, Ianucci is the youngest of six children of his homemaker mother and a father who spent his entire career at the old Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

 Despite considerable intellectual gifts, including a photographic memory and reported abilities to read 2000 words a minute and multiply four-digit numbers in his head, Ianucci dropped out of Temple University after just one semester. While working nights as a waiter, he spent his days at the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, teaching himself how to read balance sheets and analyze businesses. He began investing the tips he earned waiting on tables at the prestigious Union League in stocks – and, some people believe, benefiting from inside information he gleaned by listening in on the conversations of the many stock brokers and wealthy investors who dined daily at the elite center city club. By the time he was thirty he was a multi-millionaire.

 On the surface Ianucci appears to be a model citizen: he supports his aging parents, reportedly is a doting father, never uses profanity, and attends Mass every Sunday and goes to church at least one other day every week.

 Beneath the surface, though, Ianucci exhibits a number of behaviors that people find amusing, annoying, and alarming.

 At only five feet five inches tall, Ianucci is very self-conscious about his height. Early in his political career, he was known to wear elevator shoes.

 “In his Philadelphia and Harrisburg offices, Michael has a special chair for visitors that’s set very low, enabling him to sit much higher than his guests,” explained former state senator Franklin Edwards. “So when you go in to see him, he’s towering over you. If you were there to ask him for something or seek his help, it was very intimidating.”

 While a respected and feared political powerhouse in Harrisburg – many would call him a bully – Ianucci has been known to throw his weight around in Philadelphia as well. His parents, now in their eighties, live on the kind of small street that never – until streets commissioner Shaniqua Watson came along – saw a snow plow. Eight years ago Ianucci demanded that then-Mayor David Halper agree to make his parents’ street a high priority for plowing in exchange for his support in Harrisburg for a gun registration bill – a bill that passed in the state House, mostly because of Ianucci, but then died in the Senate.

 Three years ago Ianucci made a similar deal with Halper: in exchange for a patrol car coming up his parents’ street at least once every two hours, Ianucci supported a bill that provided enough money for Philadelphia to hire 400 new police officers. In the warm weather months, Ianucci’s father has been known to sit outside his house and keep track of the passing patrol cars – and to call his son when they are not passing as often as the then-mayor agreed.

 Seven years ago, when a city trash truck chipped a street curb outside the parking lot of the St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church at which the entire Ianucci family worships, Ianucci threatened to withhold state aid to the city unless Philadelphia’s streets department repaved the entire lot.

 When Ianucci’s brother spent three days in Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for a knee replacement, Ianucci threatened to kill the university’s annual state appropriation unless the hospital put his brother in a VIP room, brought in food for him from several of the city’s top restaurants, and assigned a nurse to stay in his room twenty-four hours a day until he was discharged.

 There also have been persistent but unconfirmed rumors that Ianucci managed to get his sister moved to the top of the list of recipients for a kidney transplant when there were hundreds of candidates far more seriously ill than she was.

 Ianucci presents a bit of a contradiction in his personal appearance. A meticulous man, he receives a manicure regularly and wears clear polish on his nails; he also visited a tanning parlor twice a week for many years before purchasing his own tanning bed.

 At the same time, however, he wears a suit and tie only to weddings, funerals, and church on Sundays. Ianucci attends a lot of funerals, though: roughly one a day when he is in town.

 “Michael believes that when you show up to pay your respects, people treat you like you’re part of their family for the rest of your life,” according to Father Roy Cammarata, a retired priest who led the St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church parish that Ianucci, his parents, and his family attended while Ianucci was growing up in Roxborough. “He wants to be part of those families, so even when he can’t attend the funeral, which he always tries to do, he tries to make it to viewings or to the homes of grieving constituents.”

 Those environments pose a particular challenge for Ianucci because he refuses to be around tobacco products. That aversion, moreover, extends beyond the presence of people smoking cigarettes.

 “Michael is a total tyrant when it comes to cigarette smoke,” said Jill Lomax, a Philadelphia ward leader who has long been considered a close Ianucci ally. “I’ve seen him throw non-smokers out of his home because they smelled from the smoke of others. That may be acceptable in a very strange, over-the-top way, but I’ve also seen him throw people out of his office, including non-smokers, because they smelled of cigarette smoke. It’s one thing to be that way in your own home, but doing it to constituents in offices paid for by taxpayers is indefensible as far as I’m concerned.”

 Ianucci has more than one home in which he disciplines smokers and those who have the misfortune of being near smokers. In addition to his large home in Philadelphia’s Roxborough section, he maintains a one-bedroom apartment three blocks from the state Capitol in Harrisburg and a large home in the Jersey shore town of Avalon. He can frequently be heard extolling the pleasures of life at the beach.

 But a prominent Philadelphia lawyer who has interacted both socially and professionally with Ianucci questions the state representative’s love for ocean-side living.

 “For all of Michael’s talk about how much he enjoys his time at the shore, I’ve never seen him so much as set foot on the sand. Not even once. I’ve asked around, too, and I’ve yet to find even a single person who’s ever seen him on the beach.”

Whether he’s traveling to Harrisburg on legislative business or to his Jersey shore home, Ianucci is never behind the wheel of a car: he does not drive. While he claims this is because of poor eyesight – and his Coke-bottle eyeglasses would seem to bear out that contention – he almost always rides in the back seat of cars, even when he is the only passenger, leading many people who know him to suspect that Ianucci is afraid to drive and is even uncomfortable riding in an automobile. Those who drive him from place to place in his district have been known to refer to that aspect of their work – in private, of course – as “Driving Mr. Michael.” Despite this, Ianucci always owns a large black Cadillac, trading his car in for a new model every three years. Despite having the car, he always rides the train for the 200-mile round-trip to Harrisburg for legislative sessions and is one of just a few state legislators who neither has a state-leased car nor submits requests for mileage reimbursement for using his personal automobile.

 When attending social events, observers have noticed a peculiarity in Ianucci’s eating habits. When he has more than one type of food on his plate, he always eats all of one before even touching the next, and he then repeats that process until his plate is clean.

 “This is the kind of behavior we frequently see in very young children,” explained Dr. Melinda Sharp, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “But those children outgrow such behavior, usually by the age of five or so. When you tell me that he doesn’t drive, I see a man who still has this eating disorder as someone who wants to be in total control at all times and wants no part of situations in which he lacks such control. He controls his consumption of food. He decides he won’t be around cigarette smoke. He can’t control the behavior of other drivers on the road, so he refuses to drive. Laymen refer to such a person as a control freak, and it sounds to me like that’s what we’re talking about in this case.”

 Ianucci seems to exert similar, unusual control in another, more delicate aspect of his life: his bodily functions.

 “I’ve seen Mike stay on the floor of the House for hours upon hours without so much as a single bathroom break,” according to Mifflin County state representative Clyde Herman. “Everyone will be getting up during debate to go out, you know, to heed nature’s call, but he never budges. If you leave the floor during a debate, you always run the risk of somebody adding something to a bill that you don’t want or removing something that you like. Mike’s won more than a few legislative battles over the years simply by outwaiting his opponents. A few members of the House even gave him the nickname ‘Old Iron Bladder.’”

Although a notorious technophobe who uses neither a computer nor a smartphone, Ianucci is seldom seen without a cell phone in his hand. What casual observers do not realize, however, is that it is almost always a different cell phone. Ianucci reportedly is paranoid about people listening in on his calls, so he buys disposable cell phones and uses them for only a week or so before discarding them; he also changes his cell phone number several times a year.

Based on the recent revelation that Ianucci frequents prostitutes, however, perhaps that paranoia is understandable. While the police have closely guarded all information surrounding the alleged prostitution ring – and while authorities emphasize that they do not plan to prosecute any of the escort service’s customers – sources close to Eugene Doctoroff, the alleged ring-leader, suggest that Ianucci’s preferences were, to say the least, unconventional.

“He had some very specific requirements for the women he requested,” one source close to the accused Doctoroff explained. “He wanted short women – no one taller than five feet. They couldn’t be Catholic. They had to wear flats, no heels, and short skirts but no underwear. They were always told to bring a change of clothes with them because they’d probably need it, although none of the girls ever understood that and none ever reported needing any extra clothes.

“They were also told not to talk about money and that he would put down an envelope in front of them but he didn’t want to hand it directly to them and didn’t want them to pick it up while he was looking. He barely spoke at all when he was with them. I’m told that the girls all thought he was creepy. Considering their line of work, that’s really saying something. I mean, how creepy do you have to be to make a call girl uncomfortable?”

This is the side of Michael Ianucci that the people who have elected him to office ten times have never known, and in less than two weeks they will have more information than ever to help guide their voting decisions. The polls say he’s far ahead, and even his political opponents concede that not enough time remains for anyone, let alone an unknown and political novice like Kathleen O’Donnell, to wage an effective campaign against him.

What also remains in question, though, is whether Ianucci, who appears to have lost almost all of his political influence in recent weeks, would even be interested in returning to Harrisburg as just another rank-and-file member of the state House. He has not been seen in the state capital since the scandal broke last month and some people think he may never return. There are even rumors, which the Post could not confirm, that Ianucci has already provided his Harrisburg landlord with written notice of his intention to move out of his apartment there at the end of the year.

Two days later the Post endorsed O’Donnell in her challenge to Ianucci. While noting that “We know nothing about Mrs. O’Donnell, haven’t met her, couldn’t pick her out of a police lineup, and are unaware of her views on even a single issue, we welcome a breath of fresh air representing Philadelphia in Harrisburg and think that a native Philadelphian, mother of three, former nun, and schoolteacher is just what the doctor ordered in these troubled times.”

 

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