Odor in the Court

By state law, judges get elected just like politicians -- a system so idiotic it's criminal. Will somebody please reproach the bench?

Whenever possible, candidates allude to their Judaism.
The crowd remains attentive.
They are waiting for the raffle.

As the last candidate finishes, the president of the condo begins hollering numbers. The seniors strain to read their yellow tickets. "That's you, Pearl!" one screams, poking her neighbor in the kidney. Pearl, who had been peacefully dozing, totters to a small table upon which the candidates have laid gifts. She selects a bottle of Lancers wine and very nearly falls on her way out. "My damn leg's asleep," she mutters.

The candidates, offered the chance to lobby real live voters, circle hungrily, striking at exposed greyhairs.

"Yes, 'I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.' You remember that tune, don't you?" Capua asks one.

"I blocked for Larry Csonka," Newman informs another.
As the last item disappears from the table, the candidates mass at the door, forming a gauntlet of blinding smiles and glossy brochures. The oldsters fall into formation and plunge toward the exit, banking on security in numbers. One elderly gentleman, unaware that the raffle has ended, looks up with panic in his eyes. He has been separated from the pack.

Before he can move, Ameli Padron-Fragetta spots him. As she advances, he points helplessly to his hearing aid. Padron-Fragetta waves off the bluff, anchors her chubby frame between him and the door, and slips a placard into the man's hand.

"Don't forget-a Padron-Fragetta!" she shouts into his ear.
Some candidates promise you tough sentences. We promise you blowjobs.
A scrawled on the back of a campaign flyer two days later the judicial hopefuls are milling in the lobby of yet another tacky ballroom in yet another northeast Dade condo. Low men on the totem pole of public interest, they must wait for the candidates for political office to finish. But the lobby is so small they keep running into each other, then apologize profusely.

Somebody asks Andy Hague about his motorcade. "It was kind of a fluke," says the pudgy prosecutor, one of four candidates running for an open county court seat. "Remember the Night Out Against Crime? Well, I guess I was the only candidate to attend. And I brought my truck, you know, the one with my signs all over it. So what happened was, the cops formed a convoy and I got in about ten from the front and we cruised around all over town, just me in my truck and all those cops." The other candidates coo admiration.

They have been waiting since 7:30 p.m. It is now 9:00. "They're almost done with the North Miami Beach council candidates," Susan Weiner announces brightly. A sweet, droopy woman whose glasses appear constantly on the verge of falling off, Weiner is the doyenne of the northeast. She's the one you hire if you want entree to what some consultants derisively refer to as alterkackers A the large bloc of voters otherwise known as Old Jews in Condos.

The conversation turns to brochures and the candidates begin appraising one another's handouts like kids with marbles.

A typical exchange:
"How much did those suckers cost you?"
"Five hundred dollars for 2000."
"They union-made?"
"I don't think so."
"I see. I hope you didn't get the AFL-CIO endorsement."
The discourse is interrupted by a loud bang that rattles the lobby.
"Jesus!" cries Ed Newman, the former Dolphin. "What was that? A bomb?"

"No," says Jeffrey Swartz, a county court hopeful. "Some guy just walked into the fucking window."

The candidates gather before the full-length pane.
"He must not have realized there was a window there," Hague ventures.
"Is that him lying down by the bottom of the stairs?" asks the terminally dapper Stan Blake, a suitor for circuit court.

"You think that's worth a personal-injury suit?" Swartz wonders.
It is now 10:00 p.m. Condo residents continue to dribble out of the ballroom. Swartz checks his watch. Like the rest of the candidates, he wants to go. But having stuck it out this long, he can not quite tear himself away.

Then word comes from Weiner that candidates will not be allowed to speak. They will merely be introduced. Swartz huffs. Because his race is the last listed on the ballot, he is in the unenviable position of being the final speaker most nights. He stares at a swimming pool below, which radiates a tranquil aqua light.

"I'm getting nothing out of this shit," he mutters, pressing his temples. "I promised my kids I was going to see them tonight. Just once this week. What in God's name am I still doing here?"

Half an hour later Swartz is waiting to be introduced to the nine voters still in attendance, most of whom are feverishly consuming the promised late-night snack, ice-cream sandwiches.

All this hubbub over nine votes in a countywide election?
The routine, repeated every day for the two months leading up to election day, is not really about votes. It's about granting candidates the illusion that they are engaged in a campaign rather than a popularity contest.

Winning the election is a grubby business best left to the public-relations guys. Actually it's better to call them "consultants"; they do very little relating to the public.

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