Pierre Pearson's vision might force us to change the town's name to Utopia, but his grandiose schemes would be very expensive and he had no plans for raising money and promised to lower taxes.
Wilfrid King suggested improvements but, showing his experience, admitted that he had no way to pay for them.
Last, and least, Jack Turmoil said that he would keep the bars and pool halls open till midnight and guaranteed that every library would contain biographies of Hugh Hefner and Larry Flint. His small contingent of supporters laughed and cheered, but they were drowned out as the Barlow bunch booed. Part of his speech sounded familiar, then I realized that it was the same one he had used when running for the Legislature and for Parliament. People didn't see what international trade and national defence policy had to do with Blandsville's town council.
The candidates all shared one characteristic: loquacity. I had to stop each one after the five-minute limit, and it was like trying to stop a runaway express train on a downhill track.
The second segment was worse than I had feared. "Why does Ms. Barlow want quotas for women? Why not for Laotians or Maoris?"
"Is this because of racial discrimination?"
"No. It's because none of those groups have asked to come here."
"Why not? It's a great town."
"Why is my fellow-candidate such an idiot?"
I pounded with my gavel. "Please, please, let's have decorum, lady and gentlemen." Each candidate had been provided with a glass and a pitcher of water. I hoped fervently that no one would get the idea of using them as projectiles.
I breathed a quick prayer of thanks when this part of the evening was over. The final part should go better. People were already lined up at the two microphones.
"Mr. Pearson, do we really need a statue of Percy Johnson in front of the Town Hall? And who was he anyway?"
"He was a Blandsville native who was at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896."
"In what event?"
"Oh, he wasn't a competitor, he was just a spectator."
"Did any of our fellow–townsmen..."
"Fellow-towns persons," interrupted Ms. Barlow.
"Fellow – townsfolk," said the questioner triumphantly, "Attend the 1936 Olympics in Berlin? Maybe they got to shake hands with Hitler."
"Not that we know of."
"Why don’t our libraries carry copies of Thomas Dicken's novel The Iron Canoe?" From the reaction, no one had heard of this work, including me. "It's a great book. My nephew self–published it two years ago."
"How much does it cost?'
"Too much," called out an anonymous cynic.
"Why don't we expand the downtown parking lot? We need more space."
"Because the only way to get more space is to expropriate and tear down an elementary school and a church."
"Why are some voters brainless?"
I pounded the table with my gavel, but the handle broke. You can't get good-quality gavels these days. "Politeness, please, ladies and gentlemen." It might have been more effective to hit a few heads, but that would probably have broken the gavel. This was as bad as any class I had tried to teach. I was looking at the clock more and more frequently.
Two people waiting at a microphone began to argue. One shoved the other. The pushee cocked his fist to punch the pusher. I stood up and headed for the altercation. It was probably a conditioned reflex to try to deal with this crisis in a school setting. Fortunately people nearby intervened, saving me from having to break up the fight and inflict physical injury.
A few people left. Finally, the microphones stood in silent loneliness. I seized the opportunity: "I'm sure we are all grateful to the candidates for sharing their ideas with us this evening." Anemic applause. "And thank all of you for attending and asking your questions."
Mr. Slump approached me. "And thank you, Mr. Tuff for your...performance as chairman." In my mind, Ms. Barlow said: "Chairperson." He handed me a cheque.
"Thank you, Mr. Slump." I felt I had earned it.
A few days later, a man stopped me on the street. "Mr. Tuff, I was one of the people who counted the ballots. Maybe I shouldn't tell you this, but we had a number of spoiled ballots, including four for you as a write-in candidate.
"Thank you. I appreciate knowing that."
I spent the rest of the day wondering who had cast the other three ballots.