Read Miranda's War Online

Authors: Howard; Foster

Miranda's War (6 page)

“She's someone I actually want to help,” he told her.

“Then run for the state legislature. Her problems are not federal.”

“I know, but in politics you use what comes your way. Here's a group, my group, and they need someone to stand up for them.”

“You can't run on that. We're trying to broaden your base. You know the fundamentals of a campaign, Rokeby. We need more than your neighbors to win.”

“But we need them.”

“Sure, and you've got them.”

“If they vote.”

“If they vote. And why wouldn't they if it's close, and you need them?”

“Miranda won't put up any money. She gave me an ultimatum.”

“She's one person on an obscure commission in one small town. How many people have asked you about zoning?”

“Honestly, she's the only one.”

“And she'll be the last one, because you're running for Congress.”

“People ask me about the public schools all the time, Diane.”

She slid forward a few degrees on her ball and tightened her facial muscles.

“You hear a lot of noise out there. People complain about everything. We've got you positioned in the middle of the electorate. We need to stay there. You're not running for the Lincoln Board of Selectmen. Lincoln is a town of six thousand, 1% of this vast district. Am I getting through to you, Rokeby?”

“Loud and clear, and this minuscule primary electorate is my immediate problem, Diane. I need fifteen thousand people to turn out in six weeks in the primary to beat Cronin-Reynolds, and right now I can't do it. I've run the numbers, and these towns around Lincoln cast most of the votes in the primary. So there's a path.”

“I suppose you can look at it that way, if you're basically conceding the general.”

“I understand. I want you to come up with a message to appeal to Miranda and her folks that doesn't turn off everyone else, because we're near the end of the road and you haven't shown me any other way to do it.”

“Nothing comes to mind. You want to cut an ad about two-acre zoning? It's gonna come back to haunt you.”

“Find some way to send a message to those towns. And I'll give you forty-eight hours to do it.”

Her phone rang, and she ignored it.

“You've never done this.”

“I know.”

“Does this woman have something on you?”

“I suppose she does.”

“What?”

“I actually care about what happens to Lincoln, to all the Lincolns in my district. I live in one.”

Diane started to say something critical but checked herself. As her face became pinched in a look of opposition, Stephen realized he despised her. She didn't know him or where he came from and didn't care.

“I'm modifying the Rokeby strategy,” he said. “I'm part of this now.”

Chapter Nine

It was time for his next campaign event, a speech to the Framingham Women's Business Owners' Association. Rokeby had committed three standard speeches to memory: the one he was about to give, closest to his heart, emphasizing “entrepreneurship” and hitting some details about economic growth. There was a shorter version, which he called “the loop,” which could be delivered in twenty-four seconds and replayed endlessly on TV or radio stories about the race. And there was the speech he gave to general audiences that said nothing at all but dropped the phrases his strategists wanted him to use: “bipartisan,” “transparency,” “non-ideological” and “efficiency in government.”

His driver, slightly late from class at Babson, pulled up to headquarters to collect him. Justin had the additional assignment of listening to every question and answer. If something were amiss, he would contact the research director, Doug. If there was a logistical problem, like nobody showed up, he called Diane.

“How's the market doing?” he asked as they pulled away from the curb. Justin whipped out his BlackBerry and checked.

“Up over a hundred.”

Stephen called his office.

“Hi, it's me, give me Dean.”

Dean Trainor, his chief trader, answered.

“Did you get the Intel sold?”

“Just closed.”

“I changed my mind about the Malaysian bonds. Give it another week.”

“OK,” said Dean, “but we went over this for twenty minutes on Friday.”

“I know, and I've done a few hours of work on it over the weekend. We're premature until the Greek crisis settles down. That market has another eight basis points to drop before we move.”

“Anything else?”

“Put me through to Stacey. I want a meeting with the Governor.”

“Mass. munis?”

“The Governor will think so, but no.”

His firm was a regular purchaser of Massachusetts's municipal bonds. He had developed a solid business relationship with the Governor's Secretary of Administration and Finance, Gerard McCarthy, and could get in to see Governor Samuelson if he really wanted to impress a client.

“Call Jerry McCarthy's office,” he told Stacey, “and see if they can get me in to see the Governor this week.”

“Are you going in alone?”

“Yes.”

“They'll want to know the agenda.”

“Tell them I'm a candidate now. They know my agenda.”

“I'll try. And how's it going out on the trail?”

“It sucks. I'm going to try and sneak back in today about 3.”

“Good luck with that. Justin won't let you.”

“He's sitting right here with me in the car. Should I put you on speaker?”

She laughed and hung up.

They reached the restaurant where the event was being held, and logistically, everything went smoothly. He met the women in charge of the event, took a seat at the head table and picked his way through another meal on the trail—the soggy salad, rushed entrée, frozen dessert, small talk, women staring at him and his mind fixed on the financial markets.

He was introduced. He stood and walked to the podium amid tepid applause. Justin hung in the back of the room, speaking into a Bluetooth and glancing at his watch.

He made it through the obligatory opening remarks about leaving a successful business during a bull market to run for Congress, the sour mood of the electorate, the uncertain economy. And then, rather than give the standard speech, he said:

“Ladies, I'm supposed to tell you why I'm the best candidate for business. I could tell you the standard lines about running government like a business, or that we need to balance the federal budget by cutting undisclosed programs an undisclosed amount. I respect you too much to talk that way. So here goes, a few minutes of candor about running a business today. Rule number one, don't look to politicians for help. We only want to get elected. We'll tell you what we think you want to hear, that the Fed should raise interest rates twenty-five basis points but no more, that we can solve the healthcare crisis, that we know the proper amount of regulation. That's bull.”

Justin and all the women in the room were staring, hanging on his every word. The little blue packets of sweetener they had been pouring into their coffees littered the table.

“And you smart businesswomen just keep lapping it up. Why? You shouldn't be asking me to help you as a politician. My opinions as a fellow business owner are more valuable to you. But nobody ever comes up to me and wants to know what Rokeby Finance is doing. Nobody, except my clients, cares.

“And here's rule number two: Whenever a politician likes a program and promotes it, scratch the surface and you'll find he's got skin in the game. Some friend is getting a subsidy from it, or some group of constituents, like senior citizens, expects it. Now, I'm not against every program, and I favor helping some senior citizens. But federal programs exist to help politicians first and foremost. The best Congressman or Congresswoman is the person who will look a constituent in the eye and say, ‘The federal government should not get involved in your problem.'”

He stopped speaking for a moment, somewhat unsure of what would follow—questions? They gave him a standing ovation, the only one he'd received so far.

Justin was inching toward him along the perimeter of the room holding up his phone: the signal for an urgent call.

“Any questions? I've been candid, now it's your turn.”

Justin saw his moment and rushed over.

“Get off now,” he whispered in his ear.

Stephen ignored him, taking questions for the next thirty minutes, all lively, and enjoyed answering them in the same spirit. When he was unsure of something, he said so, and when he wanted to emphasize a point that had not been pre-researched, he did so. They loved it and lined up for phone photos with him. Three slipped him business cards with cell phone numbers written in fine print. He spoke to every woman who wanted face time.

“What the fuck was that?” Justin asked when they were in the hallway.

“They loved it. I even liked it, and I don't like campaigning, if you haven't noticed.”

“I was recording it on my phone. And I'm sending it to Diane.”

“Tell her what I just said as a p.s.”

They arrived back at headquarters a few minutes later and Stephen walked around the building to his burgundy Series 500 BMW and drove an hour north, to the small town of Boxford, where he'd grown up. All of that was gone now since the scandal that had brought down his father twenty years ago. His mother had committed suicide the year before, and his father as Attorney General had tried to block the investigation of her addiction to painkillers and bribery of pharmacists for pills. Once his obstruction of justice was revealed, he resigned the following day and spent millions on lawyers to stay out of jail. Disbarred and unemployable, he bought a five-room Cape in the woods and kept to himself. The gate at the entrance to his property had rusted years earlier and was decrepit enough to deter any burglar or journalist writing a retrospective on the forgotten Attorney General. On the side of the house was a garage holding a twelve-year-old Cadillac and a bicycle covered in moss. The paint was so faded that the property looked more like a George Innes pastoral landscape every time he came up here.

When Harold Rokeby opened the door, the blotches on his bald head were looking worse and his eyes were hollower.

“I didn't know you were coming over.”

“I guess it doesn't much matter, does it? It's not like you're going to be out sailing.”

“You don't need to be snippy. I just said I'm surprised—pleasantly. So how's the campaign going?”

“Terribly,” he said as he walked through the hallway stacked with piles of old newspapers. “You read the
Globe
, right?”

“I read it here and there. All I know is what you told me. You're behind the Senator in the polls by more than 10 and less than 20.”

“Dad, I can't win this primary.”

“That's what they told me in '86 when I was going for AG. ‘The whole party establishment is backing Magaro; he's paid his dues. He's a state Senator.…' All b.s.”

Stephen sat on the couch in the living room and gradually Harold followed him. It was here Stephen had told him three months ago that he would run. It was here that Harold had seemed moderately pleased for the first time in years. He had clapped his hands together and almost jumped up.

“You've got time. Go out there and do what outsiders do. Raise a little hell. Call her a big spender. Get on all these websites people talk about.”

“There is an ultra-high-risk strategy …”

“Tell me about it.”

He did.

Harold closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.

“Where did you come up with that?”

“It fell into my lap. It's real. It's happening in my district. What am I supposed to do, tell her I don't care?”

“You can't help everyone. Politics is the art of the possible.”

“I want to help her and Lincoln. It's who we are.”

“Isn't that whole thing over? Bill Weld joked about being here first, and everyone else being servants.”

“Except now it's no joke.”

“What are we, 20%, maybe 30? How do you win?”

“All I know is first I have to win this primary, right?”

“Be subtle. A picture is worth a thousand words. One slipped remark can kill you.”

“You don't think I should touch it?”

“I'm not saying that. It's how you do it.”

“How should I do it?”

“I watch a lot of TV. My TV is my best friend. And every word that comes out of there is tested and scrubbed by writers and editors and God knows how many ad agencies. You can't do this yourself. It has to go through the blender and come out tasty and sweet.”

“Those people have given me a bunch of shit. They don't trust me, and I don't trust them.”

“So what do you know about winning an election? You're thirty-eight and haven't run for anything. You said it was a rigged auction. I remember that phrase from your business school days.”

“It is, and I'm sorry I got into it. I let you push me into this.”

“You're in, and you need to handle this with care. But do it. You've got one foot on the banana peel and the other one doesn't know where to step.”

“If the election was tomorrow, she'd kill me. She represents a third of the district. The other two-thirds don't have a reason to vote for me. I haven't given them one.”

“Give them one!”

“I don't know how. I don't know who to be.”

“That's why you're losing. You're thirty-eight and a married man with an ivy education and a $2 million house, and you don't know who you are.”

Stephen drove directly home, avoiding the campaign office altogether. He called Justin from Route 128 and told him he wouldn't need his services for the rest of the day. Diane called or texted every thirty minutes, her voice becoming more belligerent each time. The last message included a threat to resign if he didn't respond. An hour later he reached countrified Sherborn with its eighteenth-century and Victorian homes separated by spacious lots of land and stone walls. There were a few new subdivisions with McMansions, but he lived in one of the two historic districts, each with its impeccably maintained houses and understated shops. And every time he pulled into his driveway, he stepped out of modern America into his heritage. He knew it could easily be depicted as an elitist enclave by his political opponents. Part of him almost wanted to get into that fight, to respond with his own ad laying out the arc of his life: his mother's suicide, his father's resignation, the shunning he'd experienced for years afterwards, his graduating from the Tuck School
cum laude
, his going deep into debt to start his own investment firm, the successes, the simple fact that he hadn't inherited a dime from anyone. All the trusts had been depleted to get him and his sisters through school and pay off the lawyers. He had bought his $2 million house, gradually renovated it and rented out the coach house to a retired couple to help pay the mortgage. He was a self-made man.

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