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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Last Monday night, I put up a special bonus post about an interesting person who’d crossed paths with the Blumenaus of Stamford, Connecticut.

Turns out that the student minister at their church in the late 1950s (minor edit: student minister, not youth minister) rode with the Freedom Riders in the Deep South … took part in the remarkable burglary of an FBI office, helping to expose the Bureau’s surveillance of U.S. citizens … and taught at Temple University for forty-plus years.

I might have just given away the meat of it; but if you missed it, consider reading it anyway. It’s quite a yarn.

Before I get into this week’s regularly scheduled calendar entry, I’m going to touch on an amusing thought I didn’t discuss in that post.

My grandfather –the guy who kept the calendars — was a law-and-order type. Not in the knee-jerk Southern-sheriff fashion, but in the sense that he believed in respecting authority and obeying all applicable laws.

Like other Americans of his generation, he’d been exposed to plenty of pro-FBI mass-media messages. He probably believed that if J. Edgar Hoover was watching you, you’d done something to deserve it.

When the story of the FBI burglary unfolded in the newspapers, my grandfather was most likely appalled. Those lawless kids, he would have thought. Where will they stop? What kind of criminal would do something like that?

He never would have imagined for a moment that the charming, intelligent, clean-cut student minister who had connected with his kids — heck, who had probably sat at his table for a cup of coffee — was among the masterminds.

The minister’s intelligence and ability to connect with others made a deep impression on my dad. My dad believes that, if the minister had been able to sit down and talk with my grandpa, my grandpa would have understood his point of view and recognized, if not endorsed, the need for civil disobedience.

It’s a shame that didn’t happen — it would have been a conversation for the ages — but of course it couldn’t, for any number of reasons.

And so my grandpa went about his daily life, walking the line, never suspecting he had a personal connection to the rebellious counterculture.

mediaoffice# # # # #

And now for our regularly scheduled post, which will reaffirm how mainstream and conservative my grandfather was.

Over the 15-year timespan of my grandpa’s surviving calendars (1961 through 1975), both he and Richard Nixon had pretty eventful rides.

This week’s calendar features a high point in Nixon’s experience; and it seems like my grandpa relished it as well.

January 20, 1969.

January 20, 1969. An uncharacteristic bout with bad spelling.

When first I wrote about my grandpa and Richard Nixon, my dad wrote in to suggest the former was not that strongly attached to the latter.

My grandfather — a Nixon voter, and a classifiable member of Nixon’s famous “silent majority” — was not one to get worked up about politics or politicians, my dad said.

This week’s calendar entry makes me think that my grandfather liked Nixon a little bit more than that.

I don’t think the other presidential inaugurations during that period (Democrats Kennedy in 1961 and Johnson in ’65, and Republican Nixon again in ’73) made it onto my grandfather’s calendars.

If they did, I didn’t take a picture of them … and I took a lot of pictures, so if I don’t have it, I don’t think it was there.

But Nixon’s first seems to have been a noteworthy occasion in my grandfather’s eyes. Maybe even an occasion to celebrate, given his use of Nixon’s campaign slogan. It sure looks in retrospect like “Nixon’s the one” seemed to Bill Blumenau like something worth repeating, even savoring.

Jan. 20 fell on a Monday in 1969, so my grandpa would probably not have watched the big event. I doubt Time-Life was so profligate in those days as to provide a TV set to distract its employees. He could have made the short drive home for lunch and turned on the tube, I suppose, but I doubt he would have done so. When a man’s at work, a man’s at work.

(By contrast, I remember watching Barack Obama’s first innaugeration — er, inauguration — on a flat-screen TV in a conference room at my current job. Having worked in newsrooms for a dozen years before that, it wouldn’t shock me if I’d seen at least parts of other ceremonies while on the job … though comparing a Nineties reporter’s job to a Sixties corporate gig is chalk and cheese.)

A 28-minute clip of Nixon’s first inaugural is available online, in probably much the same grainy quality my grandpa would have seen had he turned on his TV set at home.

Wiki, meanwhile, offers a transcript of his inaugural address. It’s a nicely written and even uplifting piece of work, full of references to brighter, turmoil-free tomorrows.

Watching Nixon confidently deliver it in the archival footage, it’s easy to understand how the average American would have bought in.

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Nov. 2, 1965.

(Edit: I spat out this piece of stentorian dross before Hurricane Sandy. If you are reading this and still without power, feel free to skip this entry so as to save yourself a self-righteous bludgeoning about the head.)

 

I won’t pretend to tell you who to vote for at the polls tomorrow.

But I will tell you to vote.

Nov. 8, 1966.

Why? Well, my grandpa would have wanted you to. It seems pretty clear from the drawings and exhortations he put on his calendars over the years.

(Look at the mob in the 1965 illustration above, or the 1963 illustration below. We’ll see if that’s what the turnout looks like tomorrow.)

Nov. 5-6, 1963.

OK, maybe that’s not a compelling reason to anyone who didn’t know my grandpa.

But seriously: People surrendered their lives to give us this right, and to keep it for us.

Think of a Revolutionary War farmer-turned-soldier lying crumpled next to his musket in some long-ago colonial clearing. Then ask yourself if you really need to be in that much of a hurry to get to work, or to get home to cook.

There is nothing jingoistic or stentorian or unseemly in appreciating the gift we have and putting it to use.

We are fortunate to have it. So, whatever our views, let us use it.

Nov. 3-7, 1970.

I expect Twitter to be awash today and tomorrow with people saying, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about what happens.”

I have never had any truck with that statement, me.

For one thing, logic has never stopped anyone from complaining, anytime, anywhere.

For another … well, if you are American, you do have a right to complain about what happens, regardless of whether you vote or eat cheeseburgers or support public television or make any one of a million other personal choices.

You have a right to piss and moan until you are blue in the face, about anything you want, without any kings or dictators to insist you hew to a single state-sanctioned party line.

The people who gave their blood and sweat so we could vote earned us that freedom too.

Seems kind of a pity to use their sacrifice in such a petty way, though.

No?

Nov. 2-6, 1971.

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Close to 15 years after it happened, it remains the finest political moment I have ever witnessed in person.

I was in Providence, Rhode Island, part of a big crowd milling around after commencement ceremonies at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Providence’s charismatic mayor, Buddy Cianci, had spoken at the ceremony. Or, more accurately, he had appeared at the ceremony — swooping onstage just long enough to waive the graduating seniors’ parking tickets, present the honorary doctorate recipients with jars of his marinara sauce, and play to the back rows with his own infectious brand of political prosciutto.

I think everyone in the crowd after the ceremony figured Buddy had blown in, blown out, and gone back to running the city or something.

But then a pair of state troopers began pacing deliberately through the crowd, pushing politely but firmly, and calling in thick southern New England accents: “Cleah a pahth for the mayah! Cleah a pahth for the mayah!”

And in their wake followed a massive black stretch limousine, with two or three boomerang antennas sprouting arrogantly from the trunk lid, and Rhode Island state plates with the numeral “1.”

In Nineties Rhode Island, the governor didn’t get Plate #1. Buddy Cianci, mayor of Providence, got Plate #1.

And this was Buddy’s limo inching through the crowd, making the most conspicuous getaway possible, reminding thousands of newly minted grads and their relatives that underneath the civic-minded glad-handing was a man who truly savored the perks and muscle of being Boss.

It was pretty damn impressive.

Yes, there’s something about a mayor that makes people sit up and take notice. Even a low-key, man-of-the-people sort of mayor draws attention when he mingles with the common people or turns out to support a civic cause.

That’s what was going on during this week’s calendar entry, imported directly from Halloween Week 1973:

October 30-31, 1973.

The mayah — er, mayor — in question has shown up in this space before.

Julius M. Wilensky was elected Stamford’s mayor in a three-man race in 1969, earning my grandfather’s vote. He was re-elected two years later, in a race that did not earn special notice on my grandpa’s calendar.

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, 1973, Republican Wilensky would presumably have shown up at the Springdale Methodist Church to press the flesh and ask for the people’s support in the upcoming municipal election exactly a week later.

(I do not know for sure whether my grandpa met Wilensky in person that night. But if he did, I know he had freshly cleaned teeth.)

Wilensky’s campaign gambit did not work. Nov. 6, 1973, was a big day for Democratic candidates across the country, as voters voiced their Watergate-era displeasure with Republicans.

Democratic winners that night included New Jersey Gov. and future arena namesake Brendan Byrne; Abraham Beame, New York City’s first Jewish mayor; Coleman Young, Detroit’s first black mayor; and Frederick Lenz Jr., Wilensky’s opponent for mayor of Stamford.

Lenz served one term and was replaced by Louis Clapes, a popular Republican who earned four terms.

Clapes was replaced in turn by ambitious young Democrat Thom Serrani, the last of 13 mayors of Stamford to have William, Corine and Pauline Blumenau as subjects. It was early in the Serrani administration that my grandparents and great-grandma pulled up stakes, leaving Stamford for western New York after 40-plus years.

I do not think my grandpa was particularly attached to any of the men who ran his adopted home city during his years there. While he was a regular voter, he was not a diehard political animal by any measure.

But the all-caps treatment on his calendar — “MAYOR in church” — suggests he viewed a visit from Hizzoner as something special. Something to get dressed up for, and make a point of attending.

Mayoral visits can be that way. Even without stretch limos and jars of marinara sauce.

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