Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Mayor 1.05: "The Strike"

“It would appear that the people’s interests are numerous and varied.”

As you might have guessed, as a public administrator, I often have strong opinions about episodes of “The Mayor” (although, of course, all those opinions expressed her are my personal opinions alone, not in any way reflective of my employer, who you could probably identify if you had sufficient Google Fu). In this episode, Courtney learns a lesson that all of us who work in public finance know. Resources are finite and wants are infinite. In other words, the public (understandably) wants stuff from their government, but they don’t especially want to pay for said stuff. Or they want what they pay to only go to stuff they personally think is worthwhile. As one of the characters tries (and fails) to say in this episode, you can’t please all the people all the time. The Baltimore City budget office (not my employer) has a great exercise on their website where they invited citizens to try and balance the budget. It let citizens see firsthand the compromises that need to be made when running a government. You can try it yourself here:

Courtney Rose is, at heart, a people pleaser. It makes him a nice guy, but it makes the tough calls of governing, shall we say, difficult. At the beginning of the episode, Courtney and his boys are super excited about a trash can they had installed outside City Hall. Courtney says the trash can helps everyone, because everybody needs to throw out trash. Since he’s not beholden to donors, he just wants to be the solution to all of Fort Grey’s problems. Unfortunately, he’s got a big collective bargaining negotiation with the transit union coming up that is going to stretch his people-pleasing nature to the limit. Valentina warns Courtney that collective bargaining is like war, but Courtney is confident he’ll be successful taking a softer approach. The union wants a lot of expensive things, though, and Valentina warns Courtney that giving them anything of substance from their list of wants will lead to raising bus fares. Courtney balks at that because he doesn’t want to hurt commuters. He tries asking two of the transit union members what the top item off their wish list is, and they each have a different answer. Unable to make everyone happy, Courtney becomes paralyzed.

Val tries to snap Courtney out of his indecision by asking him if he’s planning to ask every single person in Fort Grey what they would give up for a fair transit contract. Courtney takes off running (much to Val’s chagrin), and next thing we know, the boys are running a focus group. At first, Val thinks this actually isn’t a bad idea. Courtney has picked a diverse group hoping that they’ll reach consensus on something to give up in exchange for the transit contract. Unfortunately, they all have very different priorities. An older guy wants to keep Meals on Wheels, a mom wants to keep playgrounds as they are, and a loner wants to keep the libraries fully funded. The whole thing devolves into a big food fight, with ham blocking the camera Courtney is watching through and everything. Clearly the focus group isn’t going to provide the answer.

Courtney tells the union that he intends to put an offer on the table that will make everyone happy, but he needs a few more weeks to flesh out the details. Unfortunately, the contract expires at midnight, and the union calls a strike. Soon enough, the strike has been on for three days with no end in sight. Media are reporting that Courtney isn’t even showing up at City Hall. He, the boys, and Val are all holed up at Dina and Courtney’s apartment, which Courtney has dubbed “Auxiliary City Hall.” The bus strike has plunged Fort Grey into chaos. Val reports that only two teachers showed up at a local school, and they’re dangerously outnumbered. When she can’t arrange an air lift for them, she tells them they’re probably best off on the roof anyway. Courtney wants to do something to ease the city’s pain while he works to end the strike, so he and the boys make a video to start a new program: “See someone, drive someone.” The idea being that if you have a car, and you see someone who needs a ride, help them out. TK plays a doctor in their little video skit, and it’s kind of ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Dina and two of her friends are preparing for “Whitney Day.” It’s a day when they all take a sick day together and do fabulous things. It all started when Courtney was little and the ladies took off work after a Whitney Houston concert to keep the party going. In between bantering with her girls, Dina reminds Courtney to treat the union well, because the bus drivers do an important job, and unions are important too. Dina’s friends just seem creepily attracted to Courtney, one of them especially so. Whitney Day turns out to be a complete bust because of the bus strike. The psychic they were going to see couldn’t get to work, and neither could the best nail tech at the nail salon where they had booked mani-pedis. It was just a disaster overall, and it involved way too much walking.

Courtney leads the charge for “See someone, drive someone,” driving people all over the city, with TK and Jermaine in the car, too. Eventually he kicks them out to make room for more passengers. Unfortunately, these passengers happen to be bus drivers, and they have Courtney drive them right to City Hall. As Courtney watches (and tries to hide from) the protest, he can see his mom among the picketers. Later that day, he confronts her about it. Dina says that the Post Office called a sympathy strike, and she decided to join in. Courtney is upset that his own mother would picket against him. Further, she’s just calling him “Courtney” instead of “Baby” like she usually does. He goes to talk to Val about this, and because she’s had half an Ambien at 7:30 PM (for real?) things get super awkward, and she hugs him and calls him “baby” instead. More usefully, she reminds Courtney that real leaders can’t please all of the people all of the time. He may have been able to give everyone exactly what they wanted as a rapper, but as a politician, if you’re not disappointing somebody, you’re doing it wrong. Governing is actually hard, y’all! As they say in “Hamilton,” “Winning was easy, young man, governing’s harder.”

Courtney finally comes to the table ready to bargain. Eventually, a compromise is struck. It’s going to mean reduced library hours and higher bus fares, and a lot of people are unhappy, but the bus drivers are back to work with a more than fair contract. The union lawyer even gives Courtney her number, which seems just a touch unethical to me. Most importantly, Dina is proud of Courtney and is once again calling him “baby.” In the episode’s tag, the boys and Val reconvene the focus group to get input on their fashion choices, which is really kind of hilarious.

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