The Tales of Little Pavel, Episode 19: Little Pavel and the Third Party

Political Satire:  Having trouble surviving these times?  You’re not alone.  Join us in columnist John F. Di Leo’s exploration of an alternate universe, where we imagine the impossible:

An idealistic teenager, living in the 51st ward of a fictional city in middle America, volunteers at the local party headquarters, and learns a lesson or two about modern urban politics.

Little Pavel and the Third Party

By John F. Di Leo

Pavel hesitated as he turned the worn brass knob on the familiar door to 51st Ward Party Headquarters.  He hadn’t been back in quite a while, and he didn’t really want to go in.

But just as he let go of the knob and began to turn away and run, he heard a voice from within call his name. “Hey, Paully, welcome back! Long time no see!”

It was Pockets, the old Deputy Committeeman of the 51st Ward, waving him in from his spot at the head of the collating table.  Pavel no longer had a choice, if indeed he ever did; he stepped through the doorway and returned, after many months away. He had crossed the Rubicon.

“We’re just workin’ on a mailing, Paully!” said the old man through the usual filter of cookie crumbs.  The man ate, seemingly, from dawn until dusk. “Have a seat, and den ya can pitch in while we catch up!”

Pavel gave in and sat down to a station at the table, covered with stacks of paper and envelopes.  Pockets and five older ladies had probably been stuffing envelopes for hours, and there was an open station from which Mrs. Marcy, the Committeeman’s wife, had just left as he was walking in, apparently having decided he would be her relief without his even announcing that he was planning on joining the crew.  Still, as she was already out the door, car keys in hand, Pavel resigned himself to the situation and joined the collating.

A three-page letter, a donation/volunteer card, a small envelope, and a photocopy of a newspaper article, all folded neatly and inserted in a larger envelope, ready for address labels.  But in place of the regular return address, it said something unfamiliar:  “Friends of the 10th District Unity Party”…  Huh?

“What’s this, Pockets?” the boy asked, looking down and pointing at the envelope.

“A favor for some friends, Paully, that’s all,” said Pockets with a smile, “now have a cookie!” and pointed to the snack bowl, which one of the ladies had just filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Pavel could tell there was more to be learned, but not with the ladies present, so he settled in for an hour of folding and collating the thousands of pieces of mail for this strange cause.

“Where’ve ya been all this time, Paully?” the old pol asked.  “Been out touring with the NBA?”

Pavel chuckled.  He had indeed grown a couple inches since the last time he had visited headquarters, but he was hardly tall.  Still, at 18, perhaps he was still growing.  “No, Pockets, I’m not that tall, but thanks!  If I ever do play ball, I’ll get you tickets, courtside!  We just left town kind of abruptly for an opportunity, and we’ve been moving around a bit.  Dad and Mom were able to come back for a couple weeks, so I thought I’d stop by while I was back in town.”

They continued working on the mailing, both knowing there was more to discuss after the ladies left, but patient enough to wait.   When the job was done, the last envelope sealed and in the box, ready to be mailed, the ladies gathered up their things and said their goodbyes.

They had all gotten to know Pavel during the last election, when the teenager’s inability to get a summer job resulted in his becoming a practically full-time volunteer at 51st Ward party headquarters.  He’d appeared all of a sudden, his status as the son of two known union stewards making him an automatic member of the family, and had become fast friends with Pockets and the Boss, helping out on every project, and learning some powerful lessons on the practice of vote fraud in the process.  He had disappeared just as abruptly when his parents, unable to find work in Chicago, moved to Wisconsin, then South Dakota, and finally North Dakota, for short term contract work in the problematic economy of the Obama years.  Now he was back, but perhaps not for long.

“So whaddaya say, Paully?  Come on back by me and we’ll talk like old times?” posed Pockets, as he waddled back toward his disheveled desk in the corner.  “Gimme a grenade while yer at it, okay?”

“Sure, Pockets!” answered the lad, as he set down his bag and strolled to the refrigerator in the back, to get himself a diet cola and to pick up a longneck for the 51st ward’s second in command.

“Whatcha got in the bag, Paully?” asked Pockets, as he settled into his chair.

“Oh just a little something…” answered Pavel as he took out a Mt Rushmore letter opener and handed it to the old man.  “I thought you could use this to open the mail.  Four presidents, no waiting!  Or maybe use it as a weapon to scare off any Republicans that might happen to drop by!”

Pockets laughed, and indicated his suspicion that there was something else in the bag too.  There was.  Pavel pulled out a big bag of honey wheat pretzel braids, Pockets’ favorite snack, and tore it open.  Pockets was barely able to get the words out “You remembered!” before he’d shoved one in his mouth as Pavel stood back, bemused.  The old days were back.

“So tell me, Pockets,” Pavel gingerly began, as he sat back in the comfortable guest chair next to Pockets’ desk, “why are we doing a mailing for a third party?  I don’t get it!”

Pockets chuckled and began to explain, as he cracked open his longneck.

“Well, once upon a time in the 10th district, the party had a vacancy to fill, and we filled it with this guy Derrick Smith.  We made him state rep in 2011.  He got a free shot for almost two years at a state rep job, and all he had to do was mind his own business and run a respectable election campaign to win it legitimately in 2012.  Happens all the time, right?”

“Right,” answered Pavel, nodding along.  “Whenever there’s a vacancy in Illinois, the party committeemen have a vote, weighted geographically across the rep or senate district, and appoint someone to fill the remainder of the term.   Got it.”

Pockets nodded approvingly, and continued through a spray of pretzel crumbs.  (He’d gotten even more sloppy than he was before, thought Pavel.  Amazing.)  “So we got this guy in place, and he had the Secretary of State’s blessing, so he oughta be a good guy, right?   Oughta know what he was doing, right?  Well, before he’s even had his first primary, it turns out da feds have been running a sting operation on him!   Dey claim dey got ‘im ta take a seven grand bribe ta help some business get a state grant!  He’s not even been in Springfield one term yet, an’ already he’s in da Feds’ scope sights!”

Mercifully, Pockets took another swig of beer, and his diction improved.  “So now the party’s gotta decide what to do, right?  The primary’s here, an’ he’s got a challenger, so we back his nomination through the primary, and we support him as he says he’s innocent, so he gets the nomination.  Gotta keep the seat in our hands, right?”

“Well, Pockets,” Pavel asked, “is he innocent?”

“Who can tell, son?” answered Pockets, shrugging his shoulders.  “Is anybody honest in Chicago politics?  Are you?  Am I?”

He gestured with a pretzel braid, before biting off a chunk and washing it down with the last of his beer.  “Smith says he’s innocent; he says it was a setup, a frame… entrapment, ya know?  Could be.  Wouldn’t be da first time da feds went too far in catching one of our boys.  So, yeah, sure, he could be innocent.  Beats me.”

Pavel got up to get a couple of fresh drinks before the story got good, returning with another longneck for Pockets and another diet for himself.

As Pockets opened this fresh beer, he continued.  “so da party supported him in da primary, then naturally told him ta drop out after the primary.  We figured it went without saying… but surprise, surprise, he won’t drop out, he’s fighting it, and he’s running for reelection.  He figures if he could win the primary when the story’s on the front page, he can win the general when the story’s just yesterday’s news, right?”

“Can he?    Is he right?” asked Pavel.  “Could he really win with a federal bribery charge on him?”

“Maybe.  Why not?  Teddy Kennedy was reelected to the US Senate for two generations, and the whole world figured he’d killed that girl at Chappaquiddick.  Alcie Hastings was a federal judge in Florida, impeached and convicted of bribery and perjury, and he’s been serving in the House for twenty years now.   Barney Frank was caught living with a male prostitute who was turning tricks in his house, and he continued to be reelected from Massachusetts for another twenty-five years before announcing his retirement!  Anything’s possible if the district is Democratic enough!”

“I see what you mean, Pockets.  Anything that’s possible in Massachusetts or Florida must be equally possible in Chicago.  So what are we doing about it?  Is the party supporting him for November?”

“Nahhh…” chuckled the old man.  He raised his bottle as if in a salute and said “since he won’t step down, we’re creating a third party to challenge him, running a good Democrat on the 10th District Unity Party banner!”

Pavel slapped his forehead in comprehension at last. “So there are two Democrats running, and you figure you can beat him with this ringer, who’ll convert back to Democrat after the election, right?”

“If he wins, yeah.  But who cares if he wins?” chortled Pockets as he downed another gulp of his longneck.  “Either way, we’ve got a Democrat in the office.”

“But… won’t you be embarrassed if Smith wins?”

“Naahhh… then we’ll be able to tell Smith that we were with him all along, and the third party thing was just window-dressing for the press.  He’ll believe us.  What else is he gonna do, turn Republican?  With that map?  Hah!!!”

“but… what if the third party guy wins?”

“Then we’ll be able to tell that guy that we were with him all along, and we’ll make him a full member of the machine as soon as he changes his registration in Springfield and casts his vote for Mike Madigan for Speaker!  That’s all that matters, ya know… keeping Madigan as Speaker.  The longest-serving party head of any legislature in America.  That’s a statistic to be proud of, eh, Paully?  And ya know how I like my statistics!”

Pavel slowly munched on a pretzel before asking his next question.  “Are you saying, then, that you don’t really care whether Smith is guilty or innocent of bribery?”

“Well… I suppose…  we care in a way.  We’d hate ta think we’d picked somebody so stupid he could be caught taking a bribe his first year in da office, ya know?  But in da grand scheme o’ things, nahh, we don’t care if a guy takes a bribe here an’ there.  A guy’s gotta live, ya know?  Ya don’t get a lot of ways to make money in Springfield; helpin’ somebody get a grant is worth a cut of the money, it’s only fair.  The problem is the embarrassment, ya know?”

Pavel understood perfectly.   It wasn’t whether he took a bribe, it was that he got caught, that offended the powers of the party.  Figures.

“So Pockets, tell me… who do YOU hope wins in November?  The incumbent who’s either a small-scale crook or the victim of a government frame… or the third party nominee to be named later?”

“Who cares?” said the Deputy Committeeman, as he lounged back in the aged leather chair at his shabby desk in the corner of party headquarters.  “We’re handling the current problem by showing our commitment to da constituents of da district, by going to da trouble of creatin’ a whole new party an’ everything.  That proves our commitment to good government, don’t it?”

Pavel just sat there, with his head in his hands.  Oh, what a city, he thought.  Oh, what a party.

“And there’s the side benefits, too, of course… “

Pavel perked up.  “What side benefits?”

“Well, ya know how da candidates’ campaigns are all expected ta raise money so dey can donate to all da local ward headquarters, and the city party, and the county party, and the state party?  And buy full page ads in the organizations’ ad books?  And donate to other candidates with overlapping districts?”

Pavel didn’t get it, so Pockets kept talking.  “Now we’ve got two Democratic candidates in the same district, for all intents and purposes, right?  Twice the donations, twice the ad sales, twice the business for the party’s approved printers and t-shirt vendors in the district.  Twice as much money, twice as much pourin’ in.  All from the same district.  Can’t beat that, eh, Paully?”

Oh my.  So not only does the party not really care who wins, the creation of this new party is just a combination of a short term media fix, a PR coup so that the public thinks the Democratic Party is horrified by the presence of a possibly corrupt individual in their legislative caucus, and… it’s a long term fundraising vehicle, a way to collect twice as much money as is usual for a safe Democratic house seat in the city.

Luckily, Pavel had brought along his trusty bottle of antacids, in case the conversation put his stomach where it usually did; he took a pill and washed it down with the last of his diet soda.

“And then there’s the bonus effect…” finished Pockets with a grin.  “A competitive race in an otherwise safe district increases the turnout in a place where people might not otherwise feel like they need to show up.  This is a presidential election, Paully; we’re expected to do more for Obama this year than we’ve done for anybody since Jack Kennedy in 1960.  A few unexpectedly competitive races in the city could really help that effort.”

Oh boy, thought Pavel.  This is going to be a long summer.  As he said his goodbyes and headed back home to mom and dad, the former shop stewards, he thought, and not for the first time…  November can’t come soon enough.

Copyright 2012-2024 John F. Di Leo

This is a work of fiction, and any similarity with any person, living or dead, is unintentional. The Tales of Little Pavel were originally published in serial form in Illinois Review, from 2010 through 2016, and the full collection of stories about Little Pavel and the denizens of the 51st Ward is available in paperback or eBook, exclusively from Amazon. Republished with permission.

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based international transportation and trade compliance professional and consultant.  A onetime Milwaukee County Republican Party chairman, he has been writing a regular column for Illinois Review since 2009.  His book on vote fraud (The Tales of Little Pavel) and his political satires on the current administration (Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes I and II) are available only on Amazon, in either paperback or eBook. His latest book, “Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volume Three,” was just published in November, 2023.

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