He’s gay…he’s Pagan…and he’s running for office in a conservative state. Can Will Woodford win?
When his long-time colleague and good friend Wes Spooner put the proposition to him over lunch at Abuelita’s Taco Tavern, Will Woodford would have fallen out of his chair laughing if they hadn’t been sitting in a booth.
He finally straightened up and looked at Wes. “Let me see if I’ve got this right. I’m Pagan, I’m gay, and so liberal I can hardly sleep at night because I’m afraid of missing something. And you want me to run for delegate of our state legislative district?”
Wes twirled the straw in his iced tea and continued to smile. “Our district is changing. And remember, this isn’t officially a hate state. Not up here, anyway.”
“Up here” was across the river from Washington, DC. Although the northern part of the state trended Democratic, there were plenty of counties in which the other party held most of the political power.
“That’s somewhat true,” Will agreed. “But it will still be impossible.”
“Nothing’s impossible if you set your mind to it.”
“The answer,” Will said, smiling in turn, “is an unequivocal ‘no.’”
“Think about it,” Wes said. “Okay, time to go back to work. I’ll get the check.”
For a couple of hours that afternoon Will couldn’t help laughing when he thought about lunch with Wes. The idea was so ridiculous he wondered whether Wes had lost his mind. Then the pressure of work took over and he forgot the matter.
The week after lunch at Abuelita’s Will attended the regular Tuesday night meeting of the Town Planning Board. The organization was made up of five persons: two full-time employees of the Swindon Town Council and three volunteers. Of the volunteers, Will represented one political party, Horace Rogers the other party, and Lizette Brown represented independents. More often than not she voted with Horace.
“The meeting is hereby called to order,” Jason Cartwright, mayor of Swindon, said.
After the usual preliminaries, the meeting droned on in its usual boring manner until the last few minutes.
“There’s been a lot of feeling in the town against the new Immigrant Workers’ Center,” Cartwright said. “My phone has been ringing nonstop, not mention the numerous texts and e-mails I’ve been getting. At least half the residents want the Center closed down, pronto.”
“No way!” Will protested.
In this he was joined by Tanya Bearden, the other employee of the Swindon Town Council. “The majority of us voted to open and fund the Center in the first place! Why are you reneging now? It’s needed more than ever!”
Jason had the grace to look embarrassed. “A year ago it seemed like a good idea.”
The Town of Swindon had established the Workers’ Center so that recent immigrants, most of them non-English-speaking, would have a place to gather in the mornings while waiting to be hired for day laborer jobs. Housed in an abandoned school building that dated back to the state’s segregationist past, the Center provided a sheltered place for the day laborers to meet, sign up for English classes, and generally exchange news with each other.
Before the Workers’ Center opened the men had loitered in front of convenience stores each weekday, which sight evidently grated on the nerves of the yuppie office workers that stopped by said convenience stores for their drive-time coffee.
“I never thought it was a good idea,” Horace said with a snort. “And now I’ve been proven right.”
“There’s no satisfying some people,” Tanya said with considerable bitterness.
“You mean there’s no satisfying some overprivileged, mean people,” Will said, surprising himself. As a rule in town planning meetings he concealed his liberal views, but this time he stopped just short of using an eight-letter word signifying the plural of “anal aperture.”
“Why should we close the center just because some disgruntled people don’t like it?” Lizette asked.
“Because of the volume of telephone calls, e-mails, tweets, and texts,” Jason said. “That’s why. We’re going to hold a special election and put it to the vote.”
“We put it to the vote a year ago,” Will said. “And most people voted in favor of it.”
“And now they’re not in favor of it.” Jason banged his gavel on the conference table. “The meeting is hereby adjourned. Tanya, I’ll expect a written report within five days. We will set the time of the special election at the next meeting.”
Will fumed as he left the town government building. As he got into his car to drive home he entertained some extremely uncharitable thoughts about His Honor, the Mayor of Swindon. Will suspected the mayor of caving in to some deep-pocketed donors who hated the idea of helping the poor.
A week later the date was fixed for the special election for the town of Swindon and its surrounding areas, and on December fifth, a Tuesday, the election took place. The result was a resounding victory for those who wanted the Workers’ Center closed. The vote was two-thirds for closing, one-third opposed.
Sunk in gloom, Will accepted Wes’ invitation for drinks at the Front Porch Café the following evening. Once an imposing residence for the town’s richest citizen, the former residence had been converted to a watering hole for the civil servants, lawyers, and other office workers in Swindon. There was even a row of rocking chairs on the front porch of the café.
“I’m so disgusted,” Will said as he took a sip of his drink. “I could hardly look Rafael in the eye after the election results came in.”
Rafael Muñoz was Will’s Significant Other. He lived in a condo not far from Will’s single-story house but lately the two, aware their relationship had become increasingly intense, were talking about merging households.
Wes fixed Will with a serious look. “Okay. Now do you see why you should run? We need you in the state legislature, man! Let me tell you, the Democratic Committee is looking at several districts very carefully. We think we have a chance, given the increasingly Democratic leanings of this area, to win several seats in the state house and even the senate next year. Get enough people like you in there and we can make a difference.”
Will took a deep breath. “Makes sense. But what makes you think someone like me could win? Don’t you need a nice, well-dressed soccer mom with impeccable religious and social credentials to run and win?”
Wes coughed. “Those nice soccer moms are all devotees of the other party. Don’t ask me why.”
Will’s eyebrows shot up as he considered several of the laws the state legislature had passed recently. Why any women would be in favor of those he simply could not imagine.
“Well, what would I have to do? I’m a little clueless about this.”
“That’s exactly where I and the other members of the Democratic Committee can help you. First, you need to make a list of all your contacts, and luckily you have quite a few. There are all the people you know from the Town Planning Board, for instance, and of course you’re the chair of your precinct.”
“Also, I’m in the Gay Men’s Chorus and I’ve organized Pagan Pride Day for the county,” Will offered.
“Uh…yeah. We might not mention that right away. What else have you done in the way of organizing events?”
Will considered. “Let me see…I’ve organized the annual Beautiful House Tour at Christmas for three years in a row. I organized the Swindon High School Homecoming Parade because my neighbor asked me to—his daughter goes to that school. I think that’s about it, really.”
“That’s plenty to start with. Now, I need you to make a list of everyone you’ve ever met or connected with in the town of Swindon. That’s the second step.”
“And after that?”
Wes coughed. “We need you to start raising money on January first of next year and go like a bat out of hell.”
“Making telephone calls to potential donors for hours every day. Luckily, you’re a consultant, so you have more flexibility than most people.”
Will contemplated this prospect with some distaste. “If that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I have to do.What else?”
Wes took a deep breath, then another sip of his drink, and said, “You have to start showing up at each and every public event in this town, evenings and weekends. You have to get yourself known.”
“Great Jupiter, this is going to be a tremendous amount of work,” Will said. “Am I going to have to do this by myself?”
“Absolutely not. You’re going to have all the help the Committee can give you in the way of voter list software and so on. And you’ll have volunteers after you declare your candidacy. That’s one of the things your list is for.”
“And what about a campaign manager?”
“Again, you’ll have help hiring that person. The thing is, Will, this district went completely Democratic in the presidential election last month—sixty-five percent voted for the Democratic candidates for President, Vice President, Senate, and House of Representatives. We think you can get the votes if we all work for them.”
“And if I win the race, and if other Dems win their districts, we can go to the legislature and start changing things in this state.”
“Well, all right then,” Will said. He hoped Rafael wouldn’t mind his being gone so much. Perhaps his Sig Other could be persuaded to help in some capacity. He’d sound him out on that. A sudden thought struck him. “By the way, Wes, how much money am I supposed to raise for this race?”
Wes looked away, then back at Will. He took another deep breath. “One million dollars.”
Will arrived home to find Rafe busy in the kitchen preparing meatballs and spaghetti for dinner. The atmosphere in the house was pleasantly redolent of oregano, tomato sauce, and vinegar. “Hey, man! How was your day?” Rafe asked, glancing up from julienning a red onion for the salad.
“Busy, how was yours?”
“Same as always,” Rafe said. He was a civil engineer, employed by the county. “Would you mind carrying the salad into the dining room? I’ve just got to dish up the spaghetti and we’ll be ready to eat.”
“Okay. What about wine? Do you want me to pour it?”
“Yes, please. The bottle is already open and breathing over there on the sideboard.”
“You had a drink with Wes after work today, didn’t you?” Rafe asked as they sat down. “How’s he?”
“Fine, thanks. I’ll tell you all about it after dinner.”
After the marinated orange slices and almond biscotti that concluded the meal, the two took their coffee into the living room so they could drink it in front of the fire.
“So what’s your news, Will?” Rafe asked. “I know you’re bursting with it. I can always tell.”
Will laughed. “Can’t hide anything from you, can I? Well, look—Wes asked me to run for office, specifically for delegate of the state house district we’re in.”
“No kidding!” Rafe’s eyes widened. “Are you going to do it?”
Will set down his cup on the coffee table and glanced around the room, a room dear to his heart. Comfortable, masculine, filled with books; paintings he’d bought himself at art galleries; a bookshelf filled with music CDs he was gradually ripping to his laptop, another packed with favorite movies on DVD. The two chairs on either side of the fireplace were recliners; the sofa faced the fireplace. Altogether, a room in which to relax, to snooze, to enjoy evenings when he wasn’t working out at the gym or attending meetings.
“I’m afraid there won’t be many more peaceful evenings like this, Rafe, at least not after New Year’s. Wes wants me to announce my candidacy on January second.”
As Will recounted his discussion with Wes, Rafe’s brown eyes looked more and more troubled. “Looks as if there won’t be much time for us, right?”
“Rafe.” Will took Rafe’s hands in his and looked into his eyes. “You know how furious I was at the decision of the Town Council to hold a special referendum on the Workers’ Center—and we saw what happened. I want to go to the legislature and make a difference. I want this county, in fact this whole state, to be more welcoming to immigrants. My own ancestors emigrated from Ireland two hundred years ago and I bet they weren’t ‘legal.’ Yet they were allowed to stay. I want that for everyone.”
“Yes, that’s fine, but why does it have to be you? Can’t you just support someone who’s already in the legislature—help that person or those people with donations, volunteer work, and so on?”
“That’s just it. There are very few legislators who hold the views you and I hold. And there’s another reason…”
They looked at each other. “Yes?” Rafe said.
Will spoke slowly. “You know how things are between us. I was actually hoping that if things keep on being this great, I could ask you to marry me. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if this were a state that would let us get married? Just think, all we’d have to do is get engaged and pick a venue. But as things are, we can’t do that.”
Rafe smiled. “Well, if that’s what you have in mind, why don’t we just move across the river to Maryland? Marriage equality is already in force there. Then you wouldn’t have to run for the legislature in this state.”
“But you see,” Will said, “I think Wes is right. I think things are changing. I want to be one of the people in the state legislature that will vote on legislation that will make life better for everyone. Will you support me in this?”
Rafe looked at him for a long time and then squeezed his hands. “Yes, I will. I’ll help you any way I can. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Will grinned. “The feeling is mutual. And now, let’s get the dishes out of the way so we can give our attention to other matters.”
“You might as well start appearing around town doing holiday-type things,” Wes said the following week. “I realize that Christmas isn’t your particular religious holiday—”
“In fact, it very nearly is,” Will said. “Only we call it ‘Yule.’ And all the stuff about the mistletoe, the greenery in the house, and the Yule log is completely Pagan, you know.”
“True enough,” Wes agreed. “Now look, why don’t you help organize the toy drive for the kids?”
“This feels so cynical,” Will complained. “I’d help organize that anyway, just as I plan to serve Christmas dinner at the homeless shelter, which I also do every year. It’s distasteful to think I’m going to do these things because I hope to get something out of it.”
Wes sighed. “The ‘something’ you hope to get is for people to get to know your face, which is going to be important. Women are going to like you anyway—blond, blue-eyed, and handsome, as I’m sure you’ve been told—”
“Oh, please,” Will said, pretending to barf. “Anyway, once the women find out that my intended is a guy, they won’t find me appealing at all.”
Wes shot him a look. “Are you engaged, then?”
“Well, not officially, no,” Will acknowledged. “But getting there.”
“Okay, let’s cool it on that particular announcement for now. Let’s check off activities on the calendar that you can do leading up to New Year’s Day, right up to the time you announce. We’re going to announce your candidacy at the District meeting, as I’ve mentioned.”
It was Saturday morning and the two of them were sitting at Will’s kitchen table. Rafe was at his own apartment, packing his clothes and readying the place so he could rent it out after Christmas. He had agreed to move in with Will, their relationship having progressed to the point where being together was vital to them both.
In the end Will signed up not only for the Christmas Toy Drive and serving Christmas dinner at the local homeless shelter, but also for gathering gently used winter coats and blankets.
“My friends and I could sing Christmas carols to the people at the old folks’ home,” Will offered. “They don’t have to know we’re from the Gay Men’s Chorus.”
“H’mm, not a bad idea, let me think about it some more,” Wes said. “Oh, and by the way—I’ve asked someone to come and see you tomorrow. Are you free about four o’clock in the afternoon?”
Will thought for a moment. “Yes, pretty much. We’re going for a run tomorrow morning, then we plan to just hang out here for the rest of the day. Who is it that’s coming to see me?”
“Your campaign manager,” Wes said. “Prepare to be surprised.”
When Will opened the front door in response to the doorbell Sunday afternoon he was indeed surprised.
“I’m Courtney Turner,” the young woman said. “You must be Will.”
“Please come in, Courtney,” Will said, holding the door open for her. “Very nice to meet you.”
Courtney stepped into the hallway. She was almost as tall as Will, who stood six-two in his stocking feet, and looked as if she would have been more at home on a soccer field than dressed in a trouser suit. Her straight dark brown hair was pulled up into a bun at the back of her head, leaving her broad forehead and gray eyes completely exposed. Will felt as if an eagle had shape-shifted into human form and was staring at him.
“Let’s go into the living room,” he suggested. “May I offer you tea or coffee? A soft drink?”
“Thanks, herb tea would be fine.”
Will went to the door and spoke to Rafe, who was in the kitchen trussing a chicken.
“Rafe, could you be very kind and bring us a cup of herb tea?”
“Certainly, no problem,” Rafe said, lowering the chicken carefully into the roasting pan. “I’ll be right there.”
Returning to the living room, Will found Courtney looking around with interest. “Wes gave me a rundown on your background,” she said.
“He didn’t tell me much about you, though,” Will said. “Just that you were coming to see me. Could you tell me a little about yourself? What’s your experience?”
“Let’s see,” Courtney said. “This is the farthest north I’ve ever been. I’ve lived and worked mostly in the South. This will be the fourth political campaign I’ve managed.”
“How many campaigns have been winning ones?” Will asked.
“All of them. Of course it is true that the first campaign was for president of the student body ofthe university,” Courtney said. “Oh, hello!”
Rafe had entered the room. Courtney rose and held out her hand.
Nice manners, anyway, Will thought as he rose too. “Courtney, may I present my best friend, Rafael Muñoz? Rafe, this is Courtney Turner, my new campaign manager.”
“How do you do, Courtney?” Rafe said, extending a hand.
They shook hands, then Rafe excused himself. “I’ve a few things to do elsewhere, so I’ll leave you to it.”
Courtney nodded and Will smiled at Rafe as he left the room.
“The other races, in case you’re interested,” Courtney said, “were for mayor of the city where I lived—he was an underdog candidate by the way, but he won—and for state legislator of the district where I lived at the time.”
“Good,” Will said, impressed despite himself. “So what’s your plan?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” Courtney said. “Here’s how we’ll start.”
Will listened, growing more and more appalled as he realized what he was taking on. According to Courtney his life would be consumed by the campaign.
“Ah, I do have to work for a living, you know,” Will said.
“Yes, but Wes told me you’re a consultant. Granted, you’ll be unavailable some of the time, but that means we must put evenings and weekends to the best possible use. And on holidays we’ll have to work really hard. Next year, that is,” Courtney added.
She set down her cup, rose from the sofa, and said, “Would you mind showing me where you might have space in your house to set up an office? We’ll have to work out of your house to begin with. After June we can start to look for office space in the town.”
“But-but I thought the Democratic Committee was going to help me with office space and staff and all that,” Will protested.
Courtney turned her penetrating gaze on him. “Oh, they will—after you win the primary in June.”
Will gasped. “So I have to win not one, but two races?”
“You got it,” Courtney said.
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