THE THANKLESS MAYOR

A Play

By Jonathan Gregory

 

 

Cast of Characters

 

ELIZABETH Executive assistant to the mayor. She is dissatisfied with her job but is still fond of INDIANA.

 

INDIANA The well-meaning mayor. Is disheartened by resistance to his policies, despite putting on a cheery façade.  

 

ANDREA Director of the city’s Center for the Arts. Is extremely critical of the mayor’s policies. 

 

MAN Music teacher.

 

Scene

 

The mayoral office in the City Hall of a small city. 

 

A park in the city.

 

Time

A Wednesday, present time.


Scene 1

 

AT RISE: The mayor’s office sits on the second floor of the town hall on Main Street, just above a municipal court. 

 

Inside, ELIZABETH sits at a desk, talking on the phone to her sister while examining a large pile of paperwork labeled “incoming.” 

 

It is 1 o’clock, and all in the government building are returning to work after lunch.

 

ELIZABETH (On the phone)

Oh, that break does not do my job justice! Waking up at seven to catch the bus, working from nine to six, only to get a measly thirty minutes off? I should have listened to you, Sherry; I should have stuck with that job at the bank. No, Indiana’s not over-working me. Well, I guess he is, but not intentionally. There’s just not a lot of appreciation for my work, you know? A little “thanks” or “great job” would be nice once in a while. Ah, well, I can hear the elevator coming up. Talk to you later? Alright, love you, sis. Bye. 

 

(The elevator dings and the doors open. The mayor, INDIANA, walks into the office)

INDIANA (Sing-song) 

Afternoon Elizabeth. 

 

ELIZABETH (Sighing)

Hello sir.

 

INDIANA

I know that sigh. What’s got you down? 

 

(ELIZABETH gestures at the mountain of paperwork on the desk)

 

ELIZABETH

Care to take a guess? 

 

INDIANA

Oh, that’s just a little pile. Remember that load we had last spring? I didn’t get a wink of sleep for nearly two days!

 

ELIZABETH (Muttering)

I didn’t sleep for three. 

 

INDIANA

Cheer up Lizzie! It’ll be alright. See? I’ll take half. 

 

(INDIANA picks up half of the pile.)

 

All this work is worth it. You’ve just got to remember our goal, our mission.

 

ELIZABETH

I’ve already forgotten.

 

INDIANA

Let me illuminate, then. The city, before us, was… in need of improvement, to put it mildly. Well, after just a year, we’ve turned things around. We have encouraged business; we’ve elevated the infrastructure; and we’ve beautified parts of the city. All with a limited budget. Imagine what we could do with a bigger one!

 

ELIZABETH 

Have you seen our funds lately? We can barely buy a pack of staples, much less finance a total facelift on the whole city. 

 

INDIANA

Yes, and that’s why I’ve put together a little something in this year’s budget. First, where do you get funds? From taxpayers. And where do you find taxpayers? In houses and stores and restaurants. Except no one wants to live or shop or eat here because city life is still not quite up to par for those suburbanites. So here it is, my plan to fill our coffers: we revitalize the downtown, put in some fine apartments and businesses. A better downtown equals more taxpayers; more taxpayers equal more money for the city. What do you think? Exciting stuff, right?

 

ELIZABETH 

Wow. That’s… an ambitious plan. Have you talked to anyone else about it?

 

INDIANA

I mentioned it to the council. They shot it down, like they do all new ideas. They still work by candlelight, those luddites. I think I can scrape together enough for a pilot project, though, just to show them that it can work. 

 

ELIZABETH 

Where is this money coming from? 

 

INDIANA

Just a little siphoned here and there, mostly from tedious community renovation projects. If all goes well, the returns should balance the budget perfectly. 

 

ELIZABETH

And if all does not go well?

 

INDIANA

Then I guess the city can make do without some non-essentials. We’ll still have firemen and the police; we might just have to shelve some culture projects, like the City Center for the Arts restructuring project. This plan of mine is, after all, more important.  

 

ELIZABETH

I don’t know about this-

 

INDIANA (Interrupting)

Oh, the ends justify the means, Elizabeth. Just you see; this endeavor will be the crowning achievement of our administration.

In the meantime, what’s on the docket? 

 

ELIZABETH

You’ve got to plan your visit to the elementary school, call Commissioner Lewis, and sign a few forms concerning the maintenance contract for the park. Plus, the papers you’re holding.

 

INDIANA 

Great. I’ll take those in my office. 

 

(INDIANA walks into his part of the partitioned office. As ELIZABETH begins to sort through the papers on her desk, the elevator dings and the doors open. Out steps ANDREA.)

 

ANDREA (Muttering angrily)

Where is that man?

 

ELIZABETH

Oh, hi Andrea. Do you have an appointment here? 

 

(ANDREA pushes past ELIZABETH’s desk and storms into the mayor’s portion of the office, with ELIZABETH close behind her.)

 

Wait! You can’t just barge in there without invitation! Sorry sir, she just walked in. Do you want me to call security?

 

INDIANA

No, no, that won’t be necessary. I always have time for “concerned citizens” to tell me everything that I’m doing wrong. To what do I owe the pleasure, Andrea?

 

ANDREA

Oh, this will be no pleasure for you, “sir.” I heard about your plan, and what it’ll do to the city. How could you?

 

INDIANA

How could I what? And how did you learn about that? 

 

ANDREA

Commissioner Lewis let it slip. What are you thinking, putting the Center for the Arts at risk with your budget cuts? If you want to squander funds on this little construction project of yours, that’s your business. But leave my Center out of it!

 

INDIANA

Ms. Andrea, I hardly think that a reallocation of funds puts the Center at any real risk. 

 

ANDREA

That’s not what the Commissioner said. Do you understand how much hinges on the Center for the Arts in this town, Mr. Mayor? The Center must be funded! 

 

INDIANA

Climb off your high horse, Ms. Andrea, and look around you. The city is near-empty, and I’m trying to fill it. If that means exchanging concert halls for condominiums, so be it. I appreciate your mission, but my administration currently values the downtown’s revitalization more than it does the Center for the Arts. 

ANDREA

Mr. Mayor, this is an argument of more importance than you give it. The Center for the Arts is musical education for children; it is the place kids go to learn about art, music, and theatre, now that the council has cut those from the schools. The Center is the last place in the city anyone can get an education in the arts. It’s not just a building; it’s a destination. Surely, you can’t cast this aside in favor of a few concrete monstrosities.  

 

INDIANA

Surely, I can. I took an oath to serve this city, and I intend to do so as I deem fit. 

 

ANDREA

You think that you actually help the city? By cutting funding to public programs, by treading on public will?

 

INDIANA

The public is interested in keeping the streets clean and business booming, and I am doing my best. Now, if you please, I have more of the city to help.

 

ANDREA

As if you have made a difference! 

 

(The two speak at the same time, not listening to the other.) 

  

ANDREA INDIANA

I don’t understand it. This is getting out of hand. 

You cannot decimate an entire What I have done has yielded  

cultural program and continue visible marks of progress, and  

to think that you are helping personal insults cannot 

the city to flourish.  discredit that! I’m sorry,

Frankly, your project is a but this petty behavior 

waste, and until you work to quite illustrates why

help the city, your policies the drama in this town is

will continue to stagnate.  getting downsized!

 

(A loud noise from the street of trash being dumped, startling both ANDREA and INDIANA into a momentary silence.)

 

INDIANA

Enough. It is clear that this is going nowhere. Elizabeth, would you please show our visitor to the door. 

 

ELIZABETH

Sure. Come on Andrea. This way, please.

 

ANDREA

I meant what I said! If you won’t reconsider your budget, perhaps you should reconsider your place in this office. Good day!

 

(ANDREA exits in a huff. INDIANA looks agitated.)

 

INDIANA

What an insufferable person! The nerve, to walk in here and tell me that I’m a waste? Darn lack of propriety, that’s what it is.

 

(ELIZABETH and INDIANA both return to work at their desks. After a minute, INDIANA walks out of his partitioned office.) 

 

Lizzie, you… you don’t think that she had any truth in what she said, do you? 

 

(Elizabeth is not paying attention.) 

 

Elizabeth. 

 

ELIZABETH (Exasperated)

What? 

 

INDIANA

I asked you if you thought that Andrea was right about what she said.

 

ELIZABETH

Well, you are hitting the Art Center kind of hard with those cuts…. I mean, the city has always supported the fine arts. And we did promise the Center those funds.   

 

INDIANA

That’s all well and good, but things are different now than they were then. There have been recessions and crashes; the city needs be helped back up to its feet, and I’m the one to do it. I accept that my plan isn’t perfect, but it can help. But not if it’s put in conflict with a program that has nothing to do with my mission goals. 

 

ELIZABETH

Your mission goals? What has gotten into you, sir? You’re sounding brash and inconsiderate, and—

 

(The landline rings.) 

 

INDIANA

I will do what I must to help the city; if that means opposing the council, even you, I will do it. 

 

ELIZABETH

What do you mean? 

 

(INDIANA exits the office.) 

 

Hey, where are you going? Sir! 

 

(Scene ends.) 

SCENE 2

 

AT RISE: A city park, small but well-maintained. 

 

INDIANA is sitting alone on a park bench. He looks tired and anxious and is quietly talking to himself.  

 

INDIANA (To himself) 

What’s gotten into me, she says. Ha! What’s gotten into her, more like. What’s gotten into all of them? Elizabeth, the council, Andrea; if they could only see how necessary this plan is to keep the city afloat. We need growth and urban renewal; a newer Center for the Arts can’t do that; there’s just no way. They’re too inflexible; that’s the problem! But even Elizabeth is against me. How could she – arghh! 

 

(With the last word, INDIANA throws up his hands violently. A man walking through the park notices INDIANA’s outburst and walks up to him.) 

 

MAN

Hey, buddy, are you alright? You look a little rattled. 

 

INDIANA

Oh, yeah, pardon me. A hard day at work, you know? 

 

MAN

Tell me about it. I heard just today that I might get laid off in a bit, so I get where you’re coming from. Hey, have we met before? 

 

INDIANA

No, no. I’ve just got one of those faces. That’s a crummy bit of news you got. Where do you work?   

 

MAN

I run the musical education at the Art Center down the road. You wanna hear some intel? The mayor wants to cut our funding. That’s why I’m gonna lose my job. Now, I don’t wish to trash the guy – he has made this park a bit safer, after all – but this is a bit of a rotten deal. Sure, a lot of money promised to the Center was going towards renovations – new equipment and the like – but it was also going to pay me and a lot of others. It’s not like we can get extra jobs; we each invest all our time in keeping the Center afloat.

INDIANA 

Well, I’m sure he’s got his reasons. What do you guys do down there at the Center, anyway? It never seems all that busy. 

 

MAN

Well, you’ve clearly never been there Friday nights. We host a little community arts showcase, and the place is packed. People will take any chance they get to make a night of the city. They might go to the new restaurant downtown, maybe stop for a stroll around the park, and then head down to the Center. I mean, we see everyone, even people who have long since moved out to the ‘burbs. There’s a lot more money moving around here. It’s breathing a little more life into the city. 

 

INDIANA

Is that so? I’ve never heard of that before. But that’s just Friday. What about the rest of the week? What about tonight? 

 

MAN

You’ve got a lot of questions buddy. Why don’t you just check it out for yourself? I’m walking to the open house now. You might as well make use of the Center while it’s still staffed, right? 

 

INDIANA

Well, I’ve got to— Oh, why not. Is it just down this way?

 

MAN

Yup. Just follow me. 

 

(The MAN leads INDIANA down the path in the park, toward the Center for the Arts.)

 

(Scene ends.)  

 

   

SCENE 3

 

AT RISE: The mayoral office on Main Street. It is 7 p.m.

 

ELIZABETH is still working on paperwork when INDIANA enters. There is a large stack of paperwork on her desk, now labeled “outgoing”. 

 

(The elevator dings and the doors open. Out steps INDIANA, looking invigorated.)

 

INDIANA

Well Elizabeth, I’ve got some news. 

ELIZABETH

Hopefully it’s good.

 

INDIANA

Well, both good and bad, depending on the view. First, I’ve had a deep and insightful talk with a focus group, and I’ve determined that the Center for the Arts is much too valuable to lose. I’ll work to secure its funding. 

 

ELIZABETH

Well, I’m glad you came to your senses. That is very good news.

 

INDIANA

However, my downtown revitalization project, is still moving forward. I figure just because we do a bit of urban development doesn’t mean we have to abandon the local interest, right? The two complement each other.  

 

ELIZABETH

Exactly. That’s what I was trying to tell you earlier: find a happy medium. 

 

INDIANA

Hrm. It didn’t really sound like that. I forgive you, though, for doubting me and my plans. It happens, I suppose.    

 

ELIZABETH

Sir, nobody, except for maybe Andrea, was doubting the validity of you or your proposal. Certainly, I wasn’t.   

 

INDIANA

Sure, you did. Remember? “Your plan is inconsiderate” and all that.

 

ELIZABETH

Goodness gracious, I was talking about your plan to defund the Art Center, not the urban rehabilitation project! 

 

INDIANA

You say that now, but I read between the lines earlier. I get that we don’t agree on policy as much now as we once did, but I really count on your support. To lose the trust and backing of my second-in-command, my advisor, was… shaking, to say the least.  

 

ELIZABTEH

Listen, I trust you; I think you’re a good man, with good ideas. And while I might not always rejoice in your policies, I’m still with you, all the way. You’ve got a decent plan. It needs a little refining, though. You can’t hinge the city’s funds on a single project, and that is where Andrea has a point. Let’s not leap before looking into this. We’ll go through the process, hammer out a few proposals, and get this done properly. In the meantime, please negotiate with Andrea before she organizes a mob.

 

INDIANA (Sheepish)

Oh, wow. I didn’t know you felt like that. I’ll get to work then. I… uh… I’m sorry I stormed out and left you to do all the work. 

 

ELIZABETH 

Forget about it. You’re doing as best as you’re able. I didn’t do your paperwork for you, though, and nor do I plan to. 

 

INDIANA 

Right, right. That paperwork. I’ll get to that after I call Andrea. How about you take the rest of the night off? You certainly deserve a break. I can close up.

 

ELIZABETH

No, no. I’ll stick with you here. 

 

INDIANA

I know I haven’t said this enough, but… thanks. We both know you’re the stable one in this office. Without your support, I’d probably suffocate in this swamp of paperwork. Thanks for helping me out. 

 

ELIZABETH

I know you’d do the same for me. 

 

INDIANA (Clears throat)

Well, wish me luck with Andrea.           

 

(INDIANA walks into his part of the office, leaving the door open. He calls ANDREA, periodically moving the receiver from his ear when the volume gets too high.) 

 

Hello Andrea. This is Mayor Indiana. No, no, no; there’s no need for that language. Hey! This is a peace deal. I’ve got a compromise, if you’ll hear it. No, no tricks. Well, I talked to one of your employees, and went to one of your open houses. You’ve got some interesting stuff going on there, and….

 

(INDIANA’s voice fades.)  

 

(Scene ends.)