i read this passage recently in brennan manning's RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL. i thought it a telling story given the high political season we are in. i have always largely stayed out of the political realm of things, i think because i don't see any good coming out of it. i am an anti-institutional/anti-bureacratic person, so that doesn't help things. i always seem to be thinking that i'm voting for someone who "isn't as bad as this other guy". and that's depressing to me. and so when i hear about politicians of yesteryear and their goodness, i wonder how we've gotten to this point. no, i'm not naively believing that politicians of the past didn't have their negative sides - but you've got to join me in seeing that there has been a significant shift. regardless, i commend this story to you.
a story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of new york city during the worst days of the great depression and all of WWII, was called "the little flower" by adoring new yorkers because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. he was a colorful character who used to ride the new york city fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the new york newpapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the sunday funnies to the kids.
one bitterly cold night in january of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. she told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. but the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "it's a bad neighborhood, your honor," the man told the mayor. "she's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson."
LaGuardia sighed. he turned to the woman and said, "i've got to punish you. the law makes no exceptions - ten dollars or ten days in jail." but even as he pronounced the sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. he extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero, saying, "here is the ten dollar fine, which i now remit; and furthermore i am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. mr. bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant."
so the following day the new york city newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contibuted by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and new york city policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
(p.93-4, Ragamuffin Gospel)
maybe i'll write-in LaGuardia this fall.