David Simon’s latest venture, Show Me a Hero, which he co-wrote with William Zorzi and is directed by Paul Haggis finds a way to make council zoning laws interesting by finding the human element. The Wire and (presumably, because I haven’t seen it) Treme do the same thing, with fictional characters and storylines in the real world. Show Me a Hero, based on a book with the same name by Lisa Belkin, follows the real life local government in Yonkers, New York, which has been ordered by a federal court to place government housing in white neighbourhoods. They may not have practiced Jim Crow, but racial segregation existed in the “integrated” states as well.
In Australia, Show Me a Hero is airing one episode a week as opposed to the two on HBO, but that’s okay, it’s much better than waiting six months. All this preface is to say I haven’t yet seen Part 2, and I’ve just gotten to the part where Wasiscko has been elected mayor. I love stories about civil process, and also The Wire, so Show Me a Hero is in my wheelhouse. Writing this is more difficult than I thought it would be, because I’ve only seen one part in six where many have seen two, I didn’t take any notes, and also because I have other things that I need to focus on this week.
I live in an area where the election of local government isn’t particularly contentious. We vote every four years – I first voted the year I turned 18, and I had to choose between two candidates for my local Councillor. It’s a mail ballot, and when Councillors were elected every year, hardly anyone challenged the incumbent. Last time a local election was held I think there were four challengers, and the incumbent won again, and she is currently the mayor. The Councillors share the job around, we don’t elect a separate mayor, which makes the whole process much easier. So watching Show Me a Hero was fascinating, simply because there are real issues going on in Yonkers. If I lived in a different part of Melbourne, I’m sure Council meetings would have lots of yelling, I just happen to live where I do, which isn’t a bad thing.
What struck me about Show Me a Hero is how Wasiscko was elected mayor not through any particular campaigning, but his voting record when Martonelli was mayor was enough to get him over the line. I’ve already spoiled myself a little bit when it comes to real life events, so I’m going to try and remain as unspoiled as possible. When a federal judge (played by Bob Babalan, who I assume is having a blast) orders Yonkers to place 200 housing units in the wealthier part of the city, all hell breaks loose. The upper middle class of Yonkers don’t want public housing in their neighbourhoods because it will lower property prices, and the Council tries to spread the government housing out more to please the white people who got them elected. Martonelli wasn’t unpopular, but he voted against appealing the judge’s decision where Wasiscko voted for it, and he lost his job. At the end of the episode, the mayor elect gets a call with the information that the appeal failed. Wasiscko is a victim of circumstance as much as Martonelli. Martonelli may have voted the wrong way for re-election, but he also lost at just the right time; he doesn’t have to deal with the issue of this housing development any more, whereas Wasiscko is going to have to implement something he has campaigned and voted against as a Councilman. I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out.
- The great joy of Show Me a Hero has been reading interviews with David Simon, William Zorzi and Paul Haggis, so you’re about to get some links.
- Todd VanDerWerff over at Vox did a great interview with Simon and Zorzi, as well as another one with Paul Haggis, which makes me believe that he is truly the director counterpart to David Simon’s writer.
- Sonia Saraiya also ran a great interview with David Simon a couple of weeks ago which had almost nothing to do with the show.