Mayor Sensitive sat alone in his grand office at Liberal Town city hall, brooding as he watched the afternoon shadows lengthen on the plush carpet. He was furious and depressed. He’d been mayor of the city for months, and people still didn’t appreciate all that he’d done for them.
His performance had, by his own estimation, been brilliant. But all he heard were complaints: about transit, about traffic, about crime, about the homeless. And now this thing about the cost of middle-class housing. It made his head throb and his thin skin itch. He folded his arms on his desk, put his head down, and closed his eyes.
Suddenly there was a flash, so brilliant that the Mayor sensed it clearly from behind his lowered eyelids. He raised his head and opened his eyes. There, before him, stood a cherubic little man in a three-piece suit and a purple cape.
“Who-who are you?” The Mayor managed to stammer.
“I am the magic lawyer,” said the cherub, a twinkle in his eye. “And I am here to help solve your image problem.”
“How?” asked the Mayor.
“With this,” said the lawyer. And, with a flourish, the lawyer pulled a small black box from beneath his cape and placed it onto the Mayor’s desk. The box was shiny, opaque, and had no visible opening. It betrayed no hint of its purpose.
“What is it?” asked the Mayor suspiciously, his eyes darting from the little box to the panic button hidden beneath his desk.
“It is HALA,” said the lawyer, beaming.
“Who?” asked the Mayor.
“HALA,” replied the lawyer. “Well, officially it’s known as the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. I’ll admit that the full name sounds a little clumsy. But ‘HALA’ is so mellifluous, don’t you agree. It rolls right off the tongue.”
“What does it do?” the Mayor asked, eyeing the little box.
“Do?” laughed the lawyer. “Why, it will make you look like a bold leader. It will cause developers and environmentalists to frolic together like lambs in a pasture. It will neutralize all the Bungalow Hobbits who are always complaining about growth. It will allow you to say you’re avoiding litigation. And–coincidentally, of course–it will benefit Certain People. A win-win, wouldn’t you agree?”
“How does this little box do all that?” asked the Mayor, still suspicious but his interest definitely piqued.
“When you release its magic,” explained the lawyer, “all sorts of things will emanate from this box. A Hand-Picked Task Force of Important People. Serious-sounding recommendations about affordable housing. Media events. Campaign contributions. Things like that. It will even generate bloggers to criticize the Bungalow Hobbits who may criticize you. Pretty slick, eh?”
“Why are you giving me this gift?” asked the Mayor, impressed but perplexed.
“Well,” said the magic lawyer, ” I wouldn’t exactly call it a gift, although it’s pretty close. There are a few small things you must do to release its magic.”
“What,” asked the Mayor, sensing some kind of trap.
“It’s simple,” said the lawyer. “Number one, never let anyone open the magic box to see its inner workings. This will be our little secret. Number two, you must not change, or allow others to change, the magic recommendations and numbers that come out of the box. Especially those that may incidentally benefit Certain People. If you do so, the magic will be broken and the lawsuits will fall from the sky like cold January rain. Number three, you must put all your effort into convincing the good citizens of Liberal Town of the magic qualities of these numbers and recommendations. In other words, a really big sales job.”
“A sales job?” repeated the Mayor, feeling slightly offended. “I’m a politician, not a used-car dealer.”
The magic lawyer was silent, his blank expression showing nothing of his inner thoughts at that moment.
“Does the magic box emanate facts?” asked the Mayor. “You know, things that show that all the other stuff will actually work? Studies that justify the numbers and recommendations? Things like that.”
The magic lawyer eyed the mayor quizzically. “You are speaking strangely for an Elected One,” said the lawyer. He paused. “Not to offer you any advice in your own area of expertise. But people really like to hear stories more than they like to hear facts. Especially when the stories make them feel good, and virtuous.”
“Hmm,” said the Mayor. “I’ll give you that one.” He thought for a long time. “OK,” he said finally. “I’m desperate. I’ll take it.”
The magic lawyer beamed and held out his hand. “Shake?” he asked. And they shook hands. Almost immediately, a low, reassuring hum began to issue from the little black box.
“Just one more thing,” said the Mayor. “Are you really magic?”
“Either that or just very clever,” said the lawyer, his eyes twinkling again. “In the arts of law and politics, the two things are sometimes indistinguishable, wouldn’t you agree?”
The Mayor laughed. “Yes,” he said. “And thank you.”
“Think nothing of it” said the magic lawyer. And then he was gone, leaving nothing but a small puff of smoke and billable hours in his wake.
The Mayor leaned back in his chair and grinned. It had been a good day after all. He picked up his phone and called his secretary.
“Get my media team in here,” he said, his eyes on the little black box on his desk. “Right away.”