As F Scott Fitzgerald might have said if he’d worked on Capitol Hill, “Let me tell you about politicians. They are very different from you and me.”
I once saw a hard-charging, expletive-spewing Speaker of the House stomp his foot and sob like a baby when he was told he had to stop railroading his constituents into buying his books. A long-married US Senator used to “sneak” into our group home at 2am to “date” my friend, his 22-year-old, unpaid intern. (He always left by 3am.) A veteran US Congresswoman once described for me in graphic detail at high volume in the US Capitol lobby all the creative things she’d like to do to specific parts of the Majority Leader’s (male) anatomy. I had the privilege of attending the Camp David wedding of a sitting President's daughter (to a lobbyist’s son) where I could watch the complicated political tango being danced by the lobbyists and politicos present.
And no matter how many politicians get busted for bad behavior or worse in DC, it seems there are always more waiting in the wings. Like New York Congressman Eric Massa who hosted “tickle parties” with adult males on his staff before having to resign. And of course, Anthony Weiner who Tweeted photos of his privates, then denied it before going on national TV to explain that he couldn’t be sure the boxer shorts in the photos were his.
Somehow the over-arching need to be noticed, recognized, elected, and celebrated prompts politicians to behave in ways many of us would consider indecent and illegal, not to mention, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it with regard to the rich, "different."
Then there are the fringe players, the ego-feeders, the money-givers and glommers-on who play a starring role in our political system. Lobbyists, in other words. Career political swamp creatures like Jack Abramoff who found his judgment so clouded by money and power, he literally bought legislation and ripped off Native American tribes while bragging about it and pulling down twenty mill a year. At the time, some called him a "hero" for donating hefty sums to charity. Then he went to jail. When he got out, he found himself working for minimum wage at a pizza shop. Hey, you can’t make this stuff up!!
“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” (Fitzgerald again.)
As an award-winning television news producer in Washington DC, I covered Presidents and members of Congress from inside the White House and on Capitol Hill. Obviously, the job was fascinating. But I also worked in local news where I enjoyed covering people whose stories were rarely, if ever, told. I produced a number of series, including one on AIDS and its impact on DC children and addicts; a series on bankrupt pension programs in which I followed brave, impoverished 80-year old retirees as they had to fight their way back into the workforce in order to eat; and another on toxic waste disposal which exposed the shameful realities of environmental racism and highlighted the cynicism of energy and waste industry executives.
Right now, there is an aging nuclear power plant built right on a fault zone, a few dozen miles from Wall Street, that is leaking radioactive tritium into the Hudson River. Its name is Indian Point and it is packed with tons of spent radioactive fuel. The Riverkeeper organization calls it “the biggest existential threat in the region.” After decades of debate, an agreement has been reached to close the plant by 2021, but already, there is talk of a deadline extension. During Superstorm Sandy, which battered New York and New Jersey, parts of Indian Point and four more nuclear plants were shut down. But taking them offline won’t eliminate the threat of a catastrophic meltdown like the one at Fukushima in Japan.
So what if Indian Point gets slammed by the next superstorm? What if it is rocked by an earthquake? What if this next time, we don’t get so lucky?
These questions and my experience in Washington inspired me to write Fukushima on the Hudson.