Elected officials and other privileged campaign workers spouted numbers: poll numbers, base numbers, swing numbers, and, of coursealmost obscenelydollar numbers. They mingled without regard for the disenfranchised among them, the paid, door-to-door walkers who just wanted their small share of the most expensive campaign in Texas history. AFTERWO RD Pay Night in Houston BY KODI E. SAWIN ILLUSTRATIONS BY PENNY VAN HORN t around six o’clock in the evening on my first full day in AHouston, a fresh-faced Democratic staffer and I shared a cigarette break. We were outside the dilapidated two-story union building near the Fifth Ward that served as a warehouse for the minions tapped to deliver an unattainable victory for billionaire Tony Sanchez. The drizzle dampened my cigarette just enough to require a more assertive drag. My warm breath condensed in the evening air. Inside, elected officials and other privileged campaign workers spouted numbers: poll numbers, base numbers, swing numbers, and, of coursealmost obscenely dollar numbers. They mingled without regard for the disenfranchised amongst them, the paid door-to-door walkers who just wanted their small share of the most expensive campaign in Texas history. The campaign worker smoked and told war stories in the rain. There was one about a man who entered the office looking for work. During the course of the interview, she noticed hundreds of frenzied fleas flying, popping and jumping from the man’s clothes. Needless to say, she felt it only right to continue the interview, as any good liberal would, because he needed a job just like anybody else. But the interview went south when she noticed cockroaches peering, and then escaping from the holes in the man’s trousers. Then there was another man who showed up late for work, and asked if he might do something else around the building. The field director said no, but that he would be happy to take the man to vote. The walker looked at him and said it wasn’t possible: “I’m a nine-time felon.” My companion laughed uneasily and lit another cigarette. “There are other stories like that,” she said. “Wait until tonight.Your first pay night.” About this time, vans began to return from the field to drop off the walkature door-to-door. My colleague and smoking partner instructed me to get inside and prepare. Inside, the staff scurried down the hallway and into the locked offices at the opposite end of the building from the lobby. Everyone hid personal belongings and advised newcomers to do the same. A Houston policeman stationed himself before a bank of television sets to watch a football game. The virgin politicos, bundled in comfy sweaters and jackets, moved folding tables down the hallways to the front lobby, which created a barrier between the lobby area and the path to the offices in the back. The field director returned from his trip to the bank accompanied by a second police officer and a bag containing thousands of dollars.This had happened almost every day for over a month before I arrived during election week. The cop and the field director sat in a secured office and began to ready themselves for the onslaught of time sheets. The temperature outside had fallen dramatically while the rain pounded away. Autumn daylight receded quickly into streetlight filled darkness. Sitting inside, I put another sweatshirt on to keep warm. Occasionally I ventured outside to help form lines and instruct people not to move into the warmth of shelter. By the time I came back inside I was soaked. 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1/31/03
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