One hundred and one years ago, on February 14th, a group of dedicated suffragists in the United States founded the National League of Women Voters. This was a mere six months before the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified. The League was created to help the twenty million newly enfrachised female voters understand their new rights and their responsibilities, and to educate them about the democratic process.
More than a century later, LWV is still pursuing those objectives, though it has expanded its mission to incorporate every person with the right to vote, especially minorities and people of color. It’s a bit depressing to realize that even now, there are forces and factions working to deny registered, authorized voters of their voice at the ballot box.
You can read about LVW’s fascinating history here: https://www.lwv.org/about-us/history and their current concerns and campaigns here (https://www.lwv.org/elections) and here (https://www.lwv.org/other-issues).
The U.S. has just experienced a bruising and brutal election which illustrates clearly the need for the sort of non-partisan education and advocacy the LWV advocates. So today, I’m hoping my Charity Sunday will allow me to make a generous anniversary gift. For each comment I receive, I’ll donate two dollars to the LWV.
Meanwhile, I have a relevant excerpt, featuring women in politics, from my erotic thriller Exposure. Hired to provide Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Tony Pinelli with a private dance, stripper Stella Xanathakeos ends up being a witness to his murder. His ambitious and seductive widow decides to run in her husband’s stead, and to Stella’s surprise, asks the dancer to serve as her press secretary.
This bit chronicles Stella’s first foray into the political arena.
Together, we walk the short distance over to the site of the press conference. This is part of Francesca’s strategy; she wants to seem like a woman of the people, and arriving in her Mercedes wouldn’t fit that image. It has become a cloudy, blustery day. The wind cuts through my jacket, making me shiver. It teases a few curls from my neat twist, probably making me look poorly-groomed and unprofessional, but there’s not much I can do about it.
There’s a knot of people milling on the City Hall steps, with lights and other equipment. I notice vans with the logos of WQED and WPXI. The news people all have their backs to us, as if they expected us to come from the opposite direction. Francesca’s voice rings out, clear and commanding. “Over here, ladies and gentlemen.” We march up the steps, through the confused crowd.
Francesca waits quietly while the media people rearrange themselves and adjust their equipment. Then, when they’ve settled down, she waits a moment longer, scanning the crowd, looking elegant and serious.
I have to admire her showmanship. By the time she begins to speak, she has the attention of everyone, even the technicians squatting in the doors of the mobile studio vans.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for taking the time to join us on this raw and stormy afternoon. I won’t keep you long.
“As you all know, my husband Anthony Pinelli wanted to serve this city as its mayor. Pittsburgh was his birthplace. It nurtured him, educated him, made him wealthy and successful. It gave him opportunities and benefits that he could not have found anywhere else. Tony Pinelli wanted to give some of this back to the city he loved. That was his most cherished dream.
“Tony’s tragic death has shocked us all.” Francesca allows a quaver into her voice. I’m impressed. She really knows how to work the crowd. She pauses and swallows hard, as if resisting tears. Her voice is calm and forceful when she continues. “As his wife and partner, I am determined not to allow his dream to die with him. That is why, today, I am announcing my own candidacy for the position of mayor. I am determined that, even though Tony has left us, the next person to preside over the administration of this fine city will be Mayor Pinelli.”
The crowd erupts in enthusiastic applause. I find that I’m clapping myself. The hubbub continues for quite a while. Francesca holds up her hand, asking for quiet.
“During the remaining weeks of the campaign, I will be sharing with you my vision—Tony’s vision—for this city. Assisting me with this task will be my press secretary, Ms. Stella Xanathakeos. Like Tony and me, Stella was born here. She knows the problems and the aspirations of the ordinary people of Pittsburgh. She will help me to explain why a vote for me is a vote for a bright, secure and prosperous future—for all of us.”
Francesca turns to me. “Stella, would you like to say a few words?” Expectantly, the cameras and microphones swing in my direction.
I’m not entirely unprepared. It was reasonable that Francesca would want me to speak. Still, I have a moment of panic. I’m a performer, but words are not my usual instrument.
I pause for a moment, take a deep breath and survey my audience. They are mostly male, though I recognize the blond bob and creamy complexion of Teresa Kelly, the Channel 5 news anchor. I remind myself that in this situation, my sexuality is a liability. Just in time, I remember not to lick my lips. I clasp my hands in front of me to keep them out of trouble.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to be standing here today, next to this brave woman. When you lose someone you love, your first impulse is to just give up. You want to crawl into a hole and die yourself. I know this, from my own experience.” I pause, looking out over the attentive faces. I hope that they’re not just paying attention to my tits.
“Francesca Pinelli isn’t giving up, though. That’s not the sort of person she is. She was her husband’s closest aide. She understands his goals and his plans for Pittsburgh. And she’s determined to turn those plans into reality, regardless of her personal pain.
“As for me, I’m just an ordinary person. My mother died when I was six. My father was an immigrant who worked hard all his life to support me. He had to fight against discrimination, and sleazy bosses, and government by the rich for the rich. I’ve worked hard, too. It’s an uphill battle for most of us in this city. I believe that Francesca Pinelli wants to make that battle easier. What’s more important, I believe that she can.”
I am startled when people begin to applaud. Francesca face wears a broad smile as she steps forward and reclaims the attention of the crowd.
“A few questions, Ms. Pinelli!” shouts someone from the crowd. “Don’t go yet!” echoes another voice. “Give us a chance!”
The crowd presses toward us, waving microphones in our faces and effectively trapping us on the stairs. Somebody opens an over-sized umbrella and holds it over our heads.
“Very well, we can take a few questions. No more than five minutes, though, or we’ll all be drenched.” A few more umbrellas open. The media people push closer to hear us against the wind.
“Ms. Pinelli.” The question comes from Terry Kelly. “Pittsburgh has a reputation as a rough city. We’ve got the unions, the old industry barons, the mob. Do you really think it can be run by a woman?”
Francesca stands erect, looking taller than usual. “Don’t you think, Ms. Kelly, that it is time a woman had the chance to show what she can do?” There is scattered applause. “You probably know that Tony was a tough guy. He wouldn’t have chosen me as his partner if I couldn’t be just as tough, when the need arose.”
A skinny reporter in dark-rimmed glasses steps forward with his tape recorder. “Graham White, your opponent, has headed the City Council for more than five years. You have no political experience. Why should the voters choose a novice like you, over a seasoned politician like Mr. White?”
Francesca laughs. “No political experience? I was married to Tony Pinelli for more than ten years, including his two terms on the council. Believe me, I know about politics!” The audience chuckles. “On the other hand, I don’t think this city needs a politician, as much as we need a leader.”
“Ms. Xanathakeos!” I’m startled to hear my name. It’s coming from a chubby, balding guy who’s grinning unpleasantly. “I’m sure that we all appreciated your homily to the working class. But isn’t it true that for the past six years your primary employment has been as an exotic dancer?”
Gasps and snickers come from the audience. The questioner looks pleased with himself. So there it is. I glance over at Francesca. She looks perfectly calm and untroubled. I straighten my back, so that my tits thrust out a bit, and look the bald guy in the eye. I know what you like, I think to myself. You like to dress up in your wife’s lingerie when she’s working the late shift. That’s what I see, though it might be my own imagination. Still, as I stare at him, he begins to squirm and finally has to look away.
“Quite true, Mister...?”
“Rostropovitch,” he answers reluctantly.
“You’ve done your research, Mr. Rostropovitch. I am indeed an exotic dancer, as you put it. A perfectly honest line of work, and believe me, not an easy one. Do you have some problem with that?”
“Well, it hardly seems appropriate for a mayoral candidate to be associating with hookers...”
Now I am really annoyed. “A stripper is not a hooker, Mr. Rostropovitch. In any case, I am what I said I am, a woman born and bred in this city, who knows the problems working people here, particularly women, face. I’m also a voter. I am definitely qualified to give Ms. Pinelli advice and insight into these issues.”
I give him a long cold stare that I hope makes him feel naked. “In Francesca Pinelli’s Pittsburgh, everyone will be entitled to fair treatment and respect—even reporters!”
The crowd breaks into raucous laughter and applause. I sense that Mr. Rostropovitch is not well-liked by his colleagues.
~ ~ ~
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