Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wukela’s End Game

Steve Benjamin’s “One Columbia” campaign is a synthesis of the slogan-centric and logo-philiac Obama presidential campaign (with none of the heart) and all the sanctimony of classic Southern Municipal Politics (with none of the brow-mopping handkerchiefs). To me, it is a grand achievement in the arena of Sounds and Furies Signifying Nothing. But on the other hand, Mayor Steve royally kicked my ass at the polls in April.

One point is indisputable: the campaign deserves a gigantic E for Effort. And as I set myself down with Droid in hand, one of the architects of said Effort is about to reap the benefits of over a year of faithful service to the Benjamin Campaign.

He is getting a job as a temp with the City of Columbia.

The man to which I am referring was the entity on the other end of Benjamin’s frantic Blackberry Messenger conversations throughout the forums and debates of the Mayoral campaign. He was the hot shot wunderkind who brought modern, streamlined, national-level concepts of branding and electioneering to our humble civic campaign. And I have a sneaking suspicion that he came up with the wonderfully tacky “Benjamins for Benjamin” fundraising campaign.

If you’ve never heard of Michael Wukela, that’s because he’s a behind-the-scenes kind of guy -- a classic Evil Vasir in the tradition of Jafar and Rosco P. Coltraine. He is the Grima Wormtongue to Benjamin’s Theomir, King of Rohan, a specimen of that queer breed of backroom buccaneers who relish in pulling the puppet strings of greater men.

I recall a breezy evening in early spring, deep into the race for mayor, when I was summoned to one of Mikey’s cigarette breaks and invited to kiss the ring of the burgeoning power broker. He had a cool, easy manner and a brash sense of detachment. When he greeted me it was like having Luke Perry slam his arm out into a locker, blocking my path and commanding my attention.

He glibly informed me that I had no chance in the election, but that I might be able to have a real effect on the campaign by endorsing his candidate. When I told him I had intended to see my run through to the end he took a long drag from his Parliament Lite and gave me an appraising glance. He
nodded his head. “I could run you,” he said. His voice was warm honey. “You might have a chance.”

My heart fluttered. He was tempting me, I found. Extending forth a golden apple, but my dizzying climb to political power would come with certain stipulations.

It would be expensive.  I would have to shave off my facial hair. I would have to tell people what they wanted to hear.

He sensed my hesitation. He threw down the butt of his cigarette and caught me in a reptile gaze that latched on to the herbivorial half of my omnivorous psyche. Now he aimed to appeal to my youthful, rebellious nature.

“Look, man,” he continued, with animal intensity. “You think I don’t get it? I’m a hard core socialist. I have tattoos all over my body. But if you really want to change the system you gotta play by the rules. If you do everything I say and we get some party support, I could get you on a school board, maybe even make you a state senator.”

It was a miscalculation. For all the counterculture affectations of my campaign and for all my boyish looks, I am not a socialist. I’m more of a libertarian-lite with a weakness for effective human service and civic programs like public transportation and investment in the arts infrastructure. And I don’t really like tattoos.  My conscience came flooding back to me and I saw Baba Yaga for the dark conjurer she really was. Mikey had no magic. His cold stare did not
see through to higher planes; it was merely the reptile gaze of a mid-grade sociopath who had latched on to the broad silk panels of Benjamin’s coat tails. The moment was past and we walked away from one another with an enhanced understanding of the game we were playing with one another.

When I next saw Mikey, at the Homelessness Summit, he was sporting a baby beard of his own. So much for shaving. He was colder, now. He knew he had no power over me, and, more importantly, he did not see me as a threat nor an opportunity. And so he had disengaged.

I lost the game with Mike Wukela on April 6, 2010. And today he takes another stride forward toward his lofty and mysterious ambitions. Anyone who has ever worked, as I have, for Kelly Services and Manpower for a couple of years knows that destiny is a fluid thing in the fast and loose world of Temping. And a career opportunist with an unquenchable thirst for power like Michael Wukela will no doubt leverage his presently notional role in our civic hierarchy into something of far greater substance in the months and years to come. Move by move, through patience and analysis, you can bet he has the End Game in mind, like a Chess Grand Master.

And I must be content to watch and marvel, as I would observe a Tiger in the Jungle or a Shark in the Sea.

Well played, Mikey. Well played.


  1. I first thought that he was an ex-drug addict because of his wrinkled, ill-fitting clothes, scruffy haircut and his smelling like stale smoke.
    When Benjamin's campaign came across as elite environmentalists
    at the Sierra Club and Midlands Sustainable debates, I was shocked that Benjamin didn't tell Mike to quit smoking in public.
    Then I read in this article that Mike threw down a cigarette butt. The police were always in full attendance when Benjamin was around. Why was he not arrested for littering?
    I don't think he will go far. He just can't be cleaned up
    to look anything but scruffy.
    Oh, ok, maybe the $4000/month paycheck might buy him
    a new haircut and some decent fitting clothes.
    But, I still think he will look scruffy.

  2. Hey, Sparkle... I look kinda scruffy...!

  3. You always dress sharp! Take him to the thrift shop with you and clean him up. Someone please give him a real haircut.
    But, again I say, there are some people that can not look presentable no matter how much they bathe!

    I really did wonder where he came from. The too small jacket and old bustin out of the faded blue jeans, uneven crewcut look is not presentable. I bet his fingernails are dirty, too. I just didn't want to get that close to check them out.

  4. Related Benji Articles:

    Governor Jim Hodges had two donations of $1,000 a piece. “Friends of Jim Clyburn” also ponied up several thousand dollars" :“non-partisan”-council-seat/

    Benjamin's Worst of Award:

    A House Divided:

    Benjamin's connection to the Village at River’s Edge

  5. I think you mean Vizier.

    215 votes can't buy you spellcheck but I guess it can buy you a column in the City Paper to call a campaign staffer a sociopath for scouting the competition and having tattoos.

  6. Personally, I think a better stab is all the random Caps in this thing. Who is supposed to be editing this?

    I guess at the end of the day being guilty of a random typo is probably less of an offense than being a soulless, power hungry and say anything politician.

    Spell check that!

  7. 215 votes were 200 more than I expected Johnson to get. This was his first run for office and I think at the end of the day people viewed Kirkman and Morrison as having more experience. Kirkman has also been viewed as a maverick so he also appealed to independent voters. Making a good showing for a first run is nearly impossible for someone so like Johnson, who is young and wet behind the ears.

    Yet Johnson's campaigning resulted in more votes than Joe Azar who has run multiple times. One could argue it also resulted in Grant Robertson's candidacy for council to pull in more votes than the newly elected Mayor himself.

    To criticize someone that clearly cares about this city makes you just look like a jealous fool. Who knows what your agenda is WTF but it is fair to say that you would never have the balls to run and would never have the impact Mr. Johnson has had in driving the issues this last election.

    Basically, in short...get a life and try to do something with it.

  8. Here come Aaron's Facebook friends.September 11, 2010 at 2:36 PM

    And we all know where Paul Blake, publisher of this "fine paper," stands.

    Down with career politicians, up with getting drunk on camera!

  9. I know little about Mr. Johnson or Wukela, but I think this article is going to hurt the ex-candidate's position more. The editting is not very good as has been stated, and it all strikes me as petty and a little homoerotic

    I wish instead of this senseless backbiting, Columbia's politicians would step forward to help out poor city rather than take jabs at each other. This isn't a popularity contest and the lives of citizens living in our county aren't the stuff of Disney jokes. I may get called jealous here, but I assure you I am not. I sincerely wish every success in better Columbia.

  10. Also it only looks poorly on your supporters to attack people's character in this way. I know this is the Internet but can't we all be mature and civil if we really care about the issues? :(

  11. "The editting is not very good."
    LOL. More stones from people in glass houses.


  12. Staci :
    Also it only looks poorly on your supporters to attack people’s character in this way. I know this is the Internet but can’t we all be mature and civil if we really care about the issues?

    Unfortunately Wukela and Benjamin don't have character to attack. Read the article. That is what it is all about.

  13. I admitted candidly in my article that my ass was kicked royally by the Benjamin campaign. Perhaps my story could have used a spell check and some grammatical editing, but I wrote it on my Droid and therefore did not have the benefit of the squiggly red and green lines you usually get in Word or OpenOffice. That's something the fine people at Motorola and Google should really look into... I think the Droid is a fine phone but it would certainly benefit from more squiggly lines.

    At any rate, I am very proud of my 215 votes, since they were bought with my time and energy and not with half a million dollars and demagoguery.

    At any rate, I stand by what I said based on my experiences with Mr. Wukela. It is entirely possible that I crossed paths with the gentleman by happenstance at several low points, but the fact of the matter is that the culmination of my experiences with Mikey have lead me to the conclusions drawn in the article.

    I ams who I am, and I make no apologies for it. I'm sure Mr. Blake would welcome a response from any and all of you in his fine local publication so please feel free to try your hand at editorializin'.

    In closing, as an ex-candidate I am fortunate to no longer hold a "position." I merely call them as I see them and I hope, if nothing else, this article has demonstrated that not every constituent in the city is content to nod and smile dumbly. Some of us are watching carefully and, frankly, disgusted by the politically clumsy maneuver that's being perpetrated in City Hall. I expected more shrewdness, m'self.

  14. By the by, both the Harbrace Handbook AND the AP Stylebook entitle authors to two "At Any Rates" for every Kid Rock concert that one switches and directs video for in a single evening.

  15. PPS, Staci, it's not just a LITTLE homoerotic. Wukela is a handsome man, make no mistake, and his siren's call is difficult to shake, even six months later.


  16. Aaron Johnson :
    Some of us are watching carefully and, frankly, disgusted by the politically clumsy maneuver that’s being perpetrated in City Hall. I expected more shrewdness, m’self.

    We aren't supposed to be watching. One Columbia means only one set of eyes...remaining closed well after the invocation.

  17. Well, I guess I'm 1/215 :) Now I can consider it an exclusive group.

    I thought it was an interesting read. Not to rag on the City Paper, but most of my friends only pick it up for the savage love section... so it's not like I expect PC or civil discourse, homoerotic is par for the course.

    and good to know you're rocking the DROID, never had you pegged as an iphone man.

    Keep 'em in check