Spring/Summer 2004, Volume 21.3
Coroner Candidates Vie at Forum
Michael Fedo has published six nonfiction books, most notably, The Lynchings in Duluth (2000) and The Man From Lake Wobegon (1987). His short novel Indians in the Arborvitae was published in 2003. His stories and essays have appeared in The North American Review, North Stone Review, American Way, North Dakota Quarterly, and elsewhere. Read another story by Michael Fedo published in Weber Studies: Vol. 23.2.
Amid accusations about lawn sign vandalism and theft, the Meet the Candidates Forum for the special election of Piquete County Coroner erupted in pushing and shouting yesterday at the Thanatology Center gymnasium. The incident signaled a return to the slug-fest campaigning that has long characterized coroner crusades here. Until now, this race had been free of acrimony following last April's resignation of Dr. Emmitt Fourmilier who departed citing chronic morbid depression.
Green Party endorsee Rosso Verde was first into the fray—supported by a boisterous crowd from the Federation of Family-Owned Dry Cleaners—charging roving bands of teens, encouraged by opposition candidates, had trashed "Verde for Coroner" lawn signs. Verde, an alternative systems analyst at Finn, Fenn, and Fogarty, Inc., is the only candidate without a medical or scientific background.
Republican Antoinette Boggisdottir minimized the complaint. "Mr. Verde is merely attempting to focus attention on a floundering campaign that has failed to energize voters. It's just another one of those hurricanes in a toilet bowl," Boggisdottir said to cheers from a National Rifle Association contingent, which earlier this week announced its endorsement of her. But she also cast aspersions of her own: "There are reports that my brochures have been removed from doorsteps and mailboxes and dropped into storm sewers. My people believe perpetrators represent the other major party."
Blandon Sweeley, the Democrat's nominee, accompanied by local officials from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, dismissed the incidents: "Recent polls show we're slicing into Dr. Boggisdottir's lead, so she conveniently blows this smoke screen to raise phony imputations over what most voters regard as schoolboy pranks.
"For the record, a Democrat serving as coroner has public, not personal interests in mind," said Sweeley in a veiled reference to Boggisdottir's failed attempts to win election to the Library Board, and to the Wetlands Commission. "Dr. Boggisdottir seeks the coronership as a stepping stone to higher office."
Boggisdottir countered that Sweeley is a typical tax and spend liberal. "Make no mistake, the coroner's budget faces a five-fold increase if he's elected. Moreover, can the citizens of Piquete County expect, should a prominent contributor to the Democratic Party succumb, let us say, to a drug overdose—as happens rather frequently with your coke-snorting Hollywood celebrities—that my Democratic opponent would publicly reveal that fact?"
Libertarian candidate and chiropractor, Ernie Volterschmidt argued that neither major party candidate had made a case for election. "Democrats and Republicans have had decades to prove themselves, and have failed to even validate the necessity of the office. My position has been clear from the start: `He coroners best who coroners least.' Taxpayers should not have to retain a full-time coroner at all. Libertarians would work to divest Piquete County of this melancholy occupation."
Advocates from the Smallmouth Bass Alliance gave Volterschmidt—the organization's immediate past president—a standing ovation which was disrupted by NRA members shouting for Boggisdottir.
After relative quiet returned, Verde, who is expected to split the protest vote with Volterschmidt, reiterated the Green Party position. "We take a holistic approach to both life and death. We are concerned with death because, taken on a worldwide scale, it often results because major parties encourage excessive military spending and get into bed with corporations that pollute the planet. Who knows that the foul chemicals released daily in our atmosphere aren't already at work assuring sterility in future generations? I'm in this race because I see us staring face to face with the extinction of our race and other sentient and non-sentient beings."
"Obladee, oblada, life goes on," said a smirking Boggisdottir.
"It does indeed, and on this point I agree with my opponent," Sweeley said. "Because life goes on, death is inevitable, and that is why our forefathers established the estimable position of coroner."
"It is wasteful of government to spend time and money on post-life examinations," Volterschmidt countered. "It's life that should concern citizens, with death a mere afterthought. Since Dr. Fourmilier's resignation, our county has been without the services of a coroner for nearly five months, and no one has complained. If the family of a deceased wishes an autopsy, there are plenty of freelancers who could assume the duty at no cost to taxpayers.
"And one other thing—upon examining skeletal remains I have often found bones racked with untended spinal stenosis, lordosis—issues often corrected by gentle manipulation. Pain causes stress in the human body, and stress in the extreme results in death. There is seldom the need to carve up a corpse to verify the cause of expiration. If the deceased had seen me or another chiropractor earlier, we probably could have corrected this stress condition, further reducing the need for a coroner. As chiropractic care becomes more mainstream, citizens yet unborn will come to marvel that folks in our generation held elections for coroner."
"We need to rethink the American way of death," said Verde. "Humans are the only species who bury their dead, which is both prodigal as well as environmentally unsound. Since there is no law requiring the coroner be a physician, I'm not bound by medical profession cronyism, which is at its core elitist and self-serving. We need to think outside the box if we're to develop a viable death process. Consider for a moment that there are countless other life forms facing extinction due to lack of nourishment. Human remains could be brought some distance from population centers to be utilized to sustain our brother and sister species so that all could harmoniously exist one for another. Think about it."
"That's a tasteless attempt to obfuscate what voters need to know about how a candidate will serve Piquete County," Sweeley said. "Every step in my professional career has reinforced my desire to serve in the office of coroner. I spent countless hours on my own time, riding with ambulances to the scenes of horrific auto crashes, pickups smashed to smithereens at rail crossings. Why would I do that? I wanted to prepare myself for the eventuality of assuming command at the Piquete County Coroner's office.
"Rest assured that if I'm elected, citizens will be treated equally regardless of creed, religion, race, gender, or manner of death. As a Democrat who has refused campaign donations from hospitals and clinics, I am not beholden to those moneyed interests, and I am free of their influence."
"Voters are tired of such blatant political blathering," Boggisdottir said. "Today coroners are on the front lines, along with police, firefighters, and the National Guard. Naturally, I believe the public is best served by a Republican coroner who is on the same page as the President of the United States."
Verde responded with a common vulgarism referring to a male bovine waste product, which triggered the audience skirmishes. Police quickly restored order and made no arrests.
"Don't look for an abatement in this asperity," said Grace Emerson-Emerson, covering the campaign for the trade journal Postmortems Today. "Citizens expect their coroner to exude a personal magnetism in confronting death's vicissitudes. Because none of these candidates seem to carry that charisma, this race is far from settled."