Mayor Magneto

by Domenika Marzione

Way back in November, 2000, Mistress of Magnet(o)ism Alara Rogers posted a challenge on a Magneto list -- imagine Herr Lehnsherr in public office. It was a time of political hyperawareness, so it fit. The catch was to see Magneto as a politician instead of as a terrorist. Not like Genosha, in other words.

I was intrigued and, at the moment, had not much else to do. I constructed a premise, started the first chapter, and then promptly got sucked into the swirling vortex that was Future Pluperfect while simultaneously remembering that grad school is a method of transport, not a destination. What follows is what was written before that little revelation.

The construct is somewhat simple: it's an Elseworlds fic that bears a strong resemblance to the movieverse. I'm bringing in most of the original X-Men characters, however, and placing them all in a similarly 'realistic' settings. The biggest difference between this universe and the movieverse is that Erik Magnus Lehnsherr is not evil. But if Magnus isn't going to be a terrorist, the trick is to imagine what he might have done otherwise, how his life might have actually turned out.

In real life, I'm the decendant of Jewish immigrants to NYC. Some of my relatives came in search of a better life, some came because they were one step ahead of the pogroms back in the old country. And some came after a few years in the camps. But since none of my relatives turned towards world domination or interstellar terrorism, I figured that they'd be as good role models as any for what Magnus might experience.

As such, Erik isn't the irreligious G-d-hater he is in the comics. He's a cultural Jew, which is admittedly a hard concept to explain to non-Jews who aren't from New York. He's also a German Jew, a group that was historically very different than the Jews of Poland or Russia or any of the other Eastern Europeans. [Don't worry, it'll become clearer in the story what I mean.]

The bottom line, then, is that Erik's battle with his faith is a constant one. And while Erik's not sure what he believes anymore, he is trying to fit in in one of New York's longest standing Jewish commercial neighborhoods, the Diamond District (it's in East 40's, for you out-of-towners).

So, let me introduce my Magneto: a jewelry maker, a widower (Magda), a father (Wanda and Pietro), a grandfather (Luna), a longtime friend of Westchester blueblood Charles Xavier, a lover (Lorna Dane). And a guy who, despite living a life of quiet success, harbors enough ambition to get dragged along into the race for Mayor of New York City.

“Why not, Charles?”

Heavens, I was a fool. It sounded like a good idea at the time, would you believe. It really did.

“I have a hard time believing that you have the necessary temperament for the job, Erik,” Charles had barely looked up from his plate. We were dining at the mansion that evening and the topic had turned to politics. “You deplore both stupidity and bureaucracy, both of which are inherent in the job.”

“I´d tolerate them if I thought I could make a difference.”

“Tolerant is not a word I would generally use to describe you.”

“Drew Steinberg seems to think it might be.”

Charles gave me then his Eyebrow of Disbelief, that look I´ve learned to loath when we are discussing my affairs. “Drew Steinberg is just looking for someone to put up for candidacy who won´t embarrass the Republican Party. If they don´t come up with someone, they´ll end up running one of the former police commissioners and that´s undesirable.”

“The Democrats have hardly had any luck finding halfway respectable candidates – they´re looking at the Consumer Advocate, for crying out loud. I could be the lesser of two evils.”

“Would that satisfy you? To be the candidate least disliked?”

“Is that not how most elections are won?” I tried to smile ironically, but I don´t think I succeeded. It didn´t matter – lying to a telepath is such a waste of time. “Think about what I could do as mayor, Charles. Think about turning New York, the country´s most important city, into a place where mutants could live openly and freely. Think of the ripple effect – from New York City to the world.”

“You wouldn´t be allowed to use the police to chase down homo sapiens, Erik,” Charles smirked as he took a bite of food. “You would have to forego you own separatist views and adopt ones much closer to my own. We have been at philosophical loggerheads for more than forty years, my friend. Are you really willing to suddenly shift philosophies for such an... ephemeral glory?”

“Change is good, sometimes, Charles,” I started. Once again I was faced with the Eyebrow of Disbelief. “When we debated, we were doing so on a more theoretical level. I am willing to make concessions to reality. Have I not done so in my own life?”

“Employing humans is different than working for their interests, Erik.”

“Have you so little faith in me?” I asked plaintively. “When I was young, my mother used to tell me about when she was a child in Vienna. Her mother held a salon where philosophers, writers, artists, and politicians would come to meet and talk. It did not matter that my grandparents were Jewish. It did not matter that some of the attendees were Jewish. It was a place to see and be seen with the famous and talented and wealthy.

“My mother grew up in such a place, but she died in a concentration camp. I let the end of her story dominate the beginning. I let my own hatred deny the lessons my mother wanted me to learn. She died believing that Christians and Jews could live together in peace, that even so fundamental an idea as who were God´s chosen people did not have to be an unbreakable barrier.

“I am getting old, Charles. I am getting too old to be angry at the past just as I am getting too old to be angry at a future that has not yet happened. If I can prevent that future that has cost me so much energy in hatred... I have resisted compromise because I have seen where that has been turned against the defenseless – the Munich Pact gave Hitler the Sudetenland and sentenced thousands, millions, to death.

“I will be no Chamberlain, Charles, but I have hopefully learned a few things in my years. If I have not learned the difference between appeasement and compromise, then I am not fit to lead. If I do not test myself, I will not know if I have learned... But if I have indeed learned, then is it not my duty to teach those who have not?

“I have always held myself as a man of principles, Charles. If I am so terrified of putting those principles to the test, are they really the right ones to hold? Are yours? We talk one way and act another, you and I. I live, love, and work with and among the very humans I claim to loath just as you preach ecumenicist ideas while you run a school for mutants. We are bundles of contradictions, Charles, and I would hope that you would support me in my attempts to untangle my own beliefs.”

Charles Xavier, my oldest friend, said nothing for what seemed like an eternity. And then he took a sip of his wine and then smiled.

“Every step of the way, Erik. Every step of the way.”

I think that is when I finally realized that I hadn´t taken a breath in a while. I exhaled into a smile and sipped at my own wine.

“Thank you, Charles.”

This time, I got the Eyebrow of Bemusement. “You realize, of course, that the Democratic Club of Westchester is going to revoke my membership.”

“Is it too much to ask to get the recycling day – since they are making us now recycle or else the garbage Gestapo comes after us – is it too much to ask that it be changed from Saturday to Wednesday?” Mordechai Marcus stood up and asked, his tzitzis shaking with each wave of his hands. “We can´t bring things out to the front on the Sabbath. We aren´t open on the Sabbath. They know that. This area has been Jewish since the turn of the century. Why can´t they figure out that Saturday is not a good day for *anything*?”

Shouts of approval and agreement filled the room. Our beleaguered city councilman runs his fat fingers through thinning hair and sighs into the microphone. “Look, I know it must seem impossible to understand the logic of it... but there isn´t anything to be done about that. The recycling schedule is set up borough-wide. It´s Saturday by you because it is Friday somewhere else and Monday somewhere else again. The city just doesn´t have enough trucks to take care of everyone at once.”

“It´s three o´clock in the morning on Sundays where I am,” I hear someone shout out and the room laughs. What else is New York City life than garbage trucks rumbling through the streets at all the wrong hours?

I am not enjoying myself, but I never do at this ‘town hall´ meetings the councilman sets up. They are kvetch sessions, nothing more, nothing less. I go because I have always gone. Within this huge metropolis, little communities sprout up. And like other little communities, everyone knows everyone else´s business. My absence would be noted and discussed. And while I do not care about the nattering talk of small minds, putting in an appearance makes my passage through this little world, one that is at once utterly familiar and completely foreign to me, that much easier.

“I think they are waiting for Datlin to volunteer to be everyone´s Shabbas goy,” Irv Bernstein leans over to me. “If you ask me, he could use the exercise.”

I smile and nod – Datlin is three hundred pounds if he is an ounce.

Irv gestures with his head towards the side of the room. “Look at the black hatters over there,” he frowns as we turn our attention to the Hasidic contingent sitting apart from the rest of this almost entirely Jewish crowd. “They´ll have nothing to do with us, but they show up every meeting.”

I can feel Irv´s frustration even without his empathy projecting it. Other than Charles Xavier, he is probably the only one still alive with a view into my heart and soul. Irv, like me, is a survivor of the camps who has found a new life and a bit of success here in New York. And, like me, he is a mutant. We have been friends since we met at a deli more than forty years ago and have seen each other through almost every phase of life.

Tonight, we watch in bemusement as the argument continues. Datlin is a fat, indolent ass of a man who chose politics as a career purely out of laziness. He is content to serve as a councilman and does not strive towards any greater office, as that would involve frequent trips to either Albany or Washington. He is not a bad man, merely one who is content to remain flawed. It is not his fault, then, that he represents a community whose every need is foreign to him – he simply has no interest in learning.

“Datlin is up for election next year,” Irv looks at me. “Why don´t we put someone up against him. A Yid, preferably, but failing that someone who at least can figure out why there is no pepperoni pizza at Mamma Mia´s.”

“And who would you choose?” Louie Lobel leans forward in the seat behind me. “Who in this room could get everyone´s support? Datlin wins re-election every term because we all hate him and we know that he´ll never favor any of the groups over the other because he hates us all, too.”

I feel Irv´s amusement a moment before he opens his mouth. “Erik could do it. They´ve already asked him to run for mayor.”

I frown at Irv´s betrayal. He had been there when Drew sounded me out about running. I had refused to take the idea seriously then, but subsequent discussions with my children gave me pause, and then there was dinner with Charles last week.

I had meant the discussion to be purely theoretical – I was still absolutely certain of my refusal. But, as often happens when I debate with Charles, I saw things in a new light. And now I found myself wondering about the possibilities, a dangerous thing. Certainly when one associates with telepaths and empaths.

“It might work, you know,” Louie nods. “It has a sort of perverse Frank Capra quality to it. Mayor Lehnsherr. It´s got a nice ring to it.”

“You two have been hitting the J & B too hard,” I shake my head. “You´d be running my campaign, Irv, and that means no basking in Fort Lauderdale this winter.”

“Feh, one year without the hungry widows I can deal with,” he says, his Polish accent creeping into his speech and hardening his ‘th´ with impunity. “I agree, then. I´ll be your campaign manager.”

“Should I decide to do this,” I temper.

“You´ve decided,” Irv waves away my caution. “So let´s get the campaign underway.” He stands up. “Excuse me, Councilman, but I think we have had enough of this wishy-washy business. Can you, or can you not fix this problem with the Sanitation Department?”

“I told you that it´s out of my hands, that all I can do is wait until a good opportunity presents itself to...”

“Not good enough,” Irv waves his hands and then points towards me. “My friend here is running for mayor. He isn´t even a real politician; he works for a living. I bet that he can get this problem solved even before he wins the election.”

The room is thrown into chaos. Datlin and his flunkies hem and haw while people stand to see who Irv was pointing to, and that sends another wave of chatter throughout the school cafeteria we are sitting in.

I am not a popular man in this room. Well known, but not well liked. The actual feeling, Irv tells me later, is somewhere between pity and reluctant respect. They find me arrogant, but feel that is my greatest sin. And not a few think that this, too, is beyond my control.

I am a German Jew, and even before there was a Holocaust, the German Jews were different. Aggressively secular, almost to the point of being deracinated, the German and Austrian Jews were such an integral part of their mainstream culture that they could not – would not – believe that a little man with small-minded views could pull them out of their lofty place in society.

One Hitler later, I have maintained my forefathers´ secular attitudes, but have added to it a healthy (too healthy, Charles reminds me endlessly) paranoia. My concern is for those who have risen in the place of the German Jews – mutants. I stand watch, lest their refusal to believe that, given half a chance, their non-mutant associates would turn on them costs them their lives once more.

I live in a Jewish world – it was the one I fell into when I stumbled off of a boat in 1946 – more out of convenience than out of comfort. But unlike almost everyone else in this room, I do not use my religion as boundary.

Many, if not most, of my friends are not Jewish, and if they are, they are secular ones. I do not keep kosher and while I do not open my shop on the Sabbath, it is for appearances only as I do not follow any of the other tenets of the day of rest. I go to synagogue only on holidays, and then it is to either rage against a god who hath forsaken us, or to say Yizkor in memory of the dead in case I am wrong.

I am honest enough with myself that I do not believe I have continued my parents´ ecumenicist views unchanged. After my own fashion, I am as biased as any of the men here in this room. But instead of which half of the Bible I find definitive, my boundary is instead a parallel one, the line between homo sapiens and homo superior.

Charles and I have been on opposite ends of the debate since it was begun. And we will remain on opposite ends until one of us is proven correct. I live in fear that it will be me.

In theory, humans and mutants can coexist in perfect harmony. Charles believes this theory can become reality, that with enough evidence and education, just as gender and race changed from defining characteristic to merely just another descriptive fact, so mutants will be granted acceptance into the mainstream.

But I always challenge Charles´ definition of ‘acceptance into the mainstream´. Is it enough to be accepted in deed, but not in thought? I am a moderately observant Jew in deed, but it is all empty action without the beliefs that I cannot force myself to hold. In this country of liberty and justice for all, we have ‘affirmative action´ to force such acceptance of minorities, just as we have the Equal Rights Amendment to assure the same acceptance for women. Are these not the same robotic motions as my attendance in shul?

But Charles´ answer is always the same. He makes the analogy of learning to walk. Our first steps are made with the aid of those who know better – our parents hold our hands as we stumble awkwardly and when those hands fall away, we quickly tumble. We do not understand our actions then, putting one foot in front of the other is a move done without meaning. But eventually, we start to grasp the idea and our actions become meaningful and so when next our parents take away their hands, we toddle on our own.

The moral, Charles insists, is that we eventually will find beliefs to substantiate our actions. And just as I find myself thinking more about what goes on in synagogue instead of just sitting there and daydreaming, so humans will eventually find the ‘truth´ behind the forced acceptance of those different from themselves and will come to believe it on their own.

This is where our different experiences come into play. Charles believes that man is an empty vessel, that there is space in the jar of life to pour in that which would make acceptance of mutants an automatic and natural action. Our prejudices are written in chalk upon a blackboard. The wrong answer can always be erased and corrected.

I believe our prejudices are instead engraved in alabaster. By the time we are old enough to reason, that alabaster has hardened to the point that it is unchangeable. In the Holocaust, I learned that everyone hates. Everyone. And it is much simpler to hate the obvious – what is different – than to hate what is wrong or what is stupid. We are not tabla rasas waiting to be painted with the gilded words of truth. We are carefully carved stone waiting to be spattered in blood.

“Hey, Erik, stand up and say something,” Irv interrupts my reverie. I look around and see the expectant faces.

“The garbage trucks roll through Chelsea on Wednesday, Councilman Datlin. They are in Hell´s Kitchen on Friday. Tell me, sir, is it beyond your capabilities to pick up a map of Manhattan and point out to the Department of Sanitation that we are exactly between the two and that maybe the theatre district does not need their recycling handled on Thursday after all?”

The room fills with laughter. Datlin looks simply shocked that someone might actually have spent five minutes of their own free time looking into this matter. He certainly hasn´t.

“My name is Erik Lehnsherr, Councilman Datlin. I am running for mayor. I am intolerant of stupidity and I deplore laziness and I would be extraordinarily ill-fitted for the mayor´s job were it not for the fact that the one good thing I could accomplish would be to force men like you to do as the rest of us do and work for a living.”

I am running for mayor. I said it out loud. And eventually, I will find courage to tell Charles that while I live in fear that I am the correct one in our ideological debate, I am not above allowing the chance that I am wrong. And if that is so, then I have been given the opportunity to hold the hands of many as they take those first, empty steps that maybe, just maybe, may turn into a run in a future for mutants that is without fear.

“Dad, it´s me. Umm... did you tell Luna that you were running for mayor? I know you were kidding and all, but, well, she´s in her room making campaign posters. So be prepared when you see her this weekend. I´ll talk to you soon. Bye.”

The answering machine beeps.

“Poor Pietro,” Lorna comes in from the kitchen laughing. “He´s not going to take this well, is he...”

Pietro, my son, is a mutant, like me. But unlike me, he has tried to wedge as many things into his life as his super-speed can manage. An engineer with a degree from an Ivy League school, a decorated agent for the CIA, a doting father of a beautiful girl... but when it comes to adapting to change, he is much more inflexible than his old man. Pietro has his ideas on how things should be and when they do not end up that way, he has, as his sister would say, “coping issues.”


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