Harold, the Mayor of Madison
By Elizabeth Collins
It was election night in a town called Madison, and the citizens were supposed to vote for a new mayor. The problem was, no one liked either of the candidates. One was a boor--red faced, loud, cranky. The other candidate barely looked awake.
The people of Madison called these would-be mayors Grumpy and Sleepy, like two of Snow White's dwarves. No one really wanted to decide between them. One seemed just as bad as the other.
© Stavros Nicolaou
As a joke, someone in town sent around a petition and managed to add a new name to the ballot: Harold the Cat.
Harold was famous in town for cruising through backyards catching mice and letting children pet him. Friendly, sleek, and shiny black, Harold was always out and about, making his rounds. Most people in town knew who Harold was, and they liked him.
Harold won the election by a landslide!
This was the most noteworthy thing to ever happen in quiet, little Madison. The newspaper announced Harold's win in a huge headline: Harold the Cat Kills the Competition in Mayoral Race!
The town was even on national television after its absurd election, and Grumpy and Sleepy made the political talk-show rounds, publicly outraged about being bettered by a cat (and seeming not to realize that they were making themselves look even dumber by complaining about it).
But then, there was just one little problem: How would a cat ever manage to lead the town's government?
There was talk of holding another election, but this would take weeks or months to set up and neither Grumpy nor Sleepy would give up the race (ugh).
Some people said there should be an acting mayor in the meantime, and Grumpy--who came in a far, far distant second to Harold--said this job was rightfully his. The people disagreed (because Grumpy was so obnoxious); they vastly preferred Harold.
"Just give that darn cat a chance!" shouted a man at an emergency town meeting held soon after the election. "Harold certainly can't make anything worse!"
So the people agreed, voting in a special referendum that Harold would lead Madison until they figured out something else.
Harold's owner, Mary Peterson, brought the cat to weekly meetings in a basket, and lured him up to the council table with his favorite food: grilled shrimp.
At the first meeting, the council and an overflowing audience of citizens and reporters just sat there in silence for what felt like an hour, waiting for Harold to do something, anything. It seemed as if they even expected Harold to open his mouth and speak.
But the cat just gave himself a bath, slowly and carefully. He started with his tail, moved up to his back, then licked his paw and finally wiped his face. Everyone in the meeting stayed quiet, staring at Harold, wondering what this excruciatingly slow self-grooming process could possibly mean, until Mary shouted out, "I think Harold is telling us we need to clean up this town! Harold is saying that we need to tidy Madison from, uh, bottom to top!"
Murmurs of assent swept through the room. Madison certainly did have its share of litter and trash and fallen tree branches. The other council members voted to establish a new seasonal, town-wide clean-up, and recruited volunteers.
The next item on the meeting agenda was traffic lights. Some residents stood up to speak publicly and complain that the town really needed some new lights, and that a big intersection downtown wasn't even safe because there were no traffic signals there.
Council members protested that there wasn't enough money in the budget to pay for more traffic lights.
Just then, as if he were responding to the protests, Harold stood and up and leaped down from the council table. Holding his tail high and proud, he marched straight out the door. All in attendance at the meeting sat frozen for a moment, watching Harold's tail descend down the town hall steps. The people seemed as though they didn't know exactly what to do.
Someone finally piped up, "Follow the cat! Harold is probably trying to tell us something!"
Everyone rose--the town council, all the lawyers, Mary Peterson and every citizen who had come to the meeting. (The newspaper reporters were the first out the door.)
Harold gently padded down the Town Hall's winding marble staircase and was streaking out the open front doors when the people caught up.
Outside, it was dark indeed. Harold, being a black cat, was utterly invisible in the dark, except for his glowing, yellow eyes.
Harold walked toward the unlit intersection that had been decried as "dangerous," and calmly sat down in the middle of the road. The people could just see his shimmering eyes--placid, and unblinking--staring back at them.
"What a wise cat!" said one woman on the council. "Harold is showing us that we really do need a light here. Right where he's sitting, in fact. We'll just have to hunt through the budget and find the money somehow. Maybe we could also solicit some corporate and private donations."
Harold's owner, Mary, ventured into the road (seeing Harold out there made her understandably nervous), scooped up her cat, and said to all present that it had been an interesting meeting, but now Harold really needed to be getting home. It was 10 o'clock, past time for Harold to be hitting the fuzzy gray bathmat that he called his bed.
Everyone at the meeting reluctantly left, with the reporters and the lawyers thrilled that this meeting had been both the shortest and most productive one yet!
The next week, Harold led the council and even more spectators three blocks away to a nursing home. He pawed at the sliding doors and when they opened--due to the weight of the people behind him--he strode on in and lightly jumped into the lap of old man who sat in a wheelchair in the lobby
Harold curled into a tight ball on the old man's lap, purring audibly. The old man stared down, amazed at this friendly cat, and petted him with bent and shaky hands.
Before he left the nursing home that night, Harold made sure to greet every single one of the residents, rubbing up against their legs as they sagged in their wheelchairs, and the presence of the gracious cat cheered everyone up--even the people who said they didn't care much for felines.
"Harold's telling us that we need to start a visiting pet program. We need therapy pets!" said one of the lawyers. "Even I can see that."
Harold's wise and generous leadership continued for the next several months. The townspeople never did vote Harold out of office while waiting for a "real" mayor.
When a new election was finally held, Mary Peterson, running against Grumpy (but not Sleepy, who had finally bowed out, realizing he could never beat the popularity of that stinking cat), took over Harold's spot.
You see, by that time, Harold had lost interest in politics and wanted to do more pawprint paintings. (His artwork still hangs in a local cafe.)
Many years after Harold's successful term as mayor, a statue of him was erected in the middle of town.
People still talk about Harold, and how he got more done for Madison than any other mayor had before him. Voting for Harold was the best move the people of Madison ever made.