Saturday, April 07, 2007

Where Have You Gone, Generalissimo Manny?

In "Chinatown", John Huston's character tells Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) "'course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough".

It's a great line, and one that might end up being on Manny Aragon's tombstone someday. Right now, though, the new Courthouse may be ugly, but Manny hasn't quite lasted long enough to be considered respectable. He might have to live quite some time before anyone really thinks that.

I'm a relative newbie to both Burque and its South Valley (Burque 1993, SV 2000), but even I remember a few things about Manny is his real heyday. My favorite was the billboard some years back placed just before the bridge over the railroad tracks at Broadway and Lead, featuring an ultra-large picture of an ultra-large Manny, looking every bit the resplendid Generalissimo peering down over his Barelas fiefdom like the pair of bespectacled eyes in "The Great Gatsby". The use of the phrase "larger than life" would be an understatement.

Being the case, it's actually pretty easy to envision a day not too long from now where we all think fondly back to the days of Manny in the same way we chuckle about Richard Daley, Huey P. Long and Lyndon Johnson. Man they were cantankerous and corrupt, but at least they were cantankerous. At least they didn't rely on insta-polling, nerdy advisors and indirect attack ads to get they wanted. They were just corrupt and attacked directly anyone who stood in their way. Simpler, really.

And Manny will be part of that "simpler time" theory, but for now he's just some six-bit shakedown artist (allegedly). Or maybe just two-bit. I notice that the very thorough list of payments noted in the fine, fine Journal article by Mike Gallagher shows that Manny was only getting checks of around $40,000 every month, while others were regularly giving themselves six figures. I'm betting he's a bit pissed off about that right now.

Two final thoughts for now: 1. How much worse off is the South Valley because of Manny Aragon? Very hard to tell, and I'd love to get some feedback on that one. Of course there are evidently some down here who would say Manny has been a godsend. Hopefully some 20-something Political Science Master's candidate can tackle that question in a thesis or dissertation some time soon. I wouldn't mind reading it; 2. Is the "Black Robe" investigation looking at any construction projects beside the Courthouse and Metro jail? What would a deeper investigation of public works going back decades show? And is this possibly long-term web of corruption in any way responsible for all the ugly public buildings in this town? I can see a future touring company that shows ABQ visitors all the downtown buildings, while a microphoned tour guide pleasantly relates the payoffs, kickbacks and such that went into building it. God knows it would be a more popular tour than one devoted to the architecture of said buildings.

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