You might not have heard of Camberwell, but we like to think of our town as New England's most progressive community. In some parts of the country, "illegal aliens" can't even get welfare or an education. In Camberwell, they can run for mayor.
A young man named Kieran O'Brien flew into Boston holding a six-month tourist visa. He liked the U.S. so much, he decided to stay.
Kieran couldn't afford an apartment of his own, so he rented a room from Ida Wilson. She's a widow and Kieran took her shopping and helped her with her garden. While digging into the soil to make room for a row of daffodils, Kieran asked her, "Do you know anyone who might be needing some odd jobs done?"
"I know fewer and fewer people each year," Ida said. "But you know what's steady? Government work. It was the best thing during the Depression."
Kieran picked at a stone with his trowel. "I can't work for the government. I'm here illegally."
Ida waved her knobby hand. "In this town, they don't care. The City Council passed a law. It says you can't discriminate against the undocumented. Go to City Hall tomorrow."
So that's what Kieran did. He checked the job board, which is located in the Rotunda. There was a posting for an Administrative Assistant, but it involved typing. The Planning Director position required a Master's Degree. That's when he found out the city needed a new Mayor. And the job had no qualifications whatsoever. It was perfect.
Kieran appeared along with three other candidates at a forum held at the Donovan Middle School. The Camberwell Chronicle's pre-forum poll pegged Kieran's name recognition at 1% and his support at 0%.
But Kieran spoke out boldly. "I'll bring a new approach to city government. In fact, during the last election two years ago, I was living with Mum in back in Ireland. So I can't even tell you what the old approach was."
During the question and answer period, Stephanie Erlich, a city councilor who was also running for Mayor, asked Kieran, "Isn't it true that the real reason you're running for office is that it's the only job you can get without a work permit?"
Kieran leaned forward against the lectern. "I may be undocumented, but think of it this way. You've heard of the paperless office? I'm a paperless office-seeker."
The folks down at Kelso's Coffee Bar sounded off after the forum. "The undocumented are the hardest working people in this country," Joe Whitten said. "We need someone like that as Mayor." Cheryl Aikens added, "That fact that someone like Kieran O'Brien can run makes me proud to live in Camberwell." One week later, Kieran was in second place in the polls, just two percentage points behind Stephanie Erlich.
On October 17, Erlich held a press conference. "I cherish this country's tradition of open borders," she said. "In fact, my great-grandfather stowed away on a ship when he came to America. In New York Harbor, he jumped over the side and swam ashore."
Erlich enjoyed a temporary bump in the polls, but her campaign was shaken when an investigative journalist from the Chronicle discovered that, far from being a stowaway, Heinz Erlich arrived in the United States in 1913 in a first class stateroom aboard the Hamburg-Amerika Line's S.S. Imperator.
Subsequently, when voters were asked, "Which candidate do you trust," Kieran O'Brien came out on top. By late October, it appeared he had the election sewn up.
But in the final candidate debate, a thirtyish woman in the audience asked Kieran, "Do you agree that the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants should be extended to private homes where children are present?"
Kieran said, "Kids will just find another place to smoke." There were gasps in the audience.
Then, in an astonishing gaffe, Kieran added, "Besides, I don't see what's wrong in going down to the pub for a smoke and a pint of stout." Hisses and jeers drowned out Kieran's closing statement.
The next morning, while raking leaves for his landlady, Kieran was approached by federal agents. Someone in Camberwell had tipped off the INS. Upon arrival at the federal building in Boston, Kieran filed for political asylum. The judge asked, "Do you mean to tell me you are afraid of being politically persecuted if you return to Ireland?"
"You mean it has to be Ireland?" Kieran asked. "I'm afraid of returning to Camberwell."
His case is now pending.