Finding the Right Spots to Chat

Some conversations tend to be of "high" priority. Photo by David Kidd As part of Governing's 2009 Public Official of the Year coverage, I spent the ...
by | November 3, 2009
 

Grain-elevator

Some conversations tend to be of "high" priority. Photo by David Kidd

As part of Governing's 2009 Public Official of the Year coverage, I spent the better part of a day taking photographs of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. At first, it looked as though I would be limited to watching him promote flu vaccines at a suburban Maryland elementary school and later, as he participated in a ritual groundbreaking ceremony at Bowie State University. I did have him all to myself between events, but we were limited as to where we could go in search of an appropriate background.

I watched him stoop down to look first graders in the eye, and later as he posed with a golden shovel of new dirt. And in between I got some pictures of him in the school library which were not too bad but somehow didn't exactly look worthy of a Public Official of the Year.

As we chatted afterward, he asked if I would like to follow him to Annapolis and take some shots around the Capitol building. A half hour later, I was in the Governor's office getting a personal tour by the Governor himself. I was having a wonderful time, and it seemed as though he was having just as much fun as I was.

"Would you like to go up to the balcony?" he asked me. I thought he meant the balcony that overlooked the main floor of the Capitol. He meant the balcony up on the roof.

We made our way through the dusty darkness and up a few flights of ancient stairs, security men and assistants in tow, finally arriving at the door to the "balcony." It was a beautiful sunny October day and the Governor was clearly enjoying the view of Annapolis all around us.

Jefferson and Madison once locked themselves up here and spoke alone for three hours, Governor O'Malley told me. I wondered what they must have said to each other. But I did not wonder why they chose this spot to do it. It was wonderful to be up so high above the world and at the same time to be so alone. It was a perfect place for a private conversation.

A week later, I was in Greensburg Kansas, there to photograph another Public Official of the Year, Steve Hewitt. At one point during the day, Steve presided over a meeting of contractors as they discussed the progress they were making on rebuilding the town. Being rural Kansas, there was a tall grain elevator next to the train tracks at the edge of town. The meeting trailer wasn't much more than a hundred yards from it.

I asked Steve if we could go up to the top and he said he'd ask the people in the office at its base. I learned that that office was the very first thing to be rebuilt after the tornado had leveled Greensburg. That's how important that grain elevator is to the town. But first, we had to sign papers that released the company from any responsibility in case one of us happened to walk off the edge.

Steve Hewitt, Greensburg's Assistant City Administrator Kim Alderfer, an electrical engineer whose name I don't remember and I each took turns riding the self-operated one-man lift to the top. I went first and it was an experience unlike any other. The ride is made in near darkness. If I had wanted to, I could have reached out through the gate and touched the wall as it whizzed past. I chose not to.

Stepping through the door to the outside was not unlike my experience above the Capitol dome in Annapolis. Although the weather was misty and gray, I could see well past the town to the endless fields beyond. Steve told me that until recently, there was no railing around the top. He didn't really like to be up there, but was nice enough to do it for me. After a few minutes of picture taking we headed back down, one at a time. I went last.

As I walked to the elevator I noticed two dusty chairs, close together, facing each other. Two people had been talking up here, far above the rest of the world. I wondered what they must have said to each other. But I did not wonder why they chose this spot to do it.

Check out photos from Annapolis and Greensburg here and all eight of this year's Public Officials of the Year here. Story Behind the Story appears every Tuesday.

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