The morning after the riots Gotham City awoke slowly, blearily, afraid, and repulsed, as if the whole town were experiencing a collective hangover. Few among them were totally blameless. So much violence, so much anger, so much death. While the sentiments that had inspired the unrest could be called nothing if not honest, the costs of their expression could be considered just as exacting.
There had not been one person as respected, as highly regarded as Thomas Wayne, nor as undeserving of his fate. He’d spent much of his life trying to be a help to those less fortunate. His wife too; she’d encouraged his efforts at creating literacy centers for at-risk youth, for subsidizing rents at his apartment complexes, for creating jobs and practically begging the city to tax him. There were many both literal and figurative tears shed upon learning of his murder. Some of the very people who’d seemed to be braying for blood just as quickly turned on themselves, as if an expression of their collective sub-conscious had been exorcised; it grew quickly and was found contagious, but, upon gaining hindsight, seemed so deplorable a sentiment for a city known not only for its difficulties, but also for its creativity, its dynamism, and its eccentric diversity. Maybe, just maybe, something good could end up coming out of this after all, but, at the same time, who could say when the next Joker might come along, the next donning of the masks of a murderous clown, which were suddenly seen scattered emptily about Gotham’s streets like used up Christmas trees.
Perhaps no one felt this imperative, this responsibility, as clearly as mayor Jose de Cristo, who clearly had not taken note of the people’s pain and urgency until it was too late. Unless he found a way to deal with the crime problem, the garbage strike, or the shredding of the social safety net, the next outburst might be even worse, even more difficult to heal from. But how could he do anything on his own? He would need the federal government’s help, that was sure, but would it not be advisable to first see what Gotham’s leaders could accomplish on their own? Maybe the titans should first convene and come up with some kind of outline, some kind of plan. It was worth a try, anyway.
Mayor de Cristo came across this idea the very day after the Waynes’ murders. He called a meeting to be held in city hall. Every alderman, city council member, and state senator; the police’s top brass, the CEO of every large corporation with a presence in Gotham, school board, the City College system, transit board, public utilities commissioners, labor union presidents, Mercy Hospital directors, and port officials would receive an invitation to speak. In the invitations he tried to communicate his sincerity and what he saw as the absolute imperative of the task before them: to come up with a plan to literally save Gotham from itself. He would not go down in history as the mayor who watched his city burn. Something had to be done. So too it would be open to the public, who could observe from the atrium but wouldn’t be given a chance to speak, as this would prove too unwieldy. The event would also, of course, be recorded.
Wayne Enterprises’ headquarters were located downtown on 14th St and Commerce Way. Thomas Wayne had been President and CEO. Bill Whittaker, Vice-President and Chairman of the Board, came to work the next day just like everyone else. He learned of Thomas’ death from the newspapers, just like everyone else. For the most part the company’s wheels would keep turning on their own. Bill willingly took up the immediate responsibilities that his boss would have handled himself, but it was obvious that there would be some instability until they decided on a new leader. He supposed that he himself would be the obvious choice. The thought wasn’t completely unappealing.
Mayor de Cristo’s invitation arrived by messenger near the end of the work day. Bill thought it sounded like a fantastic idea. He might have something to say himself concerning how best to move forward. One of the reasons he and Thomas had worked so well together was Thomas’ faith in his subordinate’s generosity and magnanimity. The concept of fairness had been an important one to the late Mr. Wayne. He knew he’d come from privilege, and that most people in the world couldn’t say the same. To keep that generosity of spirit alive struck Bill as important. God knows Bruce was too young to contribute. Bill had met him a few times and had been impressed. Almost as an afterthought he decided to call Wayne Manor and inform the head butler and the heir to the throne of the immediate developments: that Bill was perfectly happy to play acting CEO until they’d made a decision. He spoke to Alfred, and happened to mention the mayor’s upcoming meeting too. Alfred paused and spoke to someone away from the phone.
“Mr. Kingsley?” Bill asked.
“Just a moment, Bill, Bruce just walked into the room.”
Bill couldn’t make out the conversation held away from the receiver. Maybe twenty seconds later Alfred came back.
“Bruce has a request of you.”
“He’d like a recording of the meeting. He wants to know what happened in his absence.”
Bill was surprised.
“The mayor himself said he’s making sure there’ll be cameras running,” he said. “It will be on the news, and there will be recordings. But don’t you think Bruce is, well, too young for these kinds of concerns?”
“I’m only telling you what he asked me. In my opinion he’s wise beyond his years. At some point he might make use of it.”
“Okay, no problem. And please give him my sympathies. His parents were important to me too.”
“I will, Mr. Whittaker. I look forward to hearing from you. As you might imagine the running of the house as fallen to me. Since neither Thomas nor Karina had siblings or living parents I’m also going to made Bruce’s legal guardian. We agreed on it.”
“Wow, poor child. Please give him my best, Alfred. Take care.”
They hung up the phone. Bill left the offices into the groaning, recovering city, and was home within the hour.
Since seating arrangements at the event were first come first serve the line outside City Hall grew early in the day and would eventually wrap around a full block of 42nd Street. Those with invitations formed another, shorter line. At 6:00 pm the doors opened and the public began taking their seats. Mayor de Cristo watched from an office above the atrium. His hands were shaking. He would implore the public for patience and silence. It’s fair to say he was afraid, or at least nervous. He’d prepared a speech. He wondered if anything concrete might come of this. At least he was sure the sentiment would be interpreted as honorable.
He poured himself a shot of whiskey and took it, coughing slightly. He chased it with a sip of water, then took another shot. The world, no doubt, would be watching. Half an hour later he went downstairs, speech in hand, to do the best that he could given the circumstances.
The police admitted about two hundred and fifty public seats and then closed the doors. There were about as many invitation holders, who took their seats on the first floor. One of Mayor de Cristo’s assistants, one Martin Waverley, took the podium. He tapped it a few times and found that it was live.
“Hello everyone, thanks for coming. Please take your seats. If you could, please remain silent while the mayor is speaking. We know you all probably have something to say, but unless there’s order we just won’t be able to get anything done. They Mayor’s on the way. At a certain point we’re going to open the floor to the public, at least to those who made it in. It might be helpful to think of this as a networking opportunity. If you come up with a good idea, please share it. That’s why we made sure to invite people whose opinions could have a certain impact. I don’t think I need to remind you that the whole world is watching, so, please, let’s not make a fool of each other.”
There was a slight laugh from the audience, and then it fell mostly silent.
Mayor de Cristo came in from a side door.
“And now,” said Waverley, “Mayor de Cristo.”
There was applause. Waverley stepped away from the podium and Mayor de Cristo took it. He tapped the microphone too, almost as a nervous tic.
“Hello Gotham City,” he said. “I’m so glad you could make it.”
He took a deep breath and shuffled the pages he’d taken with him.
Around the city television volumes were turned up. Bruce, in one of Wayne Manor’s living rooms, turned up his, and the Joker, in prison, watched through a television fixed to the upper corner of a room full of fellow inmates. Both rooms were otherwise silent.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think I need to tell you that what’s happened over the last few weeks has shook me to the core. Maybe I underestimated the pain out there, the need. They say that a riot represents the language of the unheard. Well, let me say that after last week you’ve gained perhaps more attention than you wished. If that’s what it takes to shock people like me into action, then apparently I hadn’t been doing my job right. You entrusted me to be your voice, and I failed. It’s clear to me now that something’s got to give, and if I can make that happen, then I will. You can be sure that I’ve petitioned the president himself for help, and he might, he’s still thinking about it, but first let’s see what we can accomplish ourselves, prove that we’re not unwilling actors. Who knows, a little creativity might go a long way.”
He paused and looked into the crowd. No outbursts yet. So far so good.
“But I’m not letting you off the hook either. Ten people died over the course of a single night. I say to those who perpetrated these acts, without a trace of condescension, that you should be ashamed of yourselves. But I guess we all should share some guilt for what happened. I just want to try to make sure that it never happens again. As Mayor, who knows, maybe this isn’t a lost cause. I want to promise you, furthermore, that I’m trying. I really am.”
“Guy’s good, isn’t he? Our tax dollars at work,” Arthur said to the guy he was sitting next to.
“Why they even doing this?” the man, a young black man, replied.
“Hey, it’s worth a try, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, you would know.”
Mayor de Cristo said: “First, let me tell you a little about myself, in case you didn’t already know. I’m a second generation Puerto-Rican. My mother brought me and my sisters up working at a dry cleaner. I got into city politics just out of college, and from there it’s been mostly a story of good luck, a bit of skill, and faith in my beliefs and abilities. I’m a Democrat, capital ‘D’, so I bleed blue. I believe that one of the reasons the riots were so bad is that, while too many were suffering, too many were also living lavishly, mostly unaware. There are a few things we could do just right out the door: raise the minimum wage, take a harder look at rent control, and try to clean up the streets. I know that’s a loaded term, ‘clean up the streets,’ and could mean a lot of different things. I say it almost literally, actually: there are too many homeless, the garbage strike has gotten out of hand, and our sidewalks are, especially downtown, downright filthy. I have on idea in particular that I’m looking forward to developing: that is job training centers that can specialize towards specific needs. I can tell you right now, with a capital ’T’: Taxes. I sure hope you agree. You probably wouldn’t have voted for me to begin with if you didn’t.”
Mayor de Cristo was gratified to hear a smattering of applause, mostly from the upper level. He’d written this speech straight from his heart. He hoped it was being received that way.
“But that’s only one thing we can do. I know it seems elitist of me to have an ‘invitation only’ section, but we have to be practical. There are a lot of great reasons to run a business in Gotham, and we’re gonna need cooperation on all levels to make it happen. I believe, if he were still alive today, Thomas Wayne would agree. Another unfathomable casualty of the riots. His son, Bruce, is watching from home now, along with many of you. Some day he’ll take the wheel at Wayne Enterprises, but today he’s just a boy, a boy without parents. Still, he made it clear to me that he wanted to watch this event. Bruce, I hope it’s okay that I called you out like that, but from what I can tell of you I’ve found myself impressed.”
“How did he know that?” Bruce asked Alfred, who shrugged.
“Must have heard it from Bill.”
They both kept watching.
Mayor de Cristo: “I believe I’ve made it clear that I’ve heard the message: we need to do something to help each other, and fast. If there are jobs that need filling, let’s make it clear to everyone watching where they can be found. Let’s talk to each other, come up with ideas. I’m not going to spend all night talking, in fact I think my speech is a short one. I’m taking a bit of a risk, but I want to encourage my invited guests not to be shy. Let’s try to hash something out. Let’s show them Gotham is better than what happened, that we can rise above it. We’ve got a lot going for us, after all. We’ve got one of the most advanced subways in the world. Commerce Way is a nexus for the global stock market. Our populace is diverse and cultured, and when times are hard we’ve proven in the past that, when we have to, we can roll up our sleeves and do the hard work that needs to be done. Let’s think of this as one of those times. This is everyone’s responsibility: we need to get something done, and we need to do it fast. Thank you so much for coming, or watching, or listening, or picking up a recording of this meeting to watch later. Let’s not let those ten lives be lost in vain, and let’s try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Thank you.”
Mayor de Cristo took a seat next to the podium. He had a microphone of his own positioned there so he could moderate the rest of the event. Everyone seemed to sit with his speech for a moment, and then the applause came, quiet at first, but building, and de Cristo found himself feeling gratified, appreciated. What he’d said had come from the heart, but was clearly only the beginning of a conversation the rest of them agreed needed to happen.
When the applause died down no one had yet stood up to take the microphone. There were a few moments of something of an awkward pause.
Mayor de Cristo said: “Come on people, don’t be shy. I’m sure you’ve got a thing or two to say about what I’ve said.”
There was a light staccato of speech from the crowd, people speaking to their neighbors. A few more seconds passed and then a tall blond-haired white man seated with the invited audience stood up and approached the podium.
“Hello everyone, my name is Lawrence Spellman. I’m CEO of ACE, American Cinema Enterprises. You’ve probably visited one of my theater multi-plexes at one point or another. I just want to say that you made me a little nervous talking about raising taxes. It’s not that cut and dry, Mr. Cristo. You might scare some of us away if it gets too expensive to do business in Gotham.” He put the microphone back and went back to his seat.
To this statement there was no applause. Indeed there was an upwelling of boos from the upper level. Some of the invited seemed to laugh a little at this.
“No, that’s just the kind of discussion we need to be having,” de Cristo took the microphone to reply. “But it’s my belief that the strength of Gotham’s economy is inviting enough to take a bit more bureaucracy. Have you got any help wanted signs, Mr. Spellman?”
“Yes we do,” Spellman shouted back.
“Then please, by all means, tell us more about them. Every invited guest was given a sheet of paper when you came in. That’s our directory. Call one of those numbers tomorrow and give them the details, what jobs you have that need to be filled. But I’m serious about raising the minimum wage.”
A little while later a middle-aged black woman came up to the podium.
“I’m here on behalf of Gotham City College. We’ve got a need for admin and secretary workers. These are solid, full-time jobs, but it’s hard to find people qualified or trained for what we need.”
“Well I think those are just the kind of job trainings we can put together. When I get a detailed proposal together it’s one of the programs I’ll ask the feds to help us with.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” the woman replied. “We need janitorial staff too.”
The next person to approach the podium, another white man, said he represented Mercy Hospital, which had several campuses throughout the city:
“I think this needs to be said. The Joker was not an anomaly. He was in fact a perfect example of the pit falls we face cutting mental health services to those that need it. He’d been off his meds several weeks before the killings began. We can’t let that happen any more. His social worker was laid off. We need to get her back again, coordinating with us for whatever drugs she needs.”
There was more applause at this. Jose de Cristo nodded. As the night progressed and more feedback was proffered he seemed to become more and more pleased with himself. It was clear he wasn’t the only one to think long and hard about the challenges that lay before them.
At one point Bill Whittaker took the mic and said he and Wayne Enterprises looked forward to discussions of rent control and the employment opportunities at some of their hotels. He even listed a few phone numbers for job seekers. The next day they were not the only ones to receive a plethora of interested applicants.
The Joker, to hear his name mentioned, felt no more than a sudden burst of shame. But, he told himself, if that’s what it took to get them to pay attention, maybe it should have been done a long time ago. Yet he was ashamed to find that he believed this too.
And Bruce, sitting with Alfred, produced a notepad and wrote down the numbers Bill listed. Alfred saw him do this. He supposed it would be superfluous to remind the boy that he was still in school. He wondered again at the task before him: to raise a child who, by his very name, was born so close to the center of things, without any family save the butler, beset by looming responsibility come adulthood, and the monumental task of gaining maturity to live up to. Alfred only hoped he’d be able to do it. Bruce had never been hard to live with, but who’s to say what challenges the coming years might bring.
Several hours after Mayor de Cristo’s speech the event came to a close. Most everyone who witnessed it felt, thankfully, an overall impression of hope at what they’d heard. Maybe, just maybe, things might get better after all. Maybe a spirit of cooperation was left behind in the wake of the killings, the riots, and their terrible hangover. Maybe it would never happen again. But, at the same time, rose-colored glasses could sometimes color things unrealistically. Anyway, it was generally agreed that Mayor de Cristo had his heart in the right place in calling the meeting. And over the coming weeks, indeed, a lot of jobs were applied to and a lot of them were filled. Now it would come to he and his staff’s creativity in architecting the raise in minimum wage, and the coming appeals to the federal government. God knows, as did President Clinton, that Gotham could use the help.