The Mayoral Funeral Attended By A Thousand Guests And Seven Hundred City Employees

by Travis Mateer

Yesterday morning I got as close to Mayor Engen’s baseball stadium funeral as I felt comfortable in order to provide an on-the-ground report about the Mayoral send-off. The video clip I recorded references the significant amount of city employees who appeared to be “on the clock” to make this event possible.

The number I got of employees involved in this send off–over 700 of them–came from Mayor Engen’s best friend, Michael Belusci. Considering how desperate the financial situation is for so many Missoulians, I don’t think ignoring the cost of Engen’s send off is a good idea. So I won’t.

As a poet educated at the University of Montana, my eulogy is a little different than Senator Tester’s, or the former Mayor of Missoula, Mike Kadas, who made a tasteless fat/drunk comment about our dead Mayor. I guess that makes sense coming from the coward who hid at an undisclosed location during the tumultuous Hells Angels visit in 2000, which resulted in over 100 arrests of local citizens unhappy with a militarized police presence in our liberal utopia.

So here’s the poem. Adios, Mayor.

reporting for the paper
didn't fill the hole
John, he was a joker
to hide a hurting soul
he moved us like a waistline
lacking self control
townships are for bumpkins
a city was his goal

I'm stepping over needles
and bodies under tarps
a stadium awaits
beyond the grocery carts
Broadway got a diet
his belly got a knife
on the city plan
to extend his life

for what, I'm left to wonder
to disappear our town?
to actualize a fiction 
standing upside down?
no more empty words
making hopeful sounds
you finally made your exit
to rot beneath the ground

no more soaring platitudes 
the Ice Queen scans the crowd
Senators and Governors 
offer up their clout
colleagues of the game
pretend he did his best
posturing like peacocks 
with narcissistic zest 

meanwhile little citizens
go about their day
keeping shut their mouths
if nothing nice to say
we're like that in the west
even towns on zoom
wondering if our tolerance
is running out of room

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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2 Responses to The Mayoral Funeral Attended By A Thousand Guests And Seven Hundred City Employees

  1. When cancer-afflicted Mayor Bill Cregg committed suicide with a handgun in his office in the 80s, there was no stadium service. There were thousands of Missoulians lining the sidewalks and lawns along the route his casket took to his final resting place. That procession included Police and Fire Dept. personnel in white gloved formal dress, Boy Scouts, bagpipers, et al. I have no idea whether city employees were “on the clock.” I can’t imagine that many would have seriously cared, if they were. He was a beloved mayor who didn’t do good things only when others were watching. He was elected in a competitive race, with many citizens expecting that he would be a shill for business interests. He wasn’t. He was everyone’s mayor. Though many would take offense at his quip I’m about to relate today, there were no such complaints at the time, because it was not intended in a sexist way and everyone knew it; rather, it was quick retort to someone who invoked a sexist trope, a retort emphasizing that this developer was a self-entitled carpetbagger:.

    A big developer appeared before the City Council in a final attempt to win approval of the kind of development the City encourages and subsidizes today, and citizens oppose. I don’t mean low-income housing, BTW. Anyway, the developer had been stymied at every level of the process and couldn’t grasp why this town of Montana hics was stopping him. At one point, the developer said to the Council, “I just don’t understand … I feel as if I’ve asked permission to date the town’s last virgin.”

    “That’s where you’ve made your mistake,” Mayor Cregg shot back, “there aren’t any virgins in Missoula.” (In other words, there weren’t any naive locals who could be seduced into supporting the development).

    I suppose I could polemically elaborate on the contrast between Mayor Cregg’s final send-off and that of Mayor Engen, but I can’t see how that would serve any purpose. I attended Mayor Engen’s celebration of life yesterday. I noticed that attendance was far below what I anticipated, which I attribute to the heat. Two rows of seats below mine, sat City Councilors Nugent, Contos and Anderson, along with some appointed officials. What struck me was the relative dearth of attendance at the stadium affair, vs. the massive throngs paying respects to Mayor Cregg as his procession crept through the city.

    I think this is a function of our atomization in a social media world, and the gentrification of Missoula, as much as anything else. Very wealthy recent transplants who do not work and who derive 100% of their incomes from collecting rents and dividends, living in the luxury apts & condos built with public subsidies, or in one of the many hundreds of homes bought up en masse as investments, now comprise a shocking 40% of Missoula residents. Back in Mayor Cregg’s tenure, that was not so, and Missoulians fought hard to preserve treasures such as Sacred Heart Academy (demolished by Sisters of Providence) and to block invasion by giant chain groceries (successfully at the time) that would use cutthroat tactics to run the mom and pop grocers out of business (such as the Mt. Jumbo Grocery that once occupied a converted residence on Van Buren). There were protests when Perkins built its restaurant (now owned by 4Bs) over Rattlesnake Creek at the spot where Lewis & Clark’s expedition camped. The same when historic old houses occupied by low-income renters, near the mouth of the Rattlesnake, were razed to make way for the hotel/convention center. More such housing was removed three years later to expand its parking lot, leading to some direct actions by anonymous Haydukes alarmed by the gentrification. And more protests when McDonald’s planted a franchise in the spot that local family-owned Griff’s Burgers had occupied.

    Before that, predating Mayor Cregg, one of the local ‘Seven Families’ deforested the wild urban forest bordering Greenough Park and built the big apartment buildings along Rattlesnake Creek. It’s little remembered that upon those big buildings being first framed by laborers, they were quickly destroyed by arsonist(s) who were never apprehended, and had to be rebuilt.

    One of the ‘Seven Families’ next brought in Southgate Mall. It was the death knell for the downtown stores that served the needs of the working class.

    But those were changes financed entirely by private capital. It would be a few years before the sui generis amalgamation of hometown folks whether Ds or Rs, well-reflected in the City Council’s composition, would morph into the shocking Tale of Two Cities we have today, fueled by the neoliberal/boutique liberal Council majorities that have held office during most of the 17-year Mayoralty of John Engen, and that will continue following his passing.

    That’s as much as I’ll say regarding the legacy of the Engen era. I take at face value the words of those who knew him best and longest, describing the late mayor as a good and decent human being who sincerely pursued what he believed to be in the best interests of all residents.

    But I cannot avoid noting that Acting Mayor Jones more than once fondly referred to the late mayor’s frequent directive to staff to “take the rest of the day off.” The large contingent of public employees chuckled every time.

  2. Good write-up, JKH. You should write more about Missoula’s history.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but…I find it interesting that more people attended Tommy the Leperchaun’s ‘funeral’ in 2003 than did Engen’s yesterday. The former also got the traditional procession across the Higgins Avenue Bridge that many of the city’s notables get. I imagine Mansfield got it in Oct. 2001 when he died. I wonder how many have recieved that special treatment since those days…any? Interesting that Engen didn’t get that. I suspect they’ll blame the construction. By the way…wasn’t that bridge supposed to be done nearly 3 months ago, now?

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