Register for Forum |  Forum Login |  Forum Control Panel  


By Bryan Newbury
November 5, 2006
“All politics is local.”

Should you wish to disprove Tip O’Neill’s famous advice, which actually dates back to Finley Dunne, you needn’t look further than Anytown, USA.

Ostensibly it captures the most local of political races: that of the mayoral in Bogota, New Jersey. Bogota is typical of small town America demographically, culturally and politically. The main concerns of the citizens, depending upon whom you ask, are either taxes or services. One maverick answered this type of question by stating he’d like lower taxes and better schools and roads. We wonder why the best and brightest stay out of politics.

That truism still has legs. At the outset, citizens of Bogota are seen up in arms about budget cuts which threaten the school. Schools are always high on the list for potential voters, but the problem goes even deeper in Bogota: it could kill the football team!

The focus of the community’s ire seems to be the incumbent mayor, Republican Steven Lonegan. Lonegan is straight out of central casting for the role of the brash, cocky Republican incumbent, with one exception… He is legally blind. As we see during the course of the film, his empathy extends almost as far as his eyesight.

The citizens of Bogota, mirroring those of the United States, are split on Lonegan. Once again those responding to the interviewer’s questions are either supportive of him because he’s kept taxes low or irate at him for eviscerating their services. The fire department and police department fall generally into the second camp, and there are some fireworks early on between the mayor’s right hand man and a prominent Bogota policeman. In-between these two camps there is the majority, who would likely echo the gentleman in wanting better streets and schools but don’t see why they have to bear the burden of deficits and high taxes. This group of independents, as in national elections, is the one that will end up breaking the tie between the first two.

Whether we like to admit it or not, personality is key among undecideds. In the beginning it seems that Lonegan’s assertive and arrogant persona could cost him. It probably would, but true to form the Democratic Party manages to field a man as underwhelming as the human mind is capable of imagining.

It doesn’t help that the Democratic candidate, Fred Pesce, is ailing. How much the illness effects the campaign is anyone’s guess. It is fair to say that regardless of Pesce’s condition, the Democrats were running an anemic campaign.

Just when you think that this microcosm of national politics couldn’t be any closer to a sad farce on the macrocosm, enter David Musikant, billed as “The Wild Card Write-In.” Musikant, also legally blind, is fed up with Lonegan’s administration and planning on using his status as a local high school football star to unseat him.

Or is he? Shortly after Musikant announces his candidacy the accusations fly. At first, Lonegan’s opponents complain that he will siphon votes from Pesce. The Republicans opt for ignoring him. This isn’t too surprising. Musikant suffers from a medical condition himself, which led to his blindness. He is also a peculiar character. Though he is known and loved throughout the community, he is not widely perceived to be someone with any gravitas. As the Republicans are ignoring him, the Democrats are gathering force against him. From the first complaints they elevate to accusations of collusion with Lonegan. Rumors fly about Musikant taking a large sum of money from Lonegan’s campaign. The viewer is never sure about the validity of these accusations. It is a credit to the filmmakers that the specter of these supposed deals hovers constantly, providing real suspense.

Pesce’s campaign stumbles along impotently; Musikant is gaining support; Lonegan is employing a machine that resembles a Congressional campaign. The latter is even publishing campaign literature that looks very much like a daily newspaper. Actually, “The Bogotian” has a better layout than many larger newspapers. Though the door-to-door scenes do conjure far flown memories of local politics, it is impossible to ignore just how much the whole game mimics federal politics. A well-funded but ineffectually governing Republican is running a bare knuckled campaign against an impotent Democratic challenger who is more concerned with an upstart independent. Sound familiar?

On top of all of it, the fate of the football team hangs in the balance. The Bogota Bucs begin their season unsure of whether there will be a season at all. They get trounced at their season opener. Then the unthinkable happens. They go on a four game winning streak which continues on to the state championship playoffs. As the football team’s story is reaching crescendo, Musikant accomplishes a coup by hiring on Doug Friedline as campaign manager. Friedline is best known for his role in the rise of Jesse Ventura to Minnesota governor. During the initial phone call, Friedline lays out a number of prerequisites for a successful campaign. The list is staggering, and contains a number of legs, minds and skill sets. Pressing the flesh doesn’t cut it.

As Friedline comes onboard, so do the Bogota football Bucs. Citizens are found saying that “people don’t seem to know where they (the Democrats) stand.” With the assistance of a national manager and the young Bucs, Musikant seems to be taking the mantle of true challenger. His fate seems to catapult in proportion to this team. Questions persist for both the viewer and Bogota Democrats. Is Musikant sincere in his bid? If he isn’t, it isn’t easy to tell.

There are moments in Anytown that seem to contravene the conventional wisdom that the taint of politics-as-usual have invaded politics-as-local. As the story becomes unveiled, one feels that this story isn’t just the final nail in the coffin of grassroots civics. It also serves as metaphor. What could be a more perfect diagram than that of an internally wounded candidate facing off against two myopic foes?

Beyond the politics, events take place that put the whole horse race in perspective. No matter what it might seem, politics remains as human as its participants.


Color, 93 minutes

Directed by Kristian Fraga and Juan Dominguez

Review this film for yourself.

Purchase this film at

Post a comment

Name:  (enter something here)
Email:  (and here)
URL:  (but not necessarily here)