The Beautiful Blond is not at home. Outside her modest, low-slung house, hidden coyly and indistinguishably amidst a nest of the similarly designed, her small sporty car waits in abeyance. It is bright red, red as the brilliant red dress she wore one New Year's Eve at a Louisville party when she was still married and, presumably, happier than she is now.
"She's the kind of woman every other woman wishes she looked like," is how one admiring neighbor describes Mary Ellen Farmer. "Tall, striking, a great figure, well-groomed and she looks like a movie star."
Inside the Blond's colonial-style brown kitchen, a plump dachshund barks furiously.
Inside the sporty crimson car are two large, empty wine boxes - suitable for moving. You couldn't blame the Lovely Blond for moving, if that indeed is what she is going to do. They've made her life pure hell these last weeks in Louisville.
They sent their cameras and their reporters pounding on her door, shoving their mikes in front of her young teen-aged daughter, chasing the blond herself down blocks and blocks just to get a "no comment."
"I think," says one neighbor, "I think Mary Ellen was the all-around loser. The sacrificial lamb."
But that, of course, is so often the fate of women who are linked with their married bosses - especially if the boss is a well-known politician. That is nothing new.
What is new that in this instance the married politician is the mayor of Louisville, Ky. William Stansbury, grandfather, father, husband, 55 years old, mayor a mere eight months. What is new is that now the Louisville Board of Alderman is investigating Bill Stansbury to see if they will eventually remove him from office for possible "illegal, improper or unethical activities." They've voted to hire Watergate counsel Sam Dash as a consultant.
Fifty-six percent of the people of Louisville (according to a poll taken by the Louisville Times) want the mayor to leave office. Of those 12 percent want him removed by the aldermen.
Other than that, nothing is new. The details of this story are trite beyond measure - trite and poignant. This is merely the story of a beautiful blond, a mayor, a clandestine trip to a New Orleans hotel. This is the story of a mayor who got caught in an embarrassing situation, only because the Louisville firemen went on strike just when he was in New Orleans. This is the story of a mayor who lied about his journey to New Orleans, claiming he was in Atlanta at the time discussing affirmative active programs.
He would get caught in that lie; he would repent. A great length.
This is a story, in other words, you could never turn into a novel. They'd throw it right out of the publishing houses. A Matter of Timing
In a profuse and abject apology on TV the mayor said he lied about his whereabouts "to protect my family."
That was after the Louisville Courier-Journal broke the story of where he really was. The mayor claims, or has claimed, that there is no romantic involvement between him and the beautiful blond who was - until she recently resigned - his office manager and administrative aide.
On July 13, they journeyed (separetely) to New Orleans along with a married couple named Belinda and John Hawkins. The mayor says he did, in fact, make a very brief stop in Atlanta; in fact, have an interview with someone there. But then they are the Hawkinses flew on to New Orleans where he slept in one room (containing a queen-sized bed, according to the local papers) with John Hawkins; while Mary Ellen Farmer slept in the other room in another bed with Belinda Hawkins.
But the calls and letters of bitter complaints keep pouring in to the 12 city aldermen. "Ninety percent of them focus on his private life," says Alderman Jerry Abramson, one of those investigating the mayor's conduct who (it is rumored) wants very much to be mayor himself.
"Well that is not an impeachable offense," he continues. "It was started by the fact that during the one major crisis in seven months, the mayor left town. That's the major problem."
The mayor's problem, in other words, is timing. Bill Stansbury went to New Orleans at the wrong time: The firefighters' strike had been pending about 10 days. Memphis had just endured 400 fires and $5 million loss of property during its own firefighters' strike.
Bill Stansbury became mayor at the wrong time: Ever since Watergate, since Wilbur Mills, since Wayne Hays, we allow no public official his little secrets. Mayor Stansbury apparently kept his secret so well that his own executive assistant didn't know where he was (although the mayor kept in touch by phone.)
Bill Stansbury's false explanation for his disappearance came at the wrong time. A lot of folks didn't believe he was boning up on affirmative action in Atlanta - not after he'd recently vetoed an affirmative action plan in Louisville.
And his troubles came at the wrong time. Mayor Stansbury is an old, experienced and pretty conventional Democratic pol. The Board of Aldermen who hold his fate in their hands are - some of them - bright, sassy, more liberal and younger Democratic pols, products of George McGovern and Bobby Kennedy, and that eerie, terrifyingly smug thing that has come to be known as "post-Watergate morality."
"One would have to be blind to the lessons of Watergate not to realize that the legislative branch of government must scrupulously oversee the affairs of the executive branch," announced Abramson the night his committee met to begin investigating the mayor. Nine of 12 city alderman (Abramson among them) ran on a different ticket from the mayor during the primaries.
Two of the aldermen on the investigative committee have protested vehemently, threatened resignation from the committee, feeling they were left out of the process that led to the selection of Sam Dash as special consulant.
There is civil war in Louisville: Democrats vs. Democrats. There is generational war in Louisville: the implacable young vs. the old trusty party boys. There are whispers of possible corruption in Louisville. There are invocations daily to the days of Sam Dash, Sam Ervin, and all the rest.
In Louisville they take themselves very seriously. 'Return to Basic Services'
"I did sleep with Mr. Hawkins," the mayor of Louisville insists quietly in his office. Behind him is a gorilla mask.
In his pale, green-checked sports jacket, Bill Stansbury is looking about as white and grim as would anyone petitioned to answer questions about whom precisely he slept with just before the firefighters' strike.
"I've been on trips before where I've slept in beds like that," he continues solemnly. "It's not the most practical thing in the world." Suddenly, he stops, appalled.
"I hope you don't infer from that, that there are any OTHER moral problems, because there are not!" He settles on a chuckle of embarrassment. "I've been on camping trips with men where we all double up in the same room."
Asked why he simply didn't get his own room, the mayor replies, "I never thought of it."
When he was asked by a local paper why he went to New Orleans at all, the mayor replied that the trip was made to cheer Belinda Hawkins up affer her miscarriage. John Hawkins is an employe of an accounting firm under contract to the city, and something has been made of that. Belinda Hawkins is, according to one news account, a good friend of Mary Ellen Farmer - only Belinda Hawkins won't talk to the press.
One of the questions that has arisen out of that fateful New Orleans sojourn - one that the aldermen will be investigating - is why Mary Ellen Farmer's stay in New Orleans wasn't considered vacation time on the payroll time sheets.
"She had about 200 hours of compensatory time coming," explains the mayor, "yes, ma'am."
The mayor shakes his head sorrowfully over her resignation.
"Mrs. Farmer resigned on her own. I think it's unfortunate and I'm sorry. I think we all have taken the rap. Not just one person."
He leans back, slinging his legs over the arms of his chair, looking very tired just now. "Everybody lost by it," he continues in a low murmur, "the city's taken the rap. For which I'm deeply sorry and asking forgiveness."
The mayor is asked how his wife, Dorothy, took the revelations.
"I'm sure she was angry at the time." He amends that quickly. "No, I don't say angry. I'm sure she was hurt, deeply hurt. And my daughter - she was shocked and surprised."
This should never have happened to old Bill Stansbury known for years in Louisville, as the president of the local Bar Association, president of the Board of Alderman, head of the local Democratic party, former college cheerleader, and the most cautious of men.
Three years ago, when asked if he was building up support to run for mayor, Stansbury replied with great caution but little coherence, "When you get in a position of things like that might not happen that you're not in a position to take advantage of it and that you probably would."
Anyway, he won. He had paid his dues back in '65 by running a losing race for county judge, by sacrificing himself, in other words, for the sake of the greater glory of the Democratic party, and a lot of people felt Bill Stansbury should be rewarded with the enticing job of mayor this year.
And in a way, he seemed to be just the man for their purposes. Louisville had been run, for the preceding four years, by a reform-minded millionaire who drove a Maverick, Harvey Sloane. Bill Stansbury, say local residents, "wearing the kind of sports coat you keep in your closet and haven't worn for years," appealed during his campaign to very specific special interest groups: the cops, the firemen, labor.
"Part of our campaign," says Jacques LeRoy, once the mayor's executive assistant, "was a return to basic services of government."
Part of the mayor's problem is that very slogan: The firefighters perform, after all, a basic service. Because Mayor Stansbury was out of town when the strike began, a circuit court judge threw out a restraining order against the strike on a technicality, four days later.
Another part of the mayor's problem is that there have been reports of some unsavory activities, past and present, by some city officials.
And a third part of the mayor's problem is Jacques LeRoy, himself. After the scandal broke, LeRoy left as the mayor's chief assistant and was put into another city job with a small pay cut. LeRoy was, by several accounts, the palace guard, a shrewd and fierce watchdog standing between Bill Stansbury and the rest of the world. The old buddies of Bill Stansbury, the longtime Democratic pols, found their access limited once LeRoy moved in - LeRoy, that "slick," that "abrasive" Hoosier who used to work for former senate from Indiana, Vance Hartke.
"I'm not vindictive or angry," says LeRoy of his recent troubles. "But I think it's a poor reward for a heckuva lot of work."
Too much work, suggest some of the citizens of Louisville. Jacques LeRoy, they claim, is the real brains behind the mayor's office, the real worker, too, the mayor being one who likes to golf and generally enjoy himself.
"Even people who loved Stansbury," says one official who does not "feel like LeRoy changed Stansbury's whole personality. He used to be accessible.
"What ever happened to that Bill Stansbury?"
And, they add, now that LeRoy's new job will take him to Washington as a consultant on federal programs - what ever will Bill Stansbury do without him? How will he get out of this mess?
One day before the scandal broke, Mary Ellen Farmer ran into a friend at the local grocery store.
The friend told Farmer how sad she was to hear about her recent divorce. The other woman said it was quite all right. Her former husband, Cliff, traveled a lot on business. As a result he hadn't spent a whole lot of time at home, anyway.
The friend then remarked that she knew Mayor Stansburg was under a lot of criticism lately. Did Farmer like her boss?
"You better believe it," said Farmer.
"That," says Jim Reed, the mayor's press liaison very dryly, "that is a very flattering picture of Mary Ellen Farmer."
He is gazing at a photo of her the newspaper got hold of - cropped from a group picture showing Farmer and the mayor greeting Goofy and Mickey Mouse from Disneyland.
There is an extraodinary scene going on here, in the press room outside the mayor's office. One female employe is sitting cross-legged on the floor clipping out recent articles on Stansbury. The headlines read, "MAYOR LIED . . ." "STANSBURY INVESTIGATION OPENS," "'BAD GUY LEROY' WAS NATURAL TARGET."
These will later be pasted into a gigantic scrapbook which press liaison Reed is kind enough to proffer to an out-of-towner. It is all very helpful.
The clippings say that Farmer had been seen publicly with mayor at several functions. That she'd been his secretary when he was still a lawyer. That she was 39 when she filed for divorce last January. That the foursome who went to New Orleans stayed at the Royal Orleans hotel.
Jim Reed, supervising this for awhile, says resignedly, "I suppose they're now gonna x-ray the mattress with some device to decide which position (the mayor) sleeps in.
"He does snore very loudly, I've heard."
Jim Reed also says, "The fire department - they were looking to walk, looking forward to it. It was a holiday almost . . . a city doesn't burn down because one man is out of town."
The head of the firefighters' union says they were not looking to walk.
The mayor says, "If I'd known the strike was coming the next day I would not have gone out of town. But again, as I've said - you cannot be a prisoner in your own castle." Rumors and Murmurs
The mayor, in fact, arrived home from New Orleans about five hours after the strike broke at 7:45 a.m., July 14. He says he'd kept in touch all night with Jacques LeRoy, and took the first available plane with an empty seat. But that is not the point.
The point is the woman, the hotel, the lie, the prevailing attitudes in Lousiville where almost 50 percent of all Democrats voting in Primaries are Catholic and the Catholic mayor who appealed to their Catholicism. The point is that there are people who no longer trust the mayor.
Over dinner two aldermen and one of their friends talk among themselves:
Who paid for the mayor's trip to New Orleans, anyway? one of them asks. (The mayor says he did.) What about those airy rumors of corruption in town?
"It is hard," says a friend of the aldermen, "to describe the aura of incompetence and corruption that surrounds the mayor. There is no proof. No one can touch him. Yet."
But the murmuring continues for all that.
The aldermen are investigating for all that.
All the travel, entertainment and lodging expenses of the mayor's office are being studied, for all that.
On a dark and stormy evening the cleaning lady at city hall scolds Alderman Abramson for having misplaced his umbrella.
"You have to be careful," she warns, "so-and-so can't find his umbrella either, and somebody stole another person's umbrella."
The mayor," says Abramson with a little chuckle, "moves in mysterious ways." Unwitting Catalyst
So ultimately this is not a simple story. It may have started off that way - but in the end, the lovely Mary Ellen Farmer was merely the unwitting catalyst, the inadvertent explosive that blew a lot of fears, a lot of gossip, a lot of politics out of the water.
Ultimately, too, this is not simply a story of Louisville. It's a story of what is happening in this country now. It might have happened - but it almost surely would not have been reported - 10 years ago. Because journalism has changed, politics has changed.
The mayor is asked if he's talked to Mary Ellen Farmer lately.
Wearily, he shakes his head. "I better not," he says.