The Last Stand of the Emperor

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

It is Sunday night and the clock has just ticked past one o’clock. Dennis Fitzgerald sits alone in his office at Parramatta Leagues Club, at the desk where he has courted patronage and wielded power for over thirty years, and stares solemnly into the dark night. His tie his loose and his top button undone and he gives the aura of a weary man in the throes of deep reflection. He puffs on a Montecristo No.2 cigar, the last in his box, a glass of 18 year old Macallan scotch, straight up, nestled in his hand. The near-empty decanter sits on the desk.

Three hours previous the results of the Parramatta Leagues Club election were announced over the loudspeaker. Fitzgerald’s ticket, the incumbent board, had been unceremoniously tossed from power, the rebel 3P ticket, led by Ray Price and Brett Kenny, winning all seven positions with over 70% of the vote. Alan Overton, the current chairman and a board member since 1986, was cast aside along with the rest of his ticket. It was a brutal electoral stomping and the second election battle Fitzgerald has lost in the space of two months with the rival 3P ticket also winning control of the football club. The results were met with a tidal wave of impromptu cheering, spontaneous hugging and a great deal of glibness.

Fitzgerald did not leave his office when the results were broadcast. He is wise to politics and he knew the score well before most. The writing was on the wall and he knew it from the moment counting started.

Earlier in the evening, Fitzgerald had called a meeting with the men whose patronage he owned: Ron Hilditch, Geoff Gerard, Alan Overton and others. Normally these men would be considered advisors but it was anything but with Fitzgerald: he dished out the advice as well as the orders and considered himself above the opinions of the men he surrounded himself with. The source of much of Fitzgerald’s power was his ability to fill the important posts of Parramatta with yes-men and those without the inclination or ability to attain political clout. Fitzgerald was desperately plotting his next move, a trapped man clutching at the last remnants of power that had once been total. Power is never absolute, however. Times change, as Bob Dylan said, and total power can never be maintained forever.

Fitzgerald’s coterie was thrown out soon after, however. One of his lieutenants suggested the meeting be moved to the Tingha Palace, the club’s Chinese restaurant that had become central to the election and the practices of Fitzgerald and the incumbents when $30 meal vouchers were sent to members with Chinese names along with a how-to-vote card. “We could all go a feed right now, a Last Supper, I guess.” Fitzgerald reacted by hurling a glass of scotch at the “dumb and useless son of a bitch”, barely missing the gentleman’s head before smashing against the wall. “You useless fucks are incompetent swine. Get the fuck out of here and don’t come back.” The room quickly emptied.

And that is how it stayed long into the night, Fitzgerald refusing to answer calls or leave the office. There would be no concession speech. Grace was not an option for the man used to operating on his own terms.

In the hours that followed, Fitzgerald went through many of the stages associated with grief. There was denial, Fitzgerald refusing to believe that his power had been diminished. He could work with the new boards, he told himself, despite the pledge of his political enemies to drive him from office once elected. There was anger. Oh, there was plenty of anger. There was bargaining: with himself, with others. For the first time in thirty years, Fitzgerald was prepared to negotiate, to deal, to give up some ground.

By one that night, when Fitzgerald was full of scotch and solitude, he was deep in the throes of depression. He reminisced about the days when he was the Emperor of Parramatta, the King of the CEO’s, the most powerful man in western Sydney. He cried for the days when his power was unquestioned and his position untouchable. Thoughts drifted by about the power he attained from the day he was appointed CEO upon his playing retirement at the age of twenty-seven, a power that allowed him to singularly choose coaches and fire players and select his salary and decide the pork barrel list. He puffed on that Montecristo No.2 and closed his eyes and remembered better days.

How do you think it feels
Sleeping by yourself?
When the one you love, the one you love
Is with someone else

Acceptance, however, now that was a stage of grief Fitzgerald seemed unlikely to enter.

Fitzgerald is a man who defines himself by the power he has. He won’t go quietly. He will fight until the bitter end. He is a pragmatist but an egocentric one who will bargain until he is out of chips and then burn the building down. If it isn’t his kingdom, there won’t be a kingdom.

One can’t help but think of Boss Tweed, the old Tammany Hall powerbroker, when they look at the plight of Denis Fitzgerald now. Boss Tweed ran New York. He made the mayor and as such the mayor answered to him. He was given public funds to dish out as he saw fit and as such those who received them were indebted to him. Boss Tweed had total power. At least until he got embroiled in an embezzlement scandal that bought about his political beheading. Boss Tweed had it all…and then one day, it was all gone. Tweed was not only politically bankrupt. He was an enemy to those he once served.

And so it is with Fitzgerald. He played a game of brinksmanship and he lost. He made the election battle a war between black and white: you were with Fitzgerald or you were against him. Denis made a grave political mistake by allowing the elections to become a referendum on him: it was a battle he was never going to win considering the current dire financial position of the club and the lack of success the team has managed since 1986. By simply dismissing the threats of Ray Price, Eric Grothe and Brett Kenny, a hornets nest he has been poking for years, Fitzgerald underestimated the possibility that an appeal to base populism could unseat him. Fitzgerald was blinded by arrogance and numbed to reality by life in the ivory tower.

While Fitzgerald, at least on paper, remains in charge of Parramatta, his political execution has already been ordered and it is only a matter of time before he gets the Ceausescu treatment.

He knows it and the world knows it but he doesn’t have the ability to accept it which will lead to a good deal of collateral damage over the next few weeks. There are always plenty of skeletons in plenty of closets and in these situations they usually see the light of day. If those who care think the muckraking has been nasty to date, they are going to think the next few weeks are delivered straight from a vengeful god hell bent on wrath. There will be massive payouts, legal action, public slanging and base politicking before all is said and done.

This will be the last stand of Denis Fitzgerald. It will be bloody and littered with bullets, a suicide bomb attack on those who bought about his downfall.

“Welcome to the Tingha Palace. I’m Denis, I’ll be your waiter…”

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