I was surprised by Steve James’ interpretation of the scene in last night’s Wire where Tom Carcetti declines to speak to reporters after dropping by the funeral of a murder victim who may have been killed for his role agreeing to be a witness in a drug case: “In the most moving moment, Carcetti visits the funeral home to witness firsthand the cost of the mean streets, and then refuses the photo op, out of respect.” Alex Kotlowitz essentially concurs, “we’ve been growing increasingly cynical about the political process (though I suspect many of us were already there), and then, out of nowhere, his conscience gets him, even if just for a moment and even if it’s tied up in the fact that he knows talking to reporters outside a funeral isn’t the most politically savvy thing to do.”
I agree with Kotlowitz that this is a both/and situation rather than an either/or, but I think the emphasis here really ought to be on Carcetti’s political savvy rather than his conscience. The main upshot of the scene is to remind us that Carcetti is legitimately a very smart and very talented politician, whereas the sort of people likely to staff a longshot run at becoming mayor of Baltimore aren’t the best and brightest political hacks out there. We’re also seeing that for all the extent to which the system is rotten, it’s still sometimes the case that the right thing to do is also the politically clever move. Similarly, with Rawls’ efforts to get Detective Freamon to rejoin the homocide squad we’re seeing (just as we saw when Freamon was assigned to homocide between seasons one and two) that the Police Department, for all its crapitude, does have some interest in having good police on staff to solve murders. The clearance rate is politically salient, and you need some good detectives to maintain a good clearance rate. The system is screwed up enough to keep Baltimore in the shitter, but not so screwed up that the system simply collapses.