Mama Jo is dead.
I liked her. Her ability to combine comedy, charm and menace was thrilling and irresistible. In 2004, I was writing a long magazine article about the late hours of the legislature on the eve of the possible Rowland impeachment. She was a key figure, of course, but she was also prominent in the lurid and sad story of Heather Specyalski. I mention that to set up this excerpt from that 2004 article:
So it comes to pass, on one of my many visits near the end of the session, that I am thumping up one of those unforgiving staircases only to find McKenzie waiting at the top.
“Can you believe what they’re doing to me?” she yells, theatrically, comically. “I’m a senior citizen, goddammit!”
Even if you believe she sits right at the core of a gang of people who are up to no good, McKenzie is kind of irresistible. When she took the stand in the Specyalski case, two jurors whooped with laughter, because (they later said) she looked like Cruella DeVille. I am sure this hurt McKenzie’s feelings, mainly because her grand dame look is patterned much more after the Hollywood bitch- goddesses of the ’30s and ’40s. Cruella, no. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, yes.
“Maybe you called a little too much attention to yourself,” I tell her.
“I’m going to have to stop wearing jewelry, get new glasses.”
“You can wear jewelry. Just don’t wear an entire chandelier,” I say, pointing to the rows and rows of glittering crystal that form a kind of breastplate across her clavicles and sternum.
“How’s your son?” McKenzie asks, softening her voice. She actually caresses my upper arm a few times. Manipulation? Genuine warmth? Theater? I have no idea. But in a building full of nerds and wonks, McKenzie is appealingly romantic.
I search around for something comforting to say to her. She could, after all, get picked off from the RNC, face humiliation before the House Select Committee and, in the worst scenario, get indicted by the feds. Certainly, she adores John Rowland, and now she will watch him sputter toward a miserable finish. What can I say?
“Everything ends. One way or another, this is going to be over soon,” I tell her.
“I’ll remember that,” she says, giving the line a little Joan Crawford tug, so that it conveys both gratitude and a whiff of threat.