The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
Mayor Lemander Cole
The current mayor of Ember is one sketchy dude. For one thing, it's suspicious that he's overweight in a city full of skinny, deprived people: "The mayor was a vast, heavy man, so big in the middle that his arms looked small and dangling" (1.11). Why does he look like that? Well, it turns out he's been hoarding food and other supplies—chowing down on his own time while his citizens starve.
Doon is the one to discover this, when he's exploring roped off parts of the Pipeworks. One door is almost always locked, but when Doon finds a key in it one day, he opens it to find "a brightly lit room, whose size he could not guess at because it was so crowded with things. On all sides were crates and boxes, sacks and bundles and packages […] On the table were dishes smeared with the remains of food, and in the armchair facing Doon was a great blob of a person whose head was flopped backward, so that all Doon could see of it was an upthrust chin" (12.5).
While Doon doesn't get a clear view of the person's face, he sees enough to catch "a glimpse of a fleshy ear, a slab of gray cheek, and a loose, purplish mouth." (12.5) Guess who fits that profile? Yep, it's the mayor.
This, like many things, makes Doon go into full on Hulk-mode. He rants about it to Lina, saying, "That's the solution he keeps telling us about. It's a solution for him, not the rest of us. He gets everything he needs, and we get the leftovers! He doesn't care about the city. All he cares about is his fat stomach!" (12.22).
We can't really argue with Doon's assessment of the situation, sadly. But all this doesn't necessarily mean the mayor is evil, though—just that his greed has gotten the better of his judgment. Here's how Clary puts it: "I remember when the mayor was first starting out. He has always been foolish, but not always wicked. I'm sorry to know that the worst side of him has won out" (13.8). When we think about it in those terms, yeah, it is kind of sad that the mayor has lost the fight with the selfish, greedy side of himself.
Lina even feels a little bad for the mayor: "His hunger had grown so big it could never be satisfied. His huge body couldn't contain it. It made him forget everything else" (13.9). That must be a crummy way to live, enslaved to your own greed. Not to mention he's at a higher risk for cardiac arrest.
On top of that, the mayor is mean, hypocritical, and abuses his power. When Doon displays anger at being given a worthless job on Assignment Day, the mayor reacts by glaring at him and saying, "Disgraceful… A childish display of temper! Students should be glad to work for their city. Ember will prosper if all… citizens… do… their… best" (1.47). Seems like he's leaving himself out of that statement, though. The mayor himself is also a citizen of Ember, and, um, he's not exactly doing his best. He's taking from the city rather than giving to it.
Even worse, he lies to the citizens of Ember about their scary situation. He calls a town meeting after the longest blackout, and spouts some nonsense about how solutions are being found and they're making every effort to fix things, and blah blah blah.
Ah, but the citizens of Ember are not fooled at all. At least not for long. By the end of the mayor's speech, the crowd is just plain PO'd. They know that the mayor's priority—surprise!—is taking care of himself: "the two guards were hustling the mayor back through the door of the Gathering Hall. The crowd roared, and a few people started hurling whatever they could find—pebbles, garbage, crumpled paper, even their own hats" (6.25). We're not saying that facing down a small riot is always a good idea, but the mayor could've tried to address the problems plaguing Ember rather than lie to the citizens he's supposed to be leading. Just sayin'.
The mayor is so full of hogwash, we sometimes wonder if he even listens to the words coming out of his mouth. When he's talking to Lina after she's brought in for spreading vicious rumors about him, he lectures her sternly, saying: "The duties of a mayor…are…complex. Cannot be understood by regular citizens, particularly children. That is why…certain things must remain hidden from the public. The public would not understand. The public must have faith…that all is being done for their benefit. For their own good" (16.28).
Yeah, that's a giant load of, well, poop. The fact that the mayor uses his position of authority to say that he knows what's best for everyone? Double ick. When he's clearly embezzling goods and doesn't care about what's happening to everyone else, we can't help but call him Bad Guy Number One. Why can't he just admit it? Maybe he's bought into his own lies? In which case, the citizens of Ember should be extra worried: they've got a power-mad, greedy, authoritarian ruler who's also delusional.
Maybe it's time to get the heck outta Dodge?