City Hall

Directed by Harold Becker

Discussion Questions

Scene 1: Fortune

1. What would Machiavelli say about the opening quote of this film, "New York, it can destroy you or fulfill you depending a good deal on luck"? Were Machiavelli alive today, and a citizen of the United States, would he choose to live in New York City or Washington, D.C.? Where do you think the greater opportunities lie?

2. Addresses his fellow Athenians, Socrates refers to Athens as coming from "the greatest city" in the world. How does New York City differ from Athens, as it appears in The Apology of Socrates?

Scene 2: Deal Making

1.The Mayor of New York and a party boss named Frank Anselmo are making a deal in this scene. Do they strike you as friendly or adversarial? Or both? Explain your answer.

2. Frank refers in this scene to the Mayor's boy, Kevin Calhoun, whose voice we hear in the first scene. Would Kevin be pleased to hear of himself referred to as "the Mayor's boy"?

3. What is Frank hoping to get from the Mayor in this scene? What is the Mayor hoping to get from Frank? Do they each succeed?

Scene 3: Menschkite

1. In this scene a distinguished Judge is implicated in some wrongdoing. The judge is a friend of the Mayor. Kevin's advice to the mayor is to "put some distance" between himself and the judge. What does he mean by that? How would they go about doing such a thing? Why is it that the Mayor refuses to follow Kevin's advice?

2. How would you explain what the Mayor means by "menschkite"? Do you admire the Mayor for the importance he places on "the stuff between men"? Or do you think him foolish?

3. Whose position would Machiavelli back in this scene, Kevin's or the Mayor's? Explain the reasons for your answer.

4. Does the idea of "menchskite" make some sense of the exchange between Frank Anselmo and the Mayor in scene 2? Explain.

Scene 4: Politics as a Disease

1. Although Kevin claims that "there is something special about small town life," he is in New York by way of Washington. Explain Kevin's answer to Mary Beth's question, "What are you doing in New York?" What does it mean to "catch politics like a disease"?

2. Kevin says that working for the Mayor, he has found a position in government where he can "make a difference." What does that expression mean? What does Kevin hope for from politics?

3. Mary Beth tells Kevin that he has made a difference, to the wife of Eddie Santos. That is not enough for Kevin - he wants to see how far the corruption in this scandal leads. He is willing to risk the officer's name and pension for that. Does he do the right thing?

4. Is it at all Machiavellian for Kevin to threaten the "full weight of the Mayor's office" to keep Mary Beth from jeopardizing the outing of the full truth?

Scene 5: Menschkite revisited

1. It seems Kevin has learned something about the Mayor since the last scene. What do you think it is?

2. Why do you suppose the city has lost its bid for a political convention?

3. Frank Anselmo has shot himself, because he was so deeply implicated in this scandal. Once again, as was the case in Scene 3 with Judge Walter Stern, Kevin and the Mayor revisit "menschkite," because the Mayor wants to go pay his respects to Frank's widow, and Kevin is worried about the "perception." Is Kevin's Machiavellian advice - worry about appearances? Why or why not?

4. What is the Mayor's initial response to the breadth of this scandal, which reaches all the way to him? Why isn't Kevin "bursting with admiration" for Mayor's readiness to turn "adversity into triumph"? What does he know better?

5. Why does the Mayor say, "don't fathers listen to their sons?" Why does the Mayor, John Pappas, call Kevin, Pappy?

6. Is "menschkite" "horseshit," as Kevin says? Is it all about political corruption? If not, where is the line one cannot cross? Where does the grey end and the black begin?

7. Are there shades of grey here that Kevin does not recognize? Or is the Mayor deluding himself?

8. Why does Kevin insist that the Mayor "take himself out" of politics?

Paper Topics
1 . What does the movie say about power and morality? Does this movie confirm Machiavelli's teaching that the man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards will come to ruin among so many who are not good?. Does the film add something to Machiavelli's teaching?

2.Compare the relationship between Elizabeth and Walsingham to that between Kevin and the Mayor. What does each learn about politics from the older and more experienced practitioner?

3. Compare the relationship between the Mayor and Kevin to that between Sonny and C. How does the protege of each transcend his teacher?

4. Compare Kevin in City Hall to Henry in Primary Colors. Is City Hall more hopeful about politics than Primary Colors? If so, on what grounds does it reach a different conclusion?

5. How does City Hall address Socrates' reservations about political life? Does it agree or disagree with Socrates about what one can expect from politics?

City Hall Readings

Guide to unit 1

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