James M. Berklan

We almost had another outrage at the ballot box this month.

That would have been me, looking at the Time magazine “Person of the Year” nomination form.

Yes, that was the first surprise: Time actually offers a digital “ballot” featuring people whom readers can select for their version of this most esteemed honor. But in a thinly veiled 21st century “pay-to-play” type scheme, electors first have to give an email address to see the full ballot.

So be it. I can always unsubscribe to what will surely be a deluge of self-serving pitches from Time, right?

I had already come up with the perfect “Person of the Year” candidate before I ever went to the Time website anyway. My intent was to start drumming up interest for it via this column and hope it would spread like the wind. If the rest of the voting public didn’t agree with me, well, that would be on them.

After about 15 pictures and not seeing THE clear winner I had chosen in my mind, my blood pressure was starting to rise. Oh, the ballot had started promising, with wilderness firefighters as one of the early options.

But then it declined into a series of artists, athletes, big-name politicians and various business people, among others. Not until the 66th — SIXTY-SIXTH!  — image (out of 70), did I find what I was looking for. 

It came under this heading: Essential Workers: Nurses, doctors, delivery people, and grocery story and public transit workers. [Count nursing home aides, nurses and other direct caregivers in there, of course. In fact, for working in the No. 1 coronavirus killing site, they deserve to be listed first.]

Don’t tell anyone, but I think organizers buried their voting box so deeply just to gather more clicks. Guilty. I mean when you’re considering the brave, self-sacrificing accomplishments of providers on the front lines and then see that other options are the likes of Meghan Markle, NASCAR Driver Bubba Wallace, Korean boy band BTS, Cardi B and a few young comedians, you have to wonder what bizarro world we’re living in.

EVERYONE’s Person of the Year should be none other than the valiant people on the front lines of long-term and other kinds of care. As colleagues and other industry insiders know, these are the true heroes.

Every day as they come to work, they risk acquiring the threatening virus themselves. Like firefighters on 9/11, every day they enter a building that could be figuratively burning. Making it worse, they never know for sure. Their reward? The chance of having an invisible monster attach to them and put their own lives or family members’ lives at risk. How’s that for extra benefits?

At the same time, there they are, taking care of someone else’s relatives. Someone who wouldn’t get other visitors at all if it weren’t for doctors making rounds or aides delivering styrofoam boxes of uninspiring meal choices.

My People of the Year see long-time patients decline, die or get swept away to the hospital, not knowing if they’ll ever return — or if they themselves will be the next victims. We’re closing in on 100,000 COVID-19 victims who were nursing home residents or personnel and that certainly didn’t come with the job description.

And they do this for a far lower wage than, say, doctors, degreed nurses or their corporate counterparts who might have to suffer the inconvenience of — gasp — working at home.

I was glad to see upon a second look that the readers’ ballot described above is just that: a popularity contest for the public to decide. Time editors will announce their choice on Dec. 10. Let’s see if they get it right.

But no matter whether somebody clicks 66 times into the bogus ballot to get to the right choice or not, know this: There is no contest for Person of the Year this year. It’s been decided for a long time already. 

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.