09/09/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT
Bernie Platt and his son Harry have grown accustomed to being treated like a novelty act. After all, as morticians who double as politicians, they're in two of the world's most shtick-worthy professions. "Please," Harry used to beg constituents, "no dead-voter jokes." Now, says Bernie, "we just laugh and pass on by."
It seems as inevitable as death and taxes (sorry, Harry) that come November, the Platts—both Democrats—will become a historical rarity, a father and son serving concurrently as mayors. Harry, 36, is expected to be reelected for a second term in Voorhees, N.J. (pop. 28,132). Bernie, 68, is the odds-on favorite in Cherry Hill, the adjoining town of 68,000 where he and his son co-own Platt Memorial Chapels.
Both politics and undertaking require strong stomachs. On seeing his first body in mortuary school, Bernie recalls, he ran for the bathroom. "But I took a couple of deep breaths," he adds, "and here I am, 44 years later." He and his wife, Judy, 61, the funeral home's office manager, have four children, but only Harry (husband of Hilary, 33, a homemaker, and father of two) has followed in the parental tradition. Their desks at the funeral home even face each other. "It helps that Bernie is just a few feet away," says Harry.
Bernie taught his son a truth of their trades some years ago, when he handled the funeral of a political opponent. The deceased, a Republican, "was probably turning over in his grave," says the elder Platt, but his widow came away comforted. "Even in politics," he observes, "it's how you treat people that does it for you."