A Brief History of Novelty Mayoral Candidates

By
William F. Buckley
Photo: Getty Images

It's a widely held belief that Mayor Bloomberg already has this year's mayoral election all wrapped up, what with his dominant spending and generally satisfactory job performance, and all. But even if that's true, at least the candidacies of Reverend Billy and the Naked Cowboy will help to ensure that the campaign isn't entirely boring. The two colorful characters are just the latest novelty candidates to join the race for mayor to get attention, to promote their political agendas, or just for kicks — but not necessarily to win. Which is good, because, as history shows, they never do.

William F. Buckley: Completely unsatisfied with liberal Republican John Lindsay in 1965, the founder of the National Review and modern conservatism said, "what the hell," and decided to run himself, on the Conservative Party line. When asked at his first press conference how many votes he expected to get, Buckley answered "one" — from his secretary; at his second, he famously quipped that if he ended up winning he would "demand a recount." Buckley soon began taking his campaign more seriously, proposing a value-added tax, quarantining drug addicts, and, presciently, adding more bicycle lanes. He ultimately came in third with 13.4 percent of the vote.


norman mailer

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Norman Mailer: Campaigning alongside writer and City Council president candidate Jimmy Breslin, Mailer's "left-conservative" platform for mayor in 1969 called for New York City to secede and become the 51st state, and proposed a ban on private cars in Manhattan. His unabashedly outspoken style belied the sincerity of his effort. A campaign motto was "No More Bullshit." Once asked by a student how he'd remove the snow that had piled up in Queens, Mailer replied, "I’d piss on it." And then there was the time at fundraiser when Mailer, who was drunk, screamed at his own supporters, “Don’t think you can come here and buy a stamp for your soul. Go fuck yourselves if that’s what you want!” Mailer later said he "thought God had chosen me because I had been a bad man, and I was going to pay for my sins by winning and never having an easy moment ever again." He came in fourth place in a five-way Democratic primary, with 41,136 votes, or 5.3 percent.


Kenny Kramer

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Kenny Kramer: The inspiration for Seinfeld's Kramer flirted with a run for mayor in 1997 before dropping out during the summer. "I finally realized that when I was standing in the sun, asking people to sign my petitions, I could be out on the golf course," he said at the time. But in 2001, he was back at it again, with the campaign slogan "Kramer for mayor ... this time I'm not kidding!" During an October debate Kramer promised to get a haircut as his first order of business, if elected. He also advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana, although he was outflanked on that front by Thomas K. Leighton of the Marijuana Reform Party. As the Libertarian Party's candidate, Kramer came in 7th place with 1,408 votes.


Bernie Goetz

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Bernie Goetz: The man known for his subway vigilantism had mellowed out considerably, even developing a passion for nurturing injured squirrels, when he ran for mayor in 2001, as the candidate of the Fusion Party. Claiming that vegetarians had better karma, he called for the city to ban meat in schools, jails, and hospitals. Because he felt that Rudy Giuliani had done such a good job, he offered to keep Giuliani's entire staff if he was elected (Although he did credit AIDS for reducing crime — by “getting rid of the [worst] elements of society.") He received 1,049 votes in the general election.


Christopher X. Brodeur

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Christopher X. Brodeur: The musician, activist, and political gadfly competed for the Green Party nomination in 2001 and the Democratic Party nod in 2005 — needless to say, unsuccessfully both times. Calling himself in 2005 "the only candidate running for mayor this year who isn’t a total idiot," Brodeur released a list of 100 innovations that wavered between common sense and bizarre. Among his proposals were mandating that all tables be three-legged because they supposedly can't wobble, fostering the return of Murphy beds, and outlawing hypocrisy by politicians. He received 16,561 votes in the Democratic primary (a respectable 4 percent) and 35 write-in votes in the general election.


Reverend Billy: A performance artist-activist who preaches the evils of consumerism, the colorful head of the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir has been nominated by the Green Party and is currently collecting the requisite 7,500 signatures to get on the ballot. (Joan Baez will be performing at a benefit concert on July 27th). Reverend Billy's self-described "quixotic but fascinating" campaign is strongly anti-Bloomberg, whom Billy has referred to as "America's Vladimir Putin" or "our Mugabe." In addition, his platform calls for free transportation, free museums, and a "Green New Deal."


Naked Cowboy

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The Naked Cowboy: Robert Burck, the minimally clothed Times Square performer known as the Naked Cowboy, announced a run for mayor earlier this week. "No one knows how to do more with less than yours truly, and that's the kind of thinking I plan on sharing with my fellow New Yorkers when you elect me," he said. His platform calls for legalizing gay marriage, interest-free loans for small businesses, and Naked Fridays (during which everyone shows up to work in their underwear). He is apparently running only as a write-in candidate.