From the Abe Hirschfelds to the Norman Mailers, New York has always reserved a corner of its jaundiced heart for marginal political characters. Few, however, have gone from less than zero to ultraviral like Jimmy McMillan and his global complaint that “the rent is too damn high!”
If you don’t believe it, join the 5,492,931 other YouTubers (as of December 9) and watch McMillan cup his black-gloved hand (can’t breathe without the gloves, he says) to his sideburn-festooned ear and tell Andrew Cuomo that being governor means nothing unless you can hear the sound of “some child’s stomach just growl.” And why can’t that child’s mother put food on the table? Because—all together now—“the rent is too damn high!”
Currently residing in a one-room apartment in Brooklyn for which he pays very little rent, the now-65-year-old Jimmy McMillan, a self-professed “karate expert” who has gone under the names “The Black Hulk Hogan,” “Papa Smurf,” and “Santa Claus on Venus,” started running for office back in 1993. Despite such grandstanding as walking from New York to Buffalo and lashing himself to the Brooklyn Bridge (“They sent me off to Kings County hospital in a straitjacket on that one”), McMillan’s campaigns generally fell on deaf ears. The difference this time is “the times have finally caught up to me. Nowadays everyone knows the rent is just too damn high.”
Asked to analyze his phrase’s appeal, he says, “It comes down to single word: damn … Damn! Some slick-ass Baptist preacher will swear the word is no good, but it is in the Bible. King James. Damn is God’s word!
“The damn came to me in Vietnam when I got hit by a bomb. Completely wiped out my memory. All I could remember was the ground shaking and the word damn! What would any sane man shout in that situation but ‘Damn!’ That is the same damn that you hear when someone comes out of the check-cashing place and sees how much is left of his pay. That is the damn you say when you write the check for the light bill. Damn! Damn! Damn! It is not just the rent, it is the cry of the common man!”
It’s an idea he thinks he can take to the top. “I am an Obama supporter,” McMillan says, “but the man needs help. It isn’t that his ideas are bad. But his communication skills are weak; he can’t convince no one of nothing. Obama needs a mouthpiece. Someone to say it plain. To break it on down. The rent is too damn high: What parts of that don’t anyone not understand?”