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Norman Mailer: The Writer As Candidate

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Gloria Steinem came to me and said, “Did you ever think of running for mayor?” It was Gloria, Jack Newfield, and Noel Parmentel, an arch-conservative but a marvelously funny guy. What we wanted was a left-right coalition. The idea was to sweep New York with the idea that the left and the right should both have their say. Part of the comedy of it, looking back on it now, is that it was also proposed to Jimmy Breslin that he run for mayor. At that point, very early in the process, I won some book prize. Apparently what happened is, he said yes, and then I said yes, and they were very embarrassed, because they had to disinvite Jimmy, since you couldn’t disinvite an award winner! So in the early part of the campaign, it was very hard to talk to Jimmy who was by then running for City Council president, and I never knew why. I kept thinking, What is it about this guy? He acts like he doesn’t like me.

The press just infuriated us. Jimmy got really angry at his cohorts because he was beginning to see the press from the other side. They’d wave and smile and the next day write, “The Mailer-Breslin ticket, running in fun.” And that disqualified us, you see. We hated that. They just never took us seriously, when, in fact, we had more ideas than anyone else around. We contributed to that to a degree. I certainly did, by making a few serious mistakes. The biggest one was when I got drunk at the Village Gate. We had a big fund-raiser, and I got up and started hectoring the people and saying, “Don’t think you can come here and buy a stamp for your soul. Go fuck yourselves if that’s what you want!” Of course, I was dead drunk. I felt contrite, I must say. You know, it was a real fuck-up. Did I behave after that? Well, within reason.

I was so naïve, I thought I was going to win! For me, it was a religious venture. I 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. Jimmy and I spent Election Night at our headquarters on Columbus Circle. Both candidates lost. Jimmy did a lot better than I did. I had 41,000 votes. He had 66,000. And one of the nicest things about Jimmy is, he truly felt for me. He was embarrassed that he had more votes. And then Jimmy said something incredibly funny: that he wanted to apologize for having engaged in an activity that had closed the bars for the day.

Interviewed by Michael Gross


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