“Vote The Rascals In”

Sunday’s NYT has an article by Sam Tanenhaus, that mentions Norman Mailer’s 1969 bid for mayor of NYC. It’s one of my favorite political campaigns ever. I just finished Managing Mailer, an account of the race written by his campaign manager. Mailer was my kind of Purple American: “I am running to the Left and the Right of every man in this race…. I am running on everything from Black Power to Irish self-righteousness.” The campaign had the best slogan in history: “No More Bullshit,” and a candidate who was full of it and endearingly so.

Mailer and Breslin’s platform was a sort of three-bong-hit Jeffersonianism. As Time magazine described at the time:

His candidacy is improbable; yet in the course of his campaign Mailer has put forward some provocative ideas. Many merely peck at the periphery of urban problems, frequently with a large mea sure of hyperbole…. He… suggests that Coney Island be turned into a Las Vegas East, with legalized gambling that would add sizably to the tax revenues. Most of all, however, Mailer has based his campaign on two ideas: that New York City should become a separate 51st state, and that the city ought to be divided into many relatively autonomous neighborhoods.

Neighborhood Power. On the financial side, Mailer argues that the city pays $14 billion in income taxes to Washington and Albany — but gets back only $3 billion. If the city were a separate state,* it would get to keep a greater proportion of the tax money it exports. What is more, it would be freed from legislative control by the present state government, which is often hostile to city demands. At the same time, says Mailer, if he is elected in November, “a small miracle would have happened. At that moment the city would have declared that it had lost faith in the old ways of solving political problems and that it wished to embark on a new conception of politics.” Then, says Mailer, there would be delegated “some real power to the neighborhoods.” …. Early in his campaign, blithely exaggerating to dramatize his point, Mailer proclaimed: “We’ll have compulsory free love in those neighborhoods that vote for it, and compulsory attendance at church on Sunday in those that vote for that.”

The campaign was replete with wacked-out ideas: “a monthly ‘Sweet Sunday,’ when every form of mechanical transportation — including elevators — would be halted,” “a World Series of stickball to be held in the deserted Wall Street district on weekends,” and “a zoo in every neighborhood.” But it sure beat the smoking bans and goo-goo liberalism of Bloomberg.

Fun fact: Guess who was the only candidate for City Council that Mailer’s running mate, Jimmy Breslin, finished ahead of? Answer: Charlie Rangel.


Posted on Apr 14, 2008 in Conservatism, Liberalism | 7 Comments