The Playgoer: Reverend Billy for Mayor!

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Reverend Billy for Mayor!

photo: Michael Rubottom

Playgoer is not usually in the business of political endorsements.

But for those of you in New York City, you may be aware there's an election for Mayor this Tuesday. I wouldn't blame you if you weren't aware, since Mayor Mike Bloomberg seems to be running unopposed.

The Democratic "candidate" William Thompson is nowhere to be seen. Just this weekend he decided (three days before the election) to finally lay out an "agenda" for the NY Times, which has already reported what a shocking casual mess his "campaign" operation is.

Some may say it's wrong to blame the candidate for his bad staff. Or the fact that his opponent is able in this case to obscenely outspend him due to his own personal fortune. And therefore it's not his fault, some say, that he can't afford television ads or the millions of mass mailings we have been getting in our mailboxes from "Mayor Mike" since the spring.

But what the hell as Bill Thompson done about it? Nothing. The guy has been the certain Democratic nominee for months. He could have been on every street corner, beg for "free media," show up on every local news show, make big bold speeches in public forums that call out Bloomberg for what he's been--the city's real estate broker in chief and no more.

Therefore, this usually loyal Democrat refuses to reflexively vote for whatever party hack they put on the ticket without funding him. Not this time.

No, this time I'm voting for a man of the theatre: one William Talen, a.k.a. Reverend Billy.

Reverend Billy has been a guerrilla performance artist, disrupting many a day at Starbucks, Disney Store and other megachain outposts in the city that have displaced local businesses, sterilized our landscape, and turned us all into full-time consumers. What better figure to challenge our strictly business CEO of a mayor in such anti-Wall Street times than the deacon of the "Church of Stop Shopping." His "act" has been to appropriate the trappings and format of the gospel preacher, co-opted for a crusade against corporatism and consumerism. It's both satirically funny (teasing televangelists) but also a genuine spiritual calling.

Is it a protest vote? Of course! But, hey, so is the Democrat at this point, no? So might as well make a real statement. If Thompson gets 40% of the vote (pretty optimistic at this point) the story the next day will be "Bloomberg landslide!" If Reverend Billy can get anything over 10%, perhaps some will note the fomenting discontent and outcry for radical change beyond the two-party system.

If Thompson had a shot, I'd vote for him even with misgivings. But since he doesn't, I say vote your conscience when you can afford to.

As for what this has to do with the theatre? the arts?

1) Real Estate: granting the wishes of the city's top real estate developers has been Bloomberg's raison d'etre as mayor, and these are the same interests that are kicking artists of all kinds out of their affordable spaces and making new spaces too expensive to rent.

2) Liveability. Getting by as an artist (or arts critic!) in this expensive town has never been easy. But in our Great Recession, will Mike Bloomberg be there with a WPA? With Public Works, or subsidized housing? When has he ever showed an inclination to take care of the lower income brackets first? Let alone, the unemployed. And as the national unemployment rate soon hits 10%, you know it will be double that in NYC.

3) Philanthropists don't necessarily make the best Mayors. Yes, the highbrow nonprofits and arts bigwigs will tell us Mike Bloomberg is a "friend of the arts" and gladly hand over their endorsements in the desperate hope for more crumbs from the table. But just because he likes to "patronize" in his private life, don't mistake that for an arts policy. Especially an arts policy for lean times. Bloomberg may be a friend of the Metropolitan Museum and Lincoln Center. But what's he going to do for the Ohio Theatre, huh? And will he ever do it with public funds? Not if it means raising funds from the wealthier tenants of his new high-rises, or from the rich commuters that use our city resources for free.

So there's my case. Whatever you think, whoever you support...just please do vote your conscience.

More on the Reverend Billy campaign here. (If you doubt his seriousness, read the platform.)
And here's the trailer from his documentary, "What Would Jesus Buy."

PS. I now see that the Google Ad space in my margin automatically runs a Mike Bloomberg reelection ad now. Unfortunately I can't control the content there. (Can I?) So aside from embarrassment, my other emotion is yet more anger at Bill Thompson! NYC Dems couldn't even afford some cheap Google ads???


Playgoer said...

I forgot to note that Billy Talen is indeed the official NY Green Party candidate for Mayor. Not just running as a lone nut.

James Hoff said...

I am also probably going to vote for Talen; I usually vote Green. Although there is a distinct part of me that wants to vote for the "Rent is Too Damned High Party."

Playgoer said...

Ok, well I guess I called that one wrong...

But I'm happy my only flaw was in UNDERestimating New Yorkers' discontent with Bloomberg. That and/or overestimating the enthusiasm of his own supporters, who may have been too complacent to turn out.

For the record, Rev Billy got 0.8%, or 8,964 votes.

Not surprisingly, btw, according to NYT exit polls Thompson bested Bloomberg with voters aged 44 and younger, as well as those earning under $50K a year.