Jimmy McMillan is the guy with the mustache and the catchphrase, the meme of a candidate who everyone laughs at. Only this time around, no one is paying attention, even though the rent is as high as ever.
The rent is still too damn high. It’s so high that Jimmy McMillan, the founder and pretty much the only member of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, can't afford a campaign office for his latest bid to become the mayor of New York City.
You may remember Jimmy as a meme of the week back in 2010, when he ran for governor of New York State and ranted about karate, marrying a shoe, and the rent being “too damn high” at a televised debate. But though the public interest has mostly moved on, he's not giving up on his political ambitions—for the past few months he has been running a haphazard campaign headquartered in his own car, talking to anyone who will still listen. He hasn't held any public press conferences and mostly stayed out of the media conversation until he endorsed Anthony Weiner earlier this month.
The two met by happenstance at an IHOP in Harlem, where Jimmy posed with the former congressman and perennial sexter in a photo he would later distribute while touting his endorsement. “We all are freaky. He just exposed his freaky-ism in the wrong way,” Jimmy told me. “I think Anthony needs someone like me to tell him, ‘Don’t be afraid to go get help if you need it.’”
Despite his endorsement of Weiner, Jimmy is still running for office. He has said that he has enough signatures to make it onto the ballot running as a member of his own party, which precludes him from competing with Weiner in the Democratic Party primary.
“This is a very great time for New Yorkers to have a people’s party coming to represent the necessity of issues,” Jimmy told me. “There are a lot of issues that affect the city of New York, but none is more important than rent. If you can’t afford to pay your rent, you’re not going to be here.”
Statements like these initially read as egregious oversimplifications of issues, funneling socio-political commentary into one-sentence punch lines. But pretty much every mayoral candidate claims he or she wants to keep gentrification and outlandish real estate prices from swallowing the dreams of families and young people who want to be able to live in a reasonable apartment on a reasonable salary. The only difference, of course, is we’re laughing at Jimmy.
Jimmy claims that this is what he's going for—he's trying to be a viral video, a joke candidate. “I’m glad they’re looking at this funny,” he said. “Because when the landlord gives them the rent receipt, they don’t think it’s funny no more. I’m glad. Everything is turning out just the way I want it.”
He seems to view the candidate he endorsed (who is now polling in the single digits after an almost comically disastrous campaign) in similar terms.
“[Weiner] created a character called Carlos Danger," Jimmy said. “Ooh, that is a marketing bonanza… He can put a hat on a dildo and call himself ‘Carlos Danger.’ Everyone will get it for someone just as a gift. He can make a billion dollars out of that in one month.”
In moments like these, the famously mustachioed perennial candidate's brand of twisted humor resembles that of a drunk uncle delivering a speech at Thanksgiving. But no one likes a rehearsed politician. During City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s campaign, critics have accused her of being calculated. Say whatever you want about him, Jimmy's hardly that. He lives and dies by his impulsivity, captivating people with his random outbursts and strange comments.
He doesn’t have a hope in hell of pulling his shit together, let alone getting any serious attention in the mayor’s race. But he pushes ahead in a way that suggests he’s not doing it for sport—Jimmy would probably say the same things he says if they weren’t recorded by cameras and uploaded to YouTube.
In his own odd way, Jimmy has always had integrity. Unlike Weiner, whose media-provoking antics are seemingly driven by hyperbolic ego, Jimmy presents himself in this unvarnished, unscripted manner because he thinks he’s doing the right thing. It dates back to when he came back from fighting in the Vietnam War—a financially difficult time that prompted him to seek a job as a male stripper, he told a sex podcast.
“I would pass by this place and see ‘stripper wanted,’” he said. “I went by the hardware store and got a ruler. I walked in there, and the guy said, ‘OK. You want the job?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘OK you have to audition.’ ‘What I got to do?’ ‘Pull it down, we gotta check it out.’ I said, ‘OK no problem.’”
This anecdote, like many of his others, is insane, serves no clear political purpose, and is perhaps a figment of his imagination. But it's also about the only issue he cares about: the plight of the unfortunate. Jimmy said he stripped in order to raise money for surgery for his daughter, a victim of deformity as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange. When he showed up at his daughter's house with a suitcase full of money, though, he was driven away by her stepdad. You get the sense that he's been getting thrown out of places and treated as a not particularly funny joke for a long time.
But in the heat of the political season, a steamy summer in New York that has seen the rise and fall of Carlos Danger and the return of a prostitute-visiting former governor, is screaming about the rent really all that crazy?
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