Reverend Billy's Last Stand (of the Campaign)

By Kate Rose.

With a huge Ed McMahon-style check worth $100 million and 99 cents and a bullhorn, Reverend Billy Talen of The Church of Life After Shopping stood in Washington Square Park and announced his miraculous news:

"Politics is serious business, and you need $100 million dollars. I won the lottery, I got lucky, and I'm going to be mayor now!"

Although it was late in the afternoon on Election Day, the Reverend, in a cobalt blue suit and white clerical collar, was extremely optimistic. (The race was won by Mike Bloomberg with 557,059 votes, versus Bill Thompson's 506,717; Reverend Billy received 8,964 votes.)

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"Mike Bloomberg has shown the way," said the Reverend. "He's our role model to finance something, to advertise something, to give people information that they do not need. Amen! Hallelujah!... I will march with this fake check, all the way to Gracie Mansion. Will you be there with me? Amen. And once we are there -- will we take our clothes off? Amen!"...

While former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, stumping for Mayor Bloomberg, reminded voters that the squeegee man could always come back, Reverend Billy was preaching a romantic notion of 70s New York on the campaign trail. He expressed fear that the realness and grit of that New York were being lost in Bloomberg's vision for the city. Talen said that the Mayor, if he could, would turn the city into a suburb where "we would be drowning in a sea of identical details."

"Deep in Bloomberg's soul," Talen said, "he dislikes New York City just as much as Rudy Giuliani does."

The Green party approached Reverend Billy nine months ago to be their candidate. "We've already essentially been fighting what Mike Bloomberg is for a long time," Talen explained. "And so to us it didn't seem so strange, as we have fought Walmart and Disney and Starbucks, and what we call the 'demon-monoculture' in our choir, over the years. Mike Bloomberg is just a corporation in human form."

In 2005, Bloomberg spent $85 million on his re-election -- which means each vote cost him roughly $110. In his last filing for the 2009 campaign, he was paying $179 dollars per vote. Reverned Billy spent a little over $5.50 a vote.

"We knew that this single billionaire Mike Bloomberg would spend 100 million dollars," Talen said, "and electronically wallpaper our city and attack us psychically." The Reverend told us Bloomberg's method of beating down the opposition was like a "psychic momentum... inevitability is the subtext of all of Bloomberg's messaging. That there really shouldn't be any alternative."

We asked him what the difference between a Thompson and Bloomberg Administration would be. Not much, the Reverend said. "Bill Thompson is completely sacrificial. He is a cooperative victim, and they have a kind of deal. It might not be a contract, it might not be a handshake, but its a systemic deal. He will have put up just enough of a fight to complete the theatre of democracy."

Talen said Thompson was missing from the tenant's rights meetings "when predatory landlords really got the go-ahead from Bloomberg to just blast into the neighborhoods." As comptroller, the Reverend said, Thompson should have given people some kind of information kit, so they could know their rights and who they should call if a landlord slapped an order on their door.

We made it to Union Square, and stopped in front of several young guys wearing Mayor Mike stickers, handing out election postcards, some of them scattered on the ground. Talen likened them to Starbucks cups, where even as trash they get their message across.

"When you have more than $50 million worth of ads pouring into your psyche everyday," he said, "it's not just the average person on the street that it impacts. It impacts writers. It impacts everybody."

The Reverend also complained of the continuous Bloomberg references in big newspapers: "Hundreds and hundreds of articles in the New York Times, with no mention of a third party of any kind" he said. We reminded him that the Times gave each third party candidate a 30 second chance to appeal to the voters in an audio recording. The Reverend compared it to speed-dating.

The Reverend pointed to the construction of the block-long Nordstrom (due Spring 2010!) on 14th Street as an example of the threat to the city. "(Bloomberg) will come at us with his police and his taxes, and his lawyers and his regulations. But don't let people like Bloomberg come in and try to change what... freedom means," he cautioned.

Nonetheless he retained faith in the people of the city. "This city can make a comeback even if Bloomberg wins... The city of New York will be kind of a musical, colorful, wild, shadow government to Mike Bloomberg," he said. "If this mayor dislikes this town and must defeat it by turning it into this monoculture; this boring, smoothed out, super-mall of a city, deep down he must know that the real New York City is unexpected and wild. It's the New York City of the neighborhoods, the New York City of the eccentric artists, and that New York City will never leave. It's deep down in each of us here. Is it not? Amen!"

Our campaign interviewes with the Reverend appear here, here, and here.


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