Reverend Billy Campaign Update: Recuperates from “Palpitations,” As Mayor Will Fire Ray Kelly


Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh

We caught up with Reverend Billy, the Green Party candidate for Mayor of New York we interviewed in April, and asked how the campaign was going.

We’re in the third act of this drama. The opening act was orientation — the whole world of politics, a steep learning curve, It’s a different set of instincts and signals. People act differently, it has that whole horse-race quality. After the Green Party approached us last winter, we were boning up.

The second act was the hard part — getting the headquarters on Lafayette Street, the initial speeches and campaigning on the subway, going out to public spaces, in Union Square and out on the sidewalks, and fundraising. The second act concluded with a confluence of high-stakes performances in England and here.

Why go to England in the middle of a campaign?

Lots of New Yorkers listen to the BBC. Well, that’s a clever answer. Europe still pays the artists, and we had agreements going back to last year to perform in Austria, Hamburg, and to do a two-week tour of England in May, contracts that go back to last year.

When I got back from England about three weeks ago, I ended up going to the hospital for heart palpitations.

Yikes! What happened?

In England we were in malls, and sometimes we were confronted by mall cops who were acting like rugby players. We went to 11 or 12 different communities, usually with a cash register exorcism inside the big box that was threatening that town, and in the evening we’d have our concert. It was busy two weeks. Very satisfying but exhausting… we came back and went right into the campaign and it was too much.

How are you doing now? Are you fit to serve?

I’m on the mend. I have these drugs in me for beta-blocking and blood-thinning and I’m under the watchful eyes of various people, to reapproach the campaign with an attitude so that I can live to talk about it. I’d like to be healthy in Grace Mansion.

What’s the third act?

Now we’re looking at our “Elect-a-lujah!” performance, headlined by Joan Baez on July 27 at the Highline Ballroom. Wonderful place, very dramatic, been our home for the past two years — our Gospel choir has the Sunday afternoon slot. We’re grateful to Joan Baez for lending of her life and prestige to our quixotic but fascinating campaign.

Who else will be there?

Greta Gaines. The McCollough Sons of Thunder Brass Band — what’s known as a “shouting gospel” group, 20 trombones, from the United House Prayer for All People in Harlem. Also, New York street vendors are gonna get up and accept fabulous sainthood from their Reverend… Saints don’t have to be dead to be sainted.

What else are you doing?

We have 92 people out there now gathering signatures. As we place our name on the ballot, the campaign, the rise of the fabulous 500 neighborhoods will catch fire… we’re singing in tune with their harmonies, it will catch the imaginations of New Yorkers… the leap that we need to make will be an act of faith. The only way we can do this is to believe together that we can same our neighborhoods of Bloomberg and his demon monoculture!

What do you mean by that?

Williamsburg looks like Miami now. It’s all busted out with these gleaming half-built finger buildings… [Mayor Bloomberg’s] idea of progress is to turn our city into a suburban wasteland. The neighborhoods that are doing best are the ones that didn’t have the deadly touch of Bloomberg’s idea of progress. For example, I just had a house party in Dyker Heights, which is doing really well; it has very few chain stores. But right next door, Baychester is hit hard because they have a larger number of megacorporate outlets. It’s a generalization, but it has been my observation…

Is anyone else out there doing what you’re doing? Any kindred spirits?

The people who are defending Coney Island from the Bloomberg plan of big hotels, boy, they are real heroes. Yesterday a bunch of them dressed as Jane Jacobs and confronted Christine Quinn! They are real fellow travelers. We love those people and their defense will be remembered for many years.

Also, the Retail Action Project (RAP), we’re working with them to try to get the back pay for the African-American stockers at Scoop, Inc. on Broadway, whom Scoop owes half a million dollars. And the folks who have been trying to defend the 80-year-old artists who live in the Carnegie Hall Towers. And the American Friends’ Service Committee — there are people fleeing civil wars in their own countries who are taken from JFK in shackles. And the street vendors, the harassment of them must end…

We’ve concentrated time and time again on Union Square from the friends of Bloomberg, Danny Meyer and so forth… the progressive conscience comes from Union Square. Emma Goldman, Norman Thomas, Dorothy Day, AJ Muste, Paul Robeson! Now it’s being overtaken by this new fake Europe… and when the new fake Europe takes over, they dispense with our First Amendment rights…

Ray Kelly, as much as he hates it, the First Amendment is stronger than him and as Mayor I will fire Ray Kelly.

Tony Avella says he’d fire Joel Klein.

I would too! I like Tony. I was on a forum with him at the NYU Law School. I would vote for him — and I hope I run against him on November 3rd! Tony has a different emphasis, but he’s the person who shows up when we’re trying to get somebody to pay attention to the Carnegie Towers evictions. Tony was the one who called us back. He’s a good man. He’s laboring out there in the neighborhood in the old tradition while we get bathed in this video-game light of the hundred-million-dollar campaign, it’s a surreal bath.

Bloomberg, he’s America’s Vladimir Putin, he’s our Mugabe — ever talk to an immigrant about what it’s like to have a strongman rule and say he deserves another term? Bloomberg needs us to be a banana republic. I say let him go to Honduras.

We have a responsibility in this super-conservative time we live in in New York to mark the air, mark the public air colorfully with our imaginations, mark it with our wild dreams — because soon, very soon, this will be over for the big money people. And democracy — funky, wonderful, human democracy — will return.