On Monday, when the other candidates for mayor of New York were trying out new talking points about the high cost of living in this city, crafted after a night spent in public housing, a sixth candidate was quietly collecting signatures on the corner of Lafayette Street and Astor Place.
Jimmy McMillan has been talking about how expensive it is to live in New York since long before the current candidates’ sleepover, since back in 2010, when he and the Rent Is 2 Damn High party first catapulted into the national consciousness during a New York state gubernatorial debate.
He lost that year, of course, and he lost again when he ran for president in 2012. The fundamental problem hasn’t changed, though: The rent is still too high.
“How high is too high? When you get a landlord,” McMillan explains to a growing crowd, “who lets you move out of your rent-stabilized building and destabilizes your lease by giving you a one-year lease with no option to renew, who makes ‘capital improvements’ on the apartment and then raises the rent from $500 to $3,500 a month–that’s too high.”
McMillan pays $872.96 a month for his apartment on St. Mark’s Place in New York City’s East Village. When he moved in back in 1977, it was $291. He’s a single-platform candidate–his position on all other issues are formed based on how they relate to the prohibitively high cost of living.
Gay rights? “If you wanna marry, shoot, I’ll marry you myself,” McMillan says. “I don’t care if you’re gay, why you telling me? That’s your business.”
What about women’s issues? “To the women’s rights movement, I said, women can barely afford to feed or take care of their children. Women can’t afford to feed their own kids,” McMillan says. “Women are suffering and struggling and catching hell.” It’s part of the same root problem: the rent.
McMillan doesn’t care much for the other candidates in the race for mayor, or comptroller for that matter.
“Anthony Weiner? Eliot Spitzer? They should be ashamed of themselves–for quitting their positions. They were voted for by the people to do a certain job, and your personal life has nothing to do with your political life.”
McMillan says if he were caught in a scandal like the two disgraced pols, he wouldn’t step down. “I’d say, ‘You want some popcorn while I tell you the story?'”
Unlike Weiner and Spitzer, though, McMillan is still working to collect the 7,500 signatures he needs to get his name on the November ballot. He estimates that he has collected about 1,000 from folks on the street, with another couple thousand signatures submitted online.
While he explains, the stereo of the Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High-mobile–a Honda CRV plastered with his image that McMillan says was a gift from the car company–starts playing his anthem.
“I wrote this song myself,” McMillan says proudly, bobbing his head to the beat. “‘Rent is too damn high; I need some help.'”
If he doesn’t win this time, McMillan says, he’s not running again. “This is it,” he says. “I’m a celebrity as it is.”
It’s true, too–over the course of about an hour, dozens of people stop by the table to shake McMillan’s hand, or listen to him talk. Few of them sign the petition, though.
One of them is 21-year-old Andy Denson. “I just moved here from Denver, actually, and the rent is too high,” Denson says. He’s been here since July 1, and hasn’t been able to find an apartment yet. “I’ve been looking around on Craigslist and roaming around today looking for a place.”
Young kids like Denson are McMillan’s target demographic. The problem is, most of the ones who stop by his table aren’t registered to vote in New York City.
Still, McMillan’s confident that with their help he can and will win the election this time. “When [the Republicans and Democrats] realize that Jimmy McMillan and the Rent is 2 Damn High party is on the ballot, the election is done and over at that point. That’s how much these kids support me. It’s really serious.”
McMillan does have a plan B if he doesn’t win: He currently in talks to develop a reality TV show in the vein of The Bachelor or Flavor of Love. The production company he is working with is pitching the idea to Spike TV.
“The name of the program is Jimmy McMillan Is Looking for a Girlfriend–but not ‘girlfriend’ in the way that you are thinking,” McMillan explains. “I’m the Rent Is 2 Damn High party and we do things a little different here.
“If we’re standing here, and I’m taking care of business, being a celebrity, I get approached by young women all the time. I need my girlfriend to get them in check. You can say PR person, but I say girlfriend. She would tell you, ‘Oh no, he’s busy right now. You want to give him your number? Oh no, I’ll give it to him.’ She’d screen the call, answer and say, ‘Oh no, Jimmy’s busy right now, leave a message and I’ll give it to him later.'”
Don’t worry–there is something in it for the lady, too. She’ll get a car, and a makeover, McMillan says. And, of course, “whoever wins the contest, I want to pay her rent for two years.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 23, 2013