The Rev. Billy is running for mayor. He of the righteous pompadour, the bold suits and the cheap cardboard collar is challenging the saurian Michael Bloomberg in his term-limits-defying bid for four more years. Bloomberg may have the billions — but does he have his own gospel choir?
The Reverend, endorsed by the Green Party, announced his bid early Sunday afternoon in Union Square during a light snow. As he spoke, he paced the top of the steps in the south end of the park — where the skateboarders usually are — in the shadow of General Washington astride his horse.
"Everybody ought to know what freedom is," sang his choristers, The Life After Shopping Gospel Choir (née The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir). "What justice is! What fair trade is! What democracy is!"
Billy stepped up to the mic and began by positioning himself among historic Union Square greats, pointing out the statue of Washington, a nearby statue of Gandhi, and invoking activists Paul Robeson and Emma Goldman. "This is the founding place of our progressive conscience," he preached to a crowd of a few dozen passersby, campaign staff and reporters. "We’re glad to be here today."
But the activist most on his mind these days is Jane Jacobs, the anti-urban-renewalist thorn in Robert Moses’ highway-paving paw, whom he cited several times throughout his speech. As in Jacobs’ philosophy, the core of Billy’s campaign (at this point at least) is the preservation of neighborhoods — treating the city like a collection of communities and not, as he contends Bloomberg has, as a corporation that needs to turn a profit.
"We have to reclaim this city," Billy said afterwards, during an impromptu press conference. "I think the keys are the neighborhoods. [Bloomberg’s] bubble economy" — tourism, real estate and Wall Street — "hasn’t reached the neighborhoods yet. In some neighborhoods, it’s too late. We fought him to a standstill in Coney Island, Atlantic Yards and Union Square, he’s trying to privatize Union Square. There are some other places where it just looks like, where we’ve lost."
If everything goes according to plan, the losses stop here.
"It’s on to City Hall!" Billy said. "We will move into Gracie Mansion. Amen?"
Rev. Billy will be campaigning throughout the city, through the election in November. As long as the campaign collects 7,500 signatures, he’ll have a place on the ballot. And if it can raise $250,000, it will qualify for matching campaign funds. The L Magazine will be there along the way, keeping you updated periodically. Note your smiling, benecktied reporter in the rearground of the above photograph.
Watch Billy’s Statement of Candidacy: