Mayor-alujah! Reverend Billy is running as a Green


By Jefferson Siegel

For years Reverend Billy, the anti-consumerism activist, has fervently preached against Starbucks, big-box stores and gentrification.

Billy, who also fought to keep bulldozers from plowing under community gardens, is now seeking a higher calling: City Hall.

At noon last Sunday, Billy, real name Bill Talen, declared his candidacy for mayor of New York.

Criticizing Mayor Mike Bloomberg for emphasizing tourism, Wall St. and real estate, Billy noted, “Those are all bubble economies. They’re severely down at this point.”

In an appearance more like a sermon than a political rally, and backed by his green-robed, newly renamed Life After Shopping Choir, Billy repeatedly invoked the theme of neighborhood as his campaign’s focus.

“The neighborhoods that stayed away from Mike’s bubble economies are strong,” he said. “The skill-swapping, the small shops, where we cover for each other.”

“You can’t live for less than $200,000 a year now. That’s not a neighborhood,” he exclaimed. Billy’s campaign slogan is “The Revolt of the Fabulous 500 Neighborhoods.”

Gloria Mattera, co-chairperson of the New York State Green Party, said of Billy’s aspirations, “We need a candidate who’s willing to stand up, not just against Mike Bloomberg, but against the corporate interests that, for ages, have starved our neighborhoods of resources while ratcheting up our rents.”

After the Green Party approached him late last year, Billy spent the month of February meeting with Green Party groups throughout the city before securing their endorsement. He plans similar campaign announcements in all five boroughs.

At a press scrum following his announcement, Billy was at first unwilling to single out other potential challengers for criticism.

But he then criticized Bloomberg for trying to overturn the term limits law.

“He’s trying to silence his possible democratic conversation by spending so much money,” Billy said. “But that’s not going to work.”

A challenge to Bloomberg’s overturning of the term limits law is in legal limbo while Bloomberg has yet to secure a spot on the Republican ticket. Bloomberg’s meeting with the five county G.O.P. leaders last week did not yield their endorsement.

The nascent campaign has just started fundraising.

“We’re looking to raise $250,000, at which point we become eligible for 6-to-1 matching funds from the New York City Campaign Finance Board,” said Billy’s spokesperson Michael O’Neil. The campaign already has a Facebook page and a Web site, VoteRevBilly.org.

Billy will need a minimum of 7,500 petition signatures to get on the ballot. However, candidates always seek thousands more to guard against challenges to disqualify signatures.

His campaign adds an element to city politics not seen since 1969 when author Norman Mailer ran for mayor on a ticket with newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin. Their campaign’s goal was for New York City to become the 51st state.

As for the timing of Billy’s candidacy, campaign manager Austin Osmer said that, despite Barack Obama’s success, for New York City residents, “This is a time that people have a lot of hope politically, yet they’re frustrated with the political system.”

Of a Reverend Billy administration, Osmer envisioned an inclusive mayoralty: “Neighborhood, freedom and climate. Right there you have the past, present and future of New York City.”

Billy may take comfort in the words of French statesman Charles de Gaulle, who said, “I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

On the other hand, Billy might also heed a cautionary saying from Emma Goldman, another historical figure he often praised during his protests against the privatization of Union Square Park: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”