If you don't know who the Naked Cowboy is then there's a chance you are a true New Yorker, or maybe you've never been on a double-decker bus tour through Manhattan. I don't remember when exactly it was that I became aware of who the jackass in his undies, boots and cowboy hat strumming a guitar in Times Square was, but I'm pretty sure that someone had to tell me who he was multiple times before I realized that he's a mainstay and, some might say, an attraction. Maybe it was in some sort of promotional photo of Times Square that I first saw him, maybe he was just starting his day when I was leaving the TKTS line. Either way, I've never really understood the appeal here, from both sides of his existence, so let's just say I'm admitting some bias right up front. Why would someone feel the need to include him as part of their memories of a trip to New York? It seems the only people who would feel that a cowboy-styled country singer from Cincinnati, Ohio who arrived here twelve years ago is somehow quintessentially symbolic of NYC are people who will never be coming back. And on the other side, why would someone want to do what he does? He stands around in his undies, which must get really cold most of the time. But worse, he stands around in Times Square, which means he has to deal with tourists every goddamn day. This, to me, sounds like a terrible way to spend your time, even if the most creative thing you've ever come up with is to sing country songs in your jockey shorts.
If you don't know that the Naked Cowboy is running for Mayor of New York City then you know now. Yes, it's true. This man, Robert Burck is his real name, with his long blond hair and big white boots, is throwing his cowboy hat into the ring. He announced his candidacy last Wednesday while standing in his usual place in the middle of Times Square. The Naked Cowboy has promised more transparency in government and tax free loans for small businesses. (He's yet to explain his plan to enact this things, however.) He's also got a website and a logo that is derivative of the Obama campaign logo, but in the shape of a pick instead of an O and, of course, featuring his silhouette in the center, lest you forget who the candidate is and what he's known for. His campaign even has a slogan: "because nobody has done more with less."
There are a couple of things that are extremely vexing about all of this, the least of which is that he's totally unqualified, although I guess I'm starting to get used to that. And, let's be fair, his Palin-esque lack of qualifications aren't really all that novel these days, and isn't it kind of fitting that as soon as she exits the stage (for now at least), here he is to take up that slack. Not that I mean to equate the two of them too much, honestly, I don't want to be too mean here. And hey, he's only barely in the top three of the beefiest public office candidates of the last ten years behind Jesse Ventura and the Governator. Maybe he is totally in sync with the politics of the Aughts, and considering how comically unprepared New York State Governor David Paterson is, maybe the Naked Cowboy fits in perfectly.
I'll tell you one thing, he is a natural. And I don't mean that because he has done so much with nothing, becuase he hasn't done a goddamn thing if you ask me. I wouldn't exactly call playing the guitar in your tighty-whiteys in Times Square and having passers-by get a kick out of you a tremendous accomplishment. No, he's a natural politician because fudging the truth is second nature to him. First, he's not the Naked Cowboy. If anything, he's the Nearly Naked Cowboy. Or maybe he's the Undies Cowboy. But that's beside the point; he's a natural politician because he doesn't even get a full paragraph into his candidacy without the patented political non-truths to come oozing out.
The one that is most odious to me, as someone who has spent their entire life living in this city, is the idea that he knows what's on the minds and in the hearts of New Yorkers and that he's somehow well-equipped because of his experiences as the Naked Cowboy to stand up for what we need. The Naked Cowboy can't be farther away from my mentality as a person and as a New Yorker, because he has chosen to live out his existence, and be known through association with, in the one place in this whole fucking city that New Yorkers hate to go the most, and that's Times Square. Every person I know avoids it at all costs, and I haven't ended up there for any reason for a few years. I'm not doubting that the Naked Cowboy spends his days listening to the problems and concerns of regular folks, it's just that most of those folks will be back home when it comes time to cast a vote for him and that home aint somewhere in the five boroughs. I honestly can't conceive of anything closer to the antithesis of everything I've experienced here than a person who craves the attentions of and draws validation from tourists. (Just to be clear, I don't hate tourists per se, and I recognize that they are an absolute necessity for this and any city. I just want my interests to remain distinct from their passing judgments, thank you.)
Besides the "doing more" part of his campaign slogan, I also find the "with less" aspect troublesome. According to this NY Times article, the Naked Cowboy makes around a thousand dollars a day working from 11 am to 2 pm. That means that he works less than a third of the time than I work and makes almost three times as much in a day, and I'm pretty well-paid. How this could ever mean that he understands the plight of the average New Yorker is insane. His existence is a total anomaly, and while the same can be said for Mike Bloomberg, the Naked Cowboy is attempting to skate by on a platform of empathy. Yet, he doesn't have to find room in his budget for office appropriate clothing and he doesn't have to worry about the MTA raising fares all the fucking time, since he's made reference to his car quite a few times, both in his campaign announcement and his appearance on NY1's "Inside City Hall" that night. He's noted a few times, including that Times article, that he doesn't "have expenses," which makes him like approximately zero percent of New Yorkers, and that statement presumably includes wage taxes as well, since his income is exclusively cash. I watched the video that he had produced which headlines his website; is it just me or does it seem like he lives in a place far, far away from the urban decay that he seems to care so much about?
And then there's the details. My favorite line in his little speech is, "And you won’t see me buying a whole new wardrobe just because I’m running for Mayor – not on the city’s dime." I've been critical of Bloomberg before and I can't support the tweaking of the rules so he can run (and win) again, but for the Naked Cowboy to accuse the current Mayoral administration of using the City's dime for suits is ridiculous. Bloomberg doesn't even live in Gracie Mansion and has used all of his own money in his campaigns, it's exactly this fact that makes him unbeatable. For the Naked Cowboy to level such a claim is indicative of his own poor level of understanding of what he's doing while at the same time validating the nature of the Bloomberg behemoth. He's honestly the best the opposition can do.
There's probably nothing that will stop Bloomberg from being re-elected, and all potential opponents have balked at taking him on. No matter how ill-advised his third term might be, it's bad because of the fact of its existence, not because of what will happen during it. And the money is a large part of it, but not all of it. Either way, Bloomberg is an unstoppable force, so much so that it doesn't seem as if he will have anything slightly resembling an opponent this time around, not even popular Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz will jump in. Sad as it sounds, the Naked Cowboy might be the best competition anyone has to offer. But instead of a summer full of televised debates and attack ads, it's more likely that in a week no one will give a damn, and that the Naked Cowboy will go back to putting on press conferences for any passing tourists on their way between the Disney store and the Wintergarden Theater. His candidacy will be just as much a novelty as his job, because he's a joke and because facing off against Bloomberg is farce.
It's sad and demoralizing to add this spectacle to a summer that has already included enough shenanigans in Albany that the State Senate argued about leadership for six weeks, right into their summer recess, instead of doing any work. Worse still is just how important a strong political infrastructure is for New York, especially with the news today that the City will miss out any federal funding to support the NYPD. (Of course, maybe this wouldn't be a problem for Mayor Naked Cowboy, since he would in theory be able to avoid layoffs and having this impact on other parts of the City's budget, while getting less help, that's doing more with less after all.) And now, with the only opponent a man who wears bedazzled jockeys, the inanity has trickled down to the city level, and what we'll get is less actual work and more circus and spectacle, because this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets a chump in his briefs.
Come on, Eldrick.