Working Stiff: Running for Mayor of San Francisco
I was in the midst of blazing a trail as a political comic in San Francisco and was making some headway breaking out of the comedic clutter. That's when the Democrats convened their national convention in my adopted city in 1984. Being the political guy in town, I was able to garner a bit of publicity.
I appeared on 'Today,' 'Niteline', Larry King's radio show and a bunch of other local and national shows and even got a fleeting mention in Time magazine. I snuck into the Moscone Center during Mario Cuomo's speech, watching it on what was then considered a big-screen TV in a green room with Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Brokaw and a few other notables. It was then and there I decided politics was show business for ugly people and that I had found my niche.
I haven't missed a Democratic National Convention since, cadging press credentials variously from the San Francisco Examiner, Comedy Central, Mother Jones, and PBS. Hoping to accelerate my momentum in 1987, I decided to run for mayor of San Francisco. What the hell? I thought I could get some publicity and use the run to establish my bona fide credentials as a satirist.
A 'serious' contender
There was a long tradition of stunt runs in the city. Back in the 1960s, John Brent, a member of the improvisation and sketch group, The Committee, ran on the platform of "Whatever You Want." And in 1979, the lead singer for the punk band the Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, also ran. I collected enough signatures at stand-up gigs around the city, and those along with a check for $1,200 gained me access to the ballot. Lee Housekeeper, a local press agent, offered to represent my campaign for free, and we held a kick-off party where I unveiled my slogan, "Vote for Durst or Don't," as well as the official campaign photo -- a shot of the back of my head, because that was all the constituency was going to see of me after I took office.
We printed up a slew of bumper stickers and buttons, which to this day people proudly display at gigs. I also brought forward a woman who was introduced as my mistress as a courtesy to the press, so reporters didn't have to hunt her down and fictionalize an illicit affair. I wrote a stump speech and attended a couple of candidate forums. But the only people who showed up were earnest old people who didn't appreciate my decidedly humorous approach. I came up with a couple of campaign promises such as turning Alcatraz into a casino. All I wanted for myself was the ferry-boat concession. And excepting that little ferry-boat provision, another candidate co-opted the plan, calling it his idea to raise revenue for the city. Arrrrrrrrgh. Politics.
A distant fourth
The PBS station in town, KQED -- which later fired me three separate times, but that's another story -- invited all 11 candidates to a debate, and I eagerly attended, viewing it as my rocket boost to the big time. But with 10 of the 11 candidates appearing, it was a bit cluttered on the set and I only got to answer two questions, which was the way it went for us fringe candidates. The bulk of the questioning went to the mainstream boys: Art Agnos, the eventual winner, John Molinari, and Roger Boas, who was later caught in a sting at a brothel that featured underage girls.
Eventually Election Day came around, and I ended up with 2 percent of the vote, coming in fourth out of 11, and the three guys who beat me out all spent over a million dollars apiece. So, on a dollar-per-vote basis, I am mayor of San Francisco.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. And if all the people who had come up to me after gigs and told me that they had voted for me had actually voted for me, I swear to God I would have been elected.
Related Stories from CNN Money