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Chicken John For Mayor?

July 10, 2007

My in-box has been flooded with weird and wonderful emails over the last couple of weeks while I've been away in Europe. One of the most intriguing missives I received was a link from a friend to an article in yesterday's Chronicle about Chicken John's decision to run for the position of San Francisco mayor in the upcoming November election.

Like the State elections a while back when the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gary Coleman put themselves forward for the title of California Governor, San Francisco politics is similarly awash with a motley assortment of unlikely characters all vying for the prize. Chicken John's declared "platform" (his flatbed truck), interest in showing San Franciscans the lighter side of local politics, and history as one of the city's more eccentric purveyors of entertainment probably won't get him much of a following among the hoards that ultimately chose Gavin Newsom's slickness over main competitor Matt Gonzalez's straightforward salt-of-the-earthness in the last mayoral battle. Chicken John (ne John Rivaldi) makes Gonzalez (the wild card last time around) look like Dick Cheney.

Nevertheless, Chicken John's campaign is interesting for a couple of reasons: 1) He knows how to pull all kinds of strings and is one of the most astute wheelers and dealers I've ever known, and 2) His campaign is refreshingly arts focused.

As an impresario of the ragged edge of the local arts scene, Chicken John knows a lot of local artists and has a better feeling for the "indigenous" culture of this area than pretty much anyone else. A champion of the underground in all its colorful guises, Chicken John would give brilliant people who create sculptures out of discarded diapers and bits of corrugated iron and musical acts involving a zither, amped tuba and player piano a place in the sun. I'm all for the symphony, the ballet and Broadway theatre, but it would be great to have someone in office who knows and gives a damn about the cultural stuff that really makes San Francisco tick.

One of the things that impresses me most about Chicken John are his organizational abilities. This is a man who can convince 100 people (many of them strangers) to get on a bus and travel for two days into the middle of Death Valley to see an 80-something opera singer perform and bring 500 lavishly-dressed goths together in a disused Victorian-era brewery in Hunter's Point for an enormous party.

As the owner of The Odeon Bar in The Mission until a couple of years ago, he thrived upon showcasing the outer limits of creativity. The first time I went into that bar, I was privy to a musical performance by a couple of young women in stripy tights who regaled us with careening duets on the theremin and accordion. I realized that I had hit the jackpot. A few months later, I asked Chicken John if my madrigal group (The Mad Wriggles) could perform in his place one night. We did. And then he asked us to sing at more of his events, including the one in the brewery, where we sung "Weep Oh Mine Eyes" and "Chanson De L'Alouette" in a dank underground tunnel equipped with church pews by torchlight.

Would I vote for Chicken John? I don't actually get a vote being a foreigner, but if I could, I'm not sure I would. There's just something slightly deranged about the man. You never quite know what he'll do next. Perhaps he could be a city supervisor to begin with. His presence would certainly shake up the stolid atmosphere at City Hall.

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