Heated NYC mayor's race is a star-studded affair
NEW YORK (AP) — One makes a video with Steve Buscemi and rockers Vampire Weekend. Another gets shout-outs from Whoopi Goldberg and Brooke Shields. A third hobnobs over cocktails with an actor from "The Sopranos."
No, it's not an awards show weekend. It's the New York City mayor's race, featuring a cast of celebrities like few other municipal elections.
Last weekend, Democratic mayoral contender Christine Quinn unfurled a star-dusted list of pro-gay-rights backers of her bid to become the city's first female and first openly gay mayor. Among them: singer Lance Bass, actor Neil Patrick Harris, director Rob Reiner and "Project Runway" style czar Tim Gunn, who said Quinn would "make the position of mayor the bully pulpit it needs to be to fight for all New Yorkers. "
Ten days earlier, Alec Baldwin announced that he'd raffle off two dinner invites to any-amount donors to Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio.
"There are few things I enjoy more than a good meal with good company, particularly when an issue as urgent as the New York City mayoral election is up for discussion," the "30 Rock" actor told de Blasio supporters in an email, saying the candidate "understands the inequality crisis facing our city."
And in May, a fundraiser for Republican hopeful Joe Lhota spotlighted as "special guest" Steve Schirripa, best known as gentle-spirited goodfella Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri on "The Sopranos."
With the super-competitive campaign to lead the nation's biggest city in high gear since spring, the day-to-day menu of candidate forums, policy speeches and endorsements from political figures and interest groups has increasingly been sprinkled with a healthy dash of glitz.
One day, it's a video from hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons praising de Blasio, now the city public advocate. Another day, it's Goldberg posting on her Facebook page to cheerlead for City Council Speaker Quinn, who also counts Shields as a backer. Or salsa star Willie Colon tweeting a link to a song he wrote lauding Democratic contender Bill Thompson, a former city comptroller.
Indeed, the race can sometimes seem like something of a ballot-box version of "Battle of the Network Stars." De Blasio's "LGBT for BdB" gala is headlined by Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon of "Sex and the City" fame and Tony Award-winning actor Alan Cumming? Well, here comes the "LGBT for Quinn" team, with actor-playwright Harvey Fierstein and actors Cheyenne Jackson and George Takei, along with Bass, Harris, Reiner and Gunn.
Republican candidate George McDonald, meanwhile, has links to actor Ethan Hawke, a longtime supporter of the Doe Fund, the homelessness-services nonprofit McDonald runs. GOP rival John Catsimatidis has been cultivating a theatrical tie of his own — the billionaire businessman has been underwriting performances of "The Little Flower," actor Tony Lo Bianco's one-man show about former New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.
Entertainers, athletes and other pop culture icons have lent star power to national politics since at least 1920, when singer and comedian Al Jolson wrote a campaign song for Republican nominee Warren Harding and ushered dozens of theater performers to a rally at Harding's Ohio home. Later, show business would pave the path for several stars to win office themselves, most prominently President Ronald Reagan.
And celebrities' politics can be local, too, particularly in such fame havens as New York and Los Angeles, where the recent mayoral contest drew in Salma Hayek, Moby, Jimmy Kimmel and Magic Johnson, among other buzzerati.
In places where voter rolls are stuffed with boldface names, candidates can almost feel pressed to get celebs on their side, says former New York mayoral candidate Tom Allon, a newspaper publisher who dropped his campaign in March. He doesn't think stars' political opinions carry much weight with New Yorkers, but if he'd kept running and could tap some famous endorsers, "I'm sure I would have tried," he said.
While celebrities' imprimatur may not sway voters, stars can help campaigns more indirectly, political observers say.
"The crude notion that celebrities are persuasive, most of the time, for how people vote is just wrong. But I think celebrities are very important in certain situations: fundraising, attracting crowds and interest where it otherwise might not exist," says North Carolina State University political science professor Michael Cobb, who has researched whether celebrity endorsements affect voters.