Eliot Spitzer intends to make history. John Faso promises tax cuts. And Tom Suozzi hopes to reform Albany.
But only one candidate for Governor of New York wants to make sugar a controlled substance, convert the armories into tai chi centers, stock Bob’s Big Boy with organic produce and require people all around the state to “sit outside” and talk to each other on Monday nights.
“I am not that much, really, like the others,” said Malachy McCourt, author, radio personality, reformed tippler and now candidate for the highest office in the state. “But I could do; I could govern.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. McCourt reclined in an armchair in the living room of the 93rd Street and West End Avenue apartment where he has lived for the last 41 years. At his feet was a suitcase overpacked for an Irish festival in Milwaukee. Staring out across the overflowing bookshelves was a photograph of the stone-and-wood house where he grew up in Limerick. Above his head hung a framed advertisement, in which a younger Mr. McCourt smiled into a mug of amber beer.
“That was an old Schlitz beer thing that I did years ago, when I was red-headed and bearded,” said Mr. McCourt, who now has rabbit-white hair on his head and in his bushy eyebrows. His face is clean-shaven, but his cheeks and neck are still flush. “That morning, I was pissed—I was hung over from the night before. I don’t drink anymore. I haven’t drank in 21 years; those days were …. ”
Here he broke out laughing. At 74, Mr. McCourt still appears to be having a fine time. As the Green Party’s nominee for Governor, he gets to sound off about all the issues facing the state and also has the opportunity to add his two cents about the aforementioned competition.
“Most of the candidates are deadly,” he said. “And if you have a look at ’em, they all look exactly alike. They have the suit, the tie, and they go about campaigning with the coat over the shoulder and the finger through the little hanger thing.” (Mr. McCourt wore a blue shirt, khakis, black socks and cheap white sneakers.)
“And they actually talk about rolling their sleeves up and getting to work—those fuckers. I have been a laborer. I worked on the docks. That was my fucking living for years. These fuckers have never worked—not a day.”
Mr. McCourt’s history, of course, is exceptionally well chronicled. His older brother Frank, who Mr. McCourt calls his “education consultant,” made a compelling tale of it in Angela’s Ashes, and Malachy filled in the humorous blanks with his own best-seller, A Monk Swimming, in 1998. Little in that latter memoir suggested a life destined for politics.
But now Mr. McCourt, whose silver wristwatch is frozen at 1:15, is looking ahead. He will make campaign stops in Albany, New Paltz and Woodstock. There and elsewhere, he intends to articulate, in lilting tones, his vision for the state.
And it is some vision.
He wants to scrap the Governor’s personal plane and make the National Guard a civilian environmental corps that would “get going around looking for emissions, pollution of rivers, cleaning up the environment. There is millions of tons of steel and iron lying around our state which could be recycled—and we could sell it, you see, so they would go around picking up that.” He wants to repeal the Taylor Law, which prohibits the striking of public workers, and “take every third or fourth street and lock it off and make it green.”
He plans to prohibit the purchase of sugar by a minor without adult consent and will pass laws promoting organic food in any fast-food restaurant abutting a state highway.
“I would as much as possible discourage fried food,” he added ruefully. “It is the killer in our society.”
The McCourt Governorship would radically alter every facet of the state. The education system would be turned on its head, because Mr. McCourt—who failed out of grade school in Ireland—is opposed to any form of testing.
“If they want to test kids, the first thing is to take the test yourself, asshole—and if you pass it, then get somebody else to do it,” he said, adding: “Being born is a fucking test of itself.”
Even New York’s nickname of the Empire State is not safe from Mr. McCourt’s micromanaging style: “I’m changing the name from Empire to Prostate, because they have made it the arsehole of the world.”
While there is clearly an element of playfulness in Mr. McCourt’s candidacy—he has no expectation whatsoever of actually winning in November—his effort, at least to the Green Party, is a meaningful one. The last time they had anyone approaching Mr. McCourt’s celebrity was back in 1998, when the nominee was the cantankerous and considerably less cuddly Al Lewis, who played Grandpa on The Munsters. This time, the party actually has a decent shot of getting on the ballot. Mr. McCourt expects to have more than 40,000 petition signatures by the end of the week, despite raising only $12,000. He hopes to add to that sum with a fund-raiser held on his birthday at nearby Symphony Space on Sept. 20, as well as with another party at Connolly’s Pub, where the group Black 47 will be playing. He is even leaving appeals for contributions on his own answering machine:
“I’m standing for Governor of the State of New York and I need money,” it says.
A script for another message sits handwritten on a desk among scores of books and papers in his study, a little nook of a room between the kitchen and hallway. “Money, being the mother’s milk of politics, is badly needed for my campaign,” the script read.
Mr. McCourt has also taken to studying the strategies of other unorthodox candidacies. He is currently reading Run the Other Way, a book by Bill Hillsman, the political adman who worked on the campaigns of Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura and Ralph Nader.
Still, he is not unrealistic about his chances.
“We’re certainly not going to win,” said Mr. McCourt. “But we are going to be bloody victorious, because the others will be dodging me because I have a lot of challenging questions.”
Just at that moment, Mr. McCourt’s wife Diana entered the apartment eating from a bag of cheese doodles. She had been out shopping for new mattresses.
“I bought two beds,” she said.
“We are making this the Governor’s Mansion!” shouted Mr. McCourt.
Ms. McCourt didn’t answer and drifted out into another room.
Mr. McCourt kept laughing. “I said to Diana—we were walking along last night: ‘This is supposed to our declining years.’ Jesus! I’m not declining. No, I never thought that anything like this would happen.”