On a sunny March day in a park in northeastern Queens, Councilman Dan Halloran gathered with his supporters, including his two Great Danes, to announce his campaign for Congress.
“Bowne Park is, as many of you know, part of the estate that once belonged to John Bowne, who, during a time of turmoil in this country—before it was our nation—stood up for the rights of an oppressed minority and protected them,” Mr. Halloran began, referencing a 17th-century push to end persecution of Quakers in the former Dutch colony of New Netherland. “He and a small band stood together and created the Flushing Remonstrance. It is the cornerstone on which our First Amendment was eventually written.”
“This community has a rich, rich history and I’m very glad to be here today to make my announcement,” the Republican added.
The next day he found out he had a brain tumor.
“It was devastating,” Mr. Halloran recalled in a mid-July interview. “It was a very serious situation and a very serious procedure. Thankfully, everything went the best way it possibly could have,” he said, with a deep sigh of relief that his subsequent surgery went smoothly.
“They took out all that brain matter yet I still didn’t become a Democrat,” he added jokingly, as we spoke in a Chelsea bagel shop next to the headquarters of a trade union where he was about to pitch his candidacy. “I don’t know how that happened!”
Mr. Halloran, needless to say, is known as quite a character.
“When the mayor went after salt, nobody said anything,” he declared, for example, at a rally opposing the mayor’s soda cup-size restriction proposal a few weeks ago. “When the mayor went after MSG, everyone was quiet. When the mayor required us to post the information about the calorie counts in everything, no one said a word. When we banned smoking inside restaurants, everyone said, ‘Hey, it’s fine.’
“Well, today, it’s your soda!” he concluded, flanked by his “Twin Cups of Freedom”—two smiling female staffers in giant “157 oz.” soda cup costumes. He repeated the speech again last Tuesday when speaking at the public hearing on the issue.
Mr. Halloran laughingly described that part of his pro-soda speech as “little overtures of other historical events”—which is one way to put it.
While subtly comparing Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to restrict soda cup sizes to Nazi Germany might strike some as rather bold, those people probably don’t know Mr. Halloran, who has a long history of colorfully contested incidents despite being first elected only three years ago.
He infamously ginned up unsubstantiated rumors of an intentional sanitation worker slowdown during the apocalyptic 2010 blizzard by claiming to have spoken to some who admitted to the deed. He chased down a traffic cop allegedly blowing through a red light while on his cell phone and filmed the officer, Daniel Chu, writing him a retaliatory parking ticket. And he was videotaped screaming at the owners of a notoriously loud local car dealership. “I’ll park every fucking city agency down here for the [next] fucking two years,” he threatened. “I’m not fucking joking. Either these doors stay closed, top to bottom, all the fucking time or we’re going to have a problem!”
“I won’t blame it on the brain tumor,” he jested when we brought up the string of events. “I think for many of our politicians it’s go-along, get-along. And that’s not what you need. It hasn’t worked, it’s not working. I think a lot of my constituents find it amusing, but they also find it comforting to know that I’m as passionate about my community as I can be. I think it solved a lot of problems. Chu is not writing traffic tickets in Whitestone anymore. Star Nissan is behaving themselves and closing its doors. … Did we have any issues in the next snowstorms of getting snow off the streets?”
“Unorthodox? Perhaps,” he added. “Effective? Absolutely.”
“One of the most interesting characters I’ve met in this business,” was how Democratic Councilman Mark Weprin described his colleague. “Very opinionated guy, he truly believes in his politics.”
And those politics are unorthodox as well.
He is one of the few elected officials nationally who openly supported Ron Paul’s quixotic presidential bid and referred to him on a first-name basis when we spoke. The councilman further described his own beliefs as “philosophically generally Republican of the Libertarian stripe,” and laid out his views on federal policy with impressive specificity throughout the discussion. By the way, that’s “Libertarian” with a capital ‘L’ too; he gathered signatures in his City Council campaign so he could have “Libertarian Party” next to his name on the ballot, which he fairly aggressively pointed out last year at a youthful Ron Paul rally at Webster Hall.
“I’m fucking lonely on the City Council, I’m a goddamn Libertarian on the Council!” he roared at one point. “I represent 171,000 people, that makes me the highest elected Libertarian candidate in the United States of America, and I’m fucking proud of that. I’m a Republican because that party used to mean limited government.”
And the campaign of his recently nominated Democratic rival, Assemblywoman Grace Meng, looks set to use his ideology against him.
“Dan Halloran is a nice guy, he’s the guy you want to grab a beer with, but that doesn’t make him not a Ron Paul Republican,” her campaign spokesman, Michael Tobman, explained to us. “Again, Ron Paul Republican. He’s not a Bush Republican. He’s not a Reagan Republican. He’s not even a Nixon Republican!”
While confident in the ultimate success of Ms. Meng’s campaign, he argued that they’re still taking Mr. Halloran “enormously seriously.”
Others, citing Mr. Halloran’s 2009 victory over Democrat Kevin Kim, weren’t so sure.
“I don’t think he has a chance,” one prominent supporter of Ms. Meng’s told us, requesting anonymity so he could speak candidly about the race. “But a lot of people I know think he has a good chance, a lot of people who live near him who watched the Kevin Kim race. … Dan’s district in the Council is sort of a tinderbox in a way, sort of Koreans and Chinese against the white people. The white people there feel a little threatened.”
But the Congressional district Ms. Meng and Mr. Halloran are vying to represent is far more Democratic than Mr. Halloran’s current Council district. Democrats have typically won the Congressional seat about 2-to-1, with Barack Obama taking in over 63 percent of the vote there against John McCain in 2008. In another telling sign, national Democratic and Republican organizations don’t even bother to copy Mr. Halloran or Ms. Meng’s names into cookie-cutter press releases they regularly send out about every race they feel is seriously contested.
The Democrats also have a strong candidate in Ms. Meng: she’s a superior fundraiser, universally liked—if not beloved—by her fellow Democrats, and she won a dominating vote total in her party’s June 26 primary.
“There are a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Grace has just a presence about herself that transcends boundaries in terms of race, ethnicity, of neighborhoods,” Congressman Joe Crowley, the head of the Queens County Democratic Party, told us when we asked why he figured his pick would win. “I think what the primary demonstrated is her ability to really reach out; you look at a four-way race, she won with 53 percent of the vote.”
Outlining his electoral path, however, Mr. Halloran pointed to local Republican officials elected in the area and argued that President Obama’s unpopularity, especially within conservative-leaning Jewish demographics, gives him a path to victory.
Regardless, this will certainly be a race for observers to watch. For example, Jimmy Meng, Ms. Meng’s father, who previously represented her Assembly district before declining to run for reelection under a cloud of scandal, was arrested recently for allegedly soliciting an $80,000 bribe to fix a court case. (The complaint accused him of requesting to receive the bribe in a basket of fruit, which wasn’t enough of a disguise to fool the federal agents monitoring the exchange.)
And, if Mr. Halloran’s 2009 City Council race is any indication, this electoral competition is likely to land even farther on the theatrical side of things. The most memorable moment of that race came when the Queens Tribune, a paper that shares an office and close ties with a political consulting company working on behalf of Mr. Kim, published a full-page cover story entitled, “Democratic Victor vs. Pagan Lord.”
While the candidate does indeed practice Theodism, a neo-Pagan faith that attempts to reconstruct pre-Christian, Germanic tribal religions, the Tribune cover struck most as more than a little over-the-top, featuring a fuzzy photo of Mr. Halloran in baby blue, apparently religious garb next to a glossy photo of Mr. Kim.
“A circus? A circus? I don’t know about a circus,” Mr. Halloran responded after we used the word to describe that race. “It was a lively and spirited campaign.”
He then suggested that we might see similar tactics in the current race, noting that Ms. Meng uses the same political consulting firm, Multi-Media, that is alleged to have been behind the “Pagan Lord” newspaper attack.
For his part, Mr. Halloran is content to leave religious questions aside. When the host of NY1’s Inside City Hall pressed him recently to explain his presence in a “New Normandy” neo-Pagan group to viewers who were unfamiliar with the creed (i.e., almost everybody), Mr. Halloran bristled and pushed back.
“I guess you asked the question by begging the question by saying your viewers don’t know about it, and it hasn’t impacted in my public life as a Council member, “ he answered. “Again, race, religion, these are things that are non sequiturs to public office. I think, as Mitt Romney has gone through the machinations of his Mormonism being an issue, the more people turn it into an issue and sensationalize it, the more problematic it becomes for all of us.”
Instead, Mr. Halloran implored a strong desire stick to the issues at hand, which are, in his terms, “Jobs, jobs and, oh, jobs.”
When we asked him whether he’d considered he’d be the only Pagan member of the House of Representatives, he faithfully deflected. “No,” he said. “Because I look at myself as an American, so my concern is representing my constituents in the Halls of Congress.”