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Politics, Norman Mailer Style

Politics, Norman Mailer Style
Among the items in USC's Norman Mailer collection are buttons from his 1969 New York City mayoral campaign.

After Ronald Reagan’s victory in the 1966 California gubernatorial election opened doors for celebrities with political aspirations, the late award-winning novelist and essayist Norman Mailer launched his bid to be the 104th mayor of New York City in 1969.

Materials documenting Mailer’s quixotic run for mayor – including press clippings, handwritten drafts of speeches, annotated appearance schedules, candid photographs taken on the political trail, campaign buttons and more than four hours of audio recorded during public appearances – are held in the USC Libraries Special Collections.

Also in the collection is an unedited manuscript of campaign manager Joe Flaherty’s book Managing Mailer, which documents the highlights and mistakes witnessed during the campaign.

Urged to enter the mayoral race by friends, Mailer – who had just won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for The Armies of the Night – entered the Democratic Party primary as a “left-conservative” with a provocative platform of succession.

Outraged by a report that stated New Yorkers at that time paid nearly $14 billion annually in income tax yet received only $3 billion in funds from the federal government, Mailer and his running mate for City Council president – author and newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin – campaigned with the platform of seceding from the state of New York and forming a 51st state.

The Naked and the Dead author said one of his first acts as mayor would be a community-wide referendum on the question of seeking statehood for the city.

Mailer and Breslin hoped to capitalize on the wave of antiestablishment sentiment with the slogan “Vote the Rascals In.”

Other radical ideas included the creation of a monorail circling Manhattan that would have eased gridlock on city streets; legislation that would have halted any form of mechanical transportation – including elevators – on one Sunday each month to lessen air pollution; and the legalization of gambling in the city and the conversion of famed Coney Island into an East Coast gambling destination.

Many of the duo’s colleagues in the press questioned Mailer and Breslin’s sincerity in seeking the two most powerful offices in The Big Apple because of their iconoclastic way of campaigning and unconventional ideas.

On June 17, 1969, New Yorkers cast their ballots for mayor. Mailer came in fourth in a field of five candidates with just 41,000 votes.

Following his defeat, Mailer returned to his role as celebrated author and produced books such as St. George and the Godfather, Marilyn: A Biography, Ancient Evenings, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Harlot’s Ghost and The Executioner’s Song, which led to his second Pulitzer. His final novel, The Castle in the Forest, was published shortly before his death. (Copies of the books also are available in the USC Libraries Special Collections).

Three decades after the election loss, Mailer told New York Magazine that, “I was so naïve, I thought I was going to win! For me, it was a religious venture. I thought God had chosen me because I had been a bad man, and I was going to pay for my sins by winning and never having an easy moment ever again.”

To view the Norman Mailer Papers, contact USC Libraries Special Collections at (213) 740-5900 or at

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