People Watching

And a candidate for the ages
Chrisrose
Illustration by Jason Raish

The theme of this issue of the magazine is an annual feature called “People to Watch.” It’s a fairly common offering in city magazines like this, along the lines of “Best Restaurants” or “Best Doctors,” etc.

But I particularly favor people to watch. People watching is my favorite hobby, actually. They’re not as colorful or graceful as say, for instance, birds, but people can be a complicated and rewarding subject of study and scrutiny.

Maybe you’ve noticed.

Of course, “People to Watch” features are not literally that. We don’t direct you to prime locations from which to best observe the human condition – although that would actually be a pretty cool idea. Instead, the term is meant to bring attention to the next wave of local movers and shakers, the rising generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and influencers.

Me, I’ve never had such an honor bestowed upon me. Sometimes such features are titled “30 Under 30” or “40 Under 40.” At this point, it seems impractical – and a waste of ink and paper – to assemble a list of “70 Under 70,” just so I could finally make the grade.

That would just be a lot of old folks like me, who generally “move” real slow and “shake” primarily while negotiating trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night to pee again.

But with the spirit of this theme in mind, I bring to your attention my own nomination for a local person to watch – one no doubt overlooked by my esteemed colleagues and editors at this magazine. But he is a man seemingly destined for this moment in our current times, an inconsequential underdog, a phoenix that refuses to rise, an indefatigable tilter of windmills.

If that’s actually a thing. Which I’m pretty sure isn’t. But you get the point.
His name is Manny Chevrolet. And if that name has a familiar ring to it, that’s because he has been on the ballot for the New Orleans mayoral election every year since 2002. That’s no easy feat for a chronically under-employed actor, bookstore clerk and stand-up comedian.

To be precise, that’s a $375 click every four years just to get on the ballot. That, my friends, is a dedication to public service.

The reason Manny Chevrolet comes to mind in this season of our discontent is his quadrennial campaign slogan: “A Troubled Man for Troubled Times.”

Talk about striking the Zeitgeist. I ask you: If not now – then when?

When asked at a debate during his first mayoral bid in 2002 why he was running for mayor, he responded, “I need a job.” That’s a refreshing dose of candor in these mendacious times.

At a candidates debate in 2009 – his third bid for mayor – he encapsulated the current political landscape and lamented: “All the great leaders are gone. Ghandi is gone. Kennedy is gone. Martin Luther King is gone. And I’m not feeling really well myself right now.”

Yet he has persevered. Taking positions that very few would have the courage to espouse. In that 2009 debate, he said: “We’ve got problems in our city. I mean, we have our city leaders giving themselves 100-percent pay raises. People are throwing cats out of moving vehicles. It’s insanity what’s going on here. We need a radical, revolutionary change.”

(Author’s note: Cat-throwing was actually a “thing” back then. Maybe like streaking in the 1970s, it was an inexplicable impulse of the human condition. I actually wrote a story about the phenomenon for the Times-Picayune newspaper.)

I’m not making this up. 

And, while I generally eschew overt political statements and endorsements in this column, I just thought the time was right to recall one of the great woulda, coulda, shoulda leaders of our fair city. In a time when diversions, distractions and delights are so desperately needed, why not Manny Chevrolet?

Truth is, I don’t know if he’s running again next year, but his name on the ballot is about as reliable as street flooding in August and as comforting as a My Pillow.

He usually gets about 200 votes.

But could he be any worse than those who currently occupy our seats of power, finance and influence?

Take all the time you need for that one.

Surveying this city, this state, this country – the political wilderness in which we currently toil and dwell – might these not be the desperate times for which a desperate man was annointed to lead us to…I dunno: Maybe a local open mic night?

Something, anything for a laugh.