Tags: Jimmy Breslin | Norman Mailer

Remembering Journalist Jimmy Breslin

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Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 09:16 AM Current | Bio | Archive

As a younger reporter covering the Republican National Convention in Houston in 1992, I was excited to meet the legendary New York columnist Jimmy Breslin. We started a friendship that lasted until his death Sunday at age 88.

There were so many things I could have discussed with Jimmy (“Mr. Breslin” provoked him into fits of profanity) — his storied reporting on the Son of Sam murders, his passion for New York Mets baseball (his book on their disastrous first year, "Can Anybody Here Play This Game?" got him out of debt), his wide circle of friends ranging from Broadway columnist Walter Winchell to middleweight boxing champion Emile Griffith.

But what captivated me most was something else: how Breslin the rough-hewn newspaper columnist sought the office of New York City Council president in 1968 on a ticket led by mayoral hopeful Norman Mailer, himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and no stranger to foul language and bad behavior (six years before he became a candidate, Mailer had been convicted of stabbing one of his wives).

“You remember our slogan?” Breslin asked me with a laugh, and before I could answer, he yelled it out for me: “No More Bulls***!” He also reminded me that TV and radio reports of Mailer and Breslin campaigning almost always bleeped out the last syllable.

Another slogan that succinctly summarized the two scribes on the campaign trail: “Throw the rascals in!”

“Rascals” was not an unfair way of describing candidates whose platform they described as “left-conservative.” Mailer and Breslin campaigned for, The New York Times reported, “a monorail, a ban on private cars in Manhattan and a monthly ‘Sweet Sunday’ on which vehicles would be barred from city streets, rails or airspace altogether.”

Most remembered, however, was their call for New York City to secede from the Empire State and become the 51st state. Its five boroughs would be given autonomy to do pretty much anything.

As Mailer put it, “We’ll have compulsory free love in those neighborhoods that vote for it, and compulsory attendance in church on Sunday in those that vote for that.”

Breslin proudly recalled that the concept of the secession of a city to become a state was picked up that same year by then-Mayor Henry Maier of Milwaukee. In his words, Maier wanted Milwaukee “to be the 52nd State, after New York City.”

The Mailer-Breslin campaign generated much enthusiasm on the left. Feminist Gloria Steinem held the initial campaign meeting in her home. Veteran leftist operative Joe Flaherty was campaign manager and Alice Krakauer, press secretary to Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s antiwar presidential campaign in 1968, had the same job for Mailer-Breslin in 1969.

As much as Breslin felt Mailer was the right candidate for mayor (“That bum is serious!”), he also found, as vice presidential hopeful Mike Pence would in 2016, that it was not easy to explain a running mate whose signature trait was unpredictability. The mayoral hopeful once said he would handle snow removal by urinating on it. At an event held in a Manhattan nightclub, Mailer called his own supporters “spoiled pigs.”

“I found out I was running with Ezra Pound,” Breslin said, referring to the poet who spent much of his later life in a mental institution.

In the June primary, the liberals’ worst nightmare came true. With four liberal Democrats splitting up the left-of-center primary vote, City Comptroller Mario Procaccino, a conservative who ran on a tough law and order platform topped the five-candidate field and won the nomination for mayor. Mailer placed fourth with just over 5 percent of the vote. (Running on the Liberal Party ticket, incumbent Mayor John Lindsay won a plurality over Procaccino and GOP nominee John Marchi and was re-elected in November.)

Breslin actually fared better, placing fifth in the eleven-candidate primary for council president with about 11 percent of the vote.

“Norman and I advanced some pretty revolutionary stuff by running, and I’m glad we did it,” Breslin told me, “And I’m sure glad someone remembers it.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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As a younger reporter covering the Republican National Convention in Dallas in 1992, I was excited to meet the legendary New York columnist Jimmy Breslin. We started a friendship that lasted until his death Sunday at age 88.
Jimmy Breslin, Norman Mailer
Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 09:16 AM
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