Vote Luther Campbell for mayor
Nassie Shahoulian, AKA Notorious Nastie, the quintessential Renaissance man of Miami's hipster scene, is MCing the second annual Miami New Times Brew at the Zoo, where a 4,000-plus horde of beer-swilling Dionysian degenerates is sampling a potent variety of ales, pilsners, lagers, and stouts. There is even a Four Loko stand.
The promoter/actor/hot dog maker is wearing a toga to augment the Delta Tau Chi Animal House vibe he has brought to the celebration. As the booty track "Shake What Yo Momma Gave Ya" plays in the background, Nastie's raspy voice booms through the microphone:
"I have had many dreams in my life, and all of those dreams have come true tonight... We have a very, very, very, special surprise guest for you, my dear friend and yours, the one and only Uncle Luke!"
A couple hundred revelers cheer madly as Luther Campbell makes his way to the front of the stage. Dressed in a white linen short-sleeved shirt, white cargo shorts, and dark brown boots, he comes out chanting, "Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!"
Nastie, pumping his fists furiously in the air, interjects with his own "Toga! Toga! Toga!" Campbell joins in. "Toga! Toga!"
But the crowd comes up with an even better one: "Luke for mayor! Luke for mayor! Luke for mayor! Luke for mayor!"
That was the scene April 30, two months after New Times decided to back Campbell for Miami-Dade County mayor. Our "Luke's Gospel" columnist is one of 11 candidates on the May 24 ballot. As the only staff writer with more than a decade of experience covering Miami-Dade politics, I was charged with assisting Uncle Luke in his first run for elected office.
Watching the crowd chant his name sent a jolt of bona fide Obama hope up my spine. I threw conventional wisdom out the window, believing that the onetime raunchiest entertainer in hip-hop — the guy who came up with the memorable lyrics "face down, ass up" — could actually win a countywide special election. And why not? County government is a freak show, so might as well get the freakiest ringmaster the community has ever known to run the circus.
Videos of Luther Campbell on the campaign trail:
Wednesday, January 26, 3:46 p.m.: The editor of Miami New Times, one of those old-school shoe-leather journalists who was part of a Miami Herald Pulitzer Prize-winning team in the '90s, is cooking up a tongue-in-cheek idea for a cover story. The boss man calls me and the managing editor into his office. "Let's run Luther Campbell for county mayor and write about it," he gleefully asserts. "There's no chance he'd win, but this would be great publicity for the paper and for Luke's column."
He assigns me the task of running and chronicling the campaign. Great, more work, I think to myself. The managing editor, who cut his journalistic teeth covering public housing for the Chicago Tribune in the '80s, immediately senses a problem. "Wait a minute," he says. "We're gonna have our own reporter cover a political campaign he's running? We can't do that."
The editor-in-chief is unfazed: "Relax! No African-American has ever won countywide office in Miami-Dade. We'll use it to spoof the political process!" The managing editor is unconvinced. He was in Chicago in 1983 when Harold Washington stunned the city's political establishment by winning the mayor's seat. "I was the only reporter to cover Washington's first press conference," the second-in-command affirms. "No one took him seriously. Then the two Irish candidates split the vote, all the black folks turned out, and he won."
The chief notes that our sister newspaper in 2003 ran the late child star Gary Coleman for California governor as a joke. "C'mon, this is gonna be a good show," the editor says. Little did we know that Luke was deadly serious or, as he would tell WLRN radio, "serious as a heart attack." He would make that his campaign slogan.
Wednesday, February 2, 11 a.m.: Campbell calls me at the New Times office. "Hey, man, I just heard on Hot 105 that y'all are having a press conference with me to make an announcement." He is clearly not happy. "Hell, nah. I'm not gonna look like a joke. This is my life we're talking about, brah!"
"But you're the one who wants to run for mayor," I reply.
"I don't want to do it until everything is in place," Campbell counters. "I'm not going in there to be the joke, brah. I'm not doing it."
He abruptly hangs up.
I call him back ten times. I kept getting his voicemail. Frustrated, this ink-stained wretch wonders how in hell he became the de facto campaign manager. I'm no Karl Rove, that's for sure. Now I have to contact every assignment editor and political reporter in town to cancel a 2 p.m. meetup at New Times HQ. FML.
Meanwhile, the press conference's mastermind, my editor, sulks in his office. "See, I knew he was gonna bail on us," he grouses. "C'mon, Luke. Goddammit! We're supposed to make fun of the political process!"
The managing editor, who spends his free time writing macabre short fiction stories featuring hobos, hermaphrodites, and exiled Cuban spies, walks over to my desk. "What are you gonna do now?" he asks. "Do we still have a story?"
5:02 p.m.: Campbell resurfaces.
He's on a sidewalk near the University of Miami campus, wearing an orange Hurricanes' polo shirt and khaki shorts. CBS4 reporter Gio Benitez walks beside the candidate, who looks into the camera: "I'm gonna be your mayor. I want to straighten the town out." He announces some of his innovative ideas, such as installing cameras in the mayor's office to record anybody who comes in looking for a quid pro quo. "Everybody loves transparency," Campbell explains. He also mentions one of his proposals to raise more revenue for the cash-strapped county. "It's simple," he says. "Tax the strippers."
Wednesday, March 1, 7:11 p.m.: Ivan and Carlucho, the hosts of Ke Fuerte, a variety show on América TeVé that pokes fun at Miami-Dade politics, welcome Campbell to their studio. Speaking Spanish, Ivan introduces Campbell as "Tio Luke, one of the most important rappers in the United States."
The candidate is wearing a brown sports jacket, a light-blue dress shirt, and blue jeans. He takes a seat next to his translator, a curvy blonde Cuban-American named Olga who sings for Ke Fuerte's house band.
Ivan and Carlucho declare Campbell mayor of Ke Fuerte. Olga explains that as the show's mayor, Campbell is allowed to take one of Ke Fuerte's buxom dancers home whenever he likes. "What am I going to do with them?" he replies. "Whatever you want," Olga says. Uncle Luke quickly shuts the offer down. "Oh, no, my wife won't like that," he says.
Through the interpreter, Carlucho informs Tio that they want to give him a Santería spiritual cleansing or "un despojo." Campbell agrees while revealing a big surprise: "My mother's mother was Cuban." Carlucho jumps out of his seat and slams his hands on the table. "Oh my God, Luther is Cuban!" he yells.
"More reason to protect him," Ivan chimes in.
The Santería priest, whose name is Anecio, comes out dressed in all white, holding a bunch of leaves in his right hand and a bottle of distilled rum in the left. Anecio takes a swig, begins convulsing, and then spits rum in a fine spray all over the floor. The priest brushes the leaves over Campbell's body. "Now you can start your campaign with a clean slate," Ivan declares. "You won't have any bad vibes over you."
Monday, March 14, 5:14 p.m.: Dan Le Batard — Miami Herald sports columnist and host on 790 AM the Ticket — welcomes Campbell on the air by announcing that Luke's platform is "Pop That Coochie." Campbell explains he is running because elected officials are wrong to raise taxes in a place as beautiful as Miami-Dade. Le Batard is skeptical about Campbell's chances. "Luke, I root for you," the host says. "I support you, but this seems impossible." Campbell is unfazed: "One thing about me is I love challenges. I'll be able to get on programs such as yours and tell it real. I don't have to hold back. I can keep it 100."
Le Batard, talking to his cohost Stugotz, admits that "it would be great, funny, and awful at the same time" if Campbell is elected. Uncle Luke concurs: "Every weekend will be like Calle Ocho!"
"Now there is a platform," Le Batard retorts.
The New Times editor listens from a computer in his office. "He's really taking himself too seriously," he notes with a worried frown. The editor had been contemplating asking Campbell to get on a rowboat with a couple of strippers and cross Biscayne Bay, like George Washington crossing the Delaware River. "He's not gonna go for that now," the editor laments. I suggest getting a bigger boat and taking Campbell to different marinas to stump for votes. "Do you know how much that would cost?" the editor says incredulously. "I don't have the budget to pay for it."
The managing editor stands at the door, smiling. "When Luke wins, I want to see how you're going to explain our conflict. When was the last time a paper ran a campaign? Citizen Kane?"
The editor mutters under his breath: "Rosebud. Rosebud. Rosebud. He's not gonna win."
Tuesday, March 15, 8 a.m.: Campbell, along with 88 percent of Miami-Dade voters, casts his ballot to recall Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
Thursday, March 17, 2:30 p.m.: During a two-hour interview on Actualidad 1020 AM, Campbell explains to radio show host Lourdes Ubieta why a "stripper tax" would generate lots of money for Miami-Dade. "Miami has the largest strip club in the world, which is Tootsie's," Campbell says. "It is actually in Miami Gardens. The second-largest one is King of Diamonds, which is also in Miami Gardens. Puff Daddy and Rick Ross went in there the other day and gave a million dollars to the dancers — just threw it up in the air."
Ubieta, perhaps sensing a career change in her future, asks Campbell for the address of King of Diamonds. He responds, "Are you getting ready to go on the pole, mami?" Ubieta laughs. "I'm going to go, Luther, and tell them I know you," she adds.
Wednesday, April 6, 3:21 p.m.: Inside the New Times editorial conference room, Campbell goes over campaign strategy with a close circle of advisers that includes members of the newspaper's staff. The managing editor — seemingly no longer bothered by the conflict — is confident Campbell could squeak in with the support of Miami-Dade's black voters if the top three Cuban-American candidates split the Cuban majority vote. "Just get the black community to turn out," he says.
But the managing editor's boss is more interested in building readership than winning an election. He suggests making the legalization of marijuana a key campaign issue, which Campbell agrees to, and prostitution, which the candidate rejects. "C'mon, Luke!" the editor grumbles. "You are way more conservative than you let on, my brother!" Campbell shoots him the side-eye. I shake my head and chuckle. I can't believe he just said "my brother," I think to myself.
Uncle Luke throws the editor a bone. Campbell says he would be making his first public appearance alongside two of the other candidates, Carlos Gimenez and Marcelo Llorente, later in the evening. "Imagine if I slam down a jar of Vaseline on the table," Campbell ponders, "and I tell everybody in the room: 'I'm tired of all you politicians dry-fucking us! At least use a little love when you're fucking us!' That'll get 'em all riled up." The editor is ecstatic. He loudly claps his hands and lets out a chortle: "That is a great idea!"
7:46 p.m.: The cozy back dining room of Town Kitchen & Bar is standing room only as Campbell joins Gimenez and Llorente to answer questions about their respective campaigns. Wearing a white dress shirt and gray slacks, Luke quickly summarizes his credentials as a businessman running the first independent hip-hop record label. As mayor, he promises, "I'd make it a requirement that 60 percent of the workforce comes from the community."
When a potential voter asks the candidates if police had violated the people's right to protest during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit a few years ago, Campbell tells the crowd that the African-American communities in Miami-Dade certainly know what it is like to live in a police state. "In the hood, you have police helicopters shining the spotlight on your home when you are trying to put your kids to bed," Campbell says. "We call it the ghetto bird."
But he never slams down the big tub of Vaseline that I paid $4 for at CVS with money from our meager campaign war chest.
Monday, April 11, 10:40 a.m.: The New Times editor phones Campbell. Apparently there is a little snag in the game plan. He has just learned that in addition to the $300 qualifying fee, mayoral candidates also have to put up 1 percent of the mayor's salary to get on the ballot, which means Campbell actually has to pay $2,641.
"That's unconstitutional!" the editor rails. "No one should be made to pay that." The big boss suggests Campbell file a hardship letter and stall the election's office. "If they disqualify him, then we'll get some University of Miami law student to sue the county on Luke's behalf," the editor reasons. "We can make a bold statement about what bullshit this is."
Tuesday, April 12, 9:36 a.m.: Campbell is the guest speaker at the long-running political gathering at David's Cafe II in Miami Beach. The elbow-to-elbow crowd includes television reporters Glenna Milberg and Jim DeFede, a former New Times columnist. Dressed in a gray two-piece suit, purple dress shirt, and no tie (a step up from his previous attire), Campbell reminds the gathering that he helped put Miami-Dade County on the map. "Running a record company, Luke Records, for over 25 years, we put a lot of people to work," he says of his former company, which grossed $14 million in 1993 and put Southern rap music on the musical map. "That is what my candidacy is about: putting people to work. I know we have a lot of challenges. I am a fighter. I fought for free speech all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And I fight for my community."
A white-haired man in a red short-sleeved dress shirt, suspenders, and tie asks Campbell if he has attended a county commission meeting in the past year: "No, I have not," Campbell says. "Is there anybody in here — really, let's be honest — that wants to sit through that?"
The crowd laughs.
"I TiVo it and I look at it," Campbell explains. "I call it a Banana Republic, and I am serious about it. The commissioners make their own rules as they go... they just do what they want to do... They have no respect for the people."
12:55 p.m.: Campbell sits behind the wheel of his black Range Rover. His friend and campaign manager, Hank Harper, rides shotgun. He has just finished taking questions from Miami's television press corps after qualifying for the May 24 special election race. Campbell ignored the editor's suggestion about claiming hardship. He paid the full qualifying fee of $2,641 — $300 of which was covered by New Times. Campbell rolls down his window and looks at me. "You started this movie," he says. "Now I gotta finish it. Where's your boss?"
Back at the New Times office, the editor is freaking out. "Luke is serious," he realizes. "There is no way he's pulling out the jar of Vaseline now!"
Monday, April 25, 2:20 p.m.: Knowing Campbell won't be able to raise an obscene amount of money to match the leading Cuban-American Republicans running for mayor, we set out to help him raise awareness for his run. One of our ideas involves setting up a car wash fundraiser with all-female volunteers getting themselves wet. We'd call it Hose the Hos, but Uncle Luke puts the kibosh on the title. "C'mon now, we're trying to win a campaign here," he says. "I can't be at no wet T-shirt contest."
When I relay the news, the editor lets out an exasperated sigh. "He won't do Hose the Hos?! You know what? I don't care. Just make sure whatever you do is funny!"
But that isn't what kills the car wash. It's our nonexistent budget. The owners of Tobacco Road have graciously offered their parking lot on the condition we hire Miami Police officers to maintain order. "You're talking about Uncle Luke here," owner Joe Portela explains. "My partners and I would feel more comfortable with some police presence." He offers to find us two cops if we come up with $400 to pay them. "I can give you $200," the editor offers me. "But you have to raise the rest."
7:45 p.m.: I resort to Plan B. The manager for Caroline Schwitzky, the 22-year-old pageant queen who was recently stripped of her Miss Weston USA title, agrees to a deal to give away kisses at Brew at the Zoo to help Campbell raise funds for the Zoological Society of Florida. For legal reasons, we can't raise money for Luke's campaign, but at least he'll be allowed to shake hands and pose for pictures with more than 4,000 potential voters. Schwitzky's manager demands she be crowned Miss Miami New Times and comped six VIP tickets for the beer fest. Done deal.
Saturday, April 30, 11:30 a.m.: I'm at Party City waiting for a $20 banner that reads, "Luther Campbell's Kissing Booth Featuring Miss Miami New Times Caroline Schwitzky." The eight-foot sign is bordered with red and pink hearts. The employee printing out the banner inquires, "Is this for Uncle Luke from 2 Live Crew?" I tell him yes and that Campbell is running for mayor. "No kidding," he says. "Isn't that something. I used to go to his club on South Beach and his strip club Strawberries. Those places were crazy. Girls were always getting naked up onstage." Nearby, a Cuban-American couple holding a Julio Robaina bumper sticker glance at me suspiciously.
8:20 p.m.: Schwitzky, a petite brunette with a pretty face, is wearing a red Miss Miami New Times sash over a tight black dress. She puckers her ruby-red lips and lands a peck on the cheek of a beer guzzler who just dropped $5 into the donation jar. After an hour, she has collected close to $90 and given 40-plus smooches.
Outside the VIP gate, Campbell is mobbed by a few fans and two Miami-Dade Police officers providing security. One of the cops, an African-American woman with long braids, shines her mag light on the candidate. "Is that you, Uncle Luke?" He replies: "That's me, baby. How you doing?" The cop's partner, a fair-skinned lady with ginger hair, vigorously shakes Campbell's hand. "Our whole squad is going to vote for you," she says. "That's great," Campbell replies. "I need y'all to tell all your fellow officers to get behind me."
Monday, May 2, 11:59 a.m.: The editor throws me a curve ball. "You know Luke's gonna get votes," he says. "He could even make the runoff." I suggest that he didn't believe in Luke's chances a few weeks ago. "No, I never said that," the editor says. "I always knew he had a shot to make the runoff. I just don't see him beating a Cuban-American candidate in that runoff."
I tell him Luke believes he won't need the runoff — that he'll win outright. I go back to my cubicle to daydream. If he pulls this off, I could be chief of staff. I could finally ditch the newspaper rag business for the promise of a guaranteed taxpayer-subsidized six-figure salary. I can picture it now — Luke will be strolling into the office at 2 in the afternoon, so I'll be the one running the county, the guy the lobbyists have to suck up to. Now that would be a trip.
Friday, May 6, 4:46 p.m.: Campbell is gaining momentum in the race despite raising only $6,000. Some polls have him in third place, just a couple of percentage points behind ex-county Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. And Campbell is still the only candidate getting serious national press coverage. The neocon bible the Weekly Standard published a 7,228-word profile on our candidate. The Associated Press has a reporter tailing Campbell all week. He has even upgraded his look. At candidate forums, he now sports a tie to go with his dress shirt and two-piece suit.
In the New Times office, the editor wears a big sad look on his mug. He just finished editing Luke's column for the week. He had to delete words like voter referendum, task force, and empowerment zones describing Luke's economic plan, which includes legalizing casinos inside Miami Beach hotels and medical marijuana. "He's starting to sound like every other politician," the editor moans. "We've turned him from Booty Man into Boring Man."
The managing editor, on the other hand, is thinking along my lines: how to cash in on Campbell's political success. "You should tell Luke to hire my cousin's husband," he tells me. "That guy helped the new Coral Gables mayor get elected. He might agree to help for free just for the challenge. And then we could all go work for Luke at county hall."
Wednesday, May 11, 2:34 p.m.: I post a blog entry on Riptide about a Spanish-only mayoral forum at Florida International University organized by Univision. Non-Spanish-speaking students and alumni had complained to school officials for allowing a Spanish-only debate to be held at a state-funded school. Worse, Univision invited only the four Cuban-American candidates, creating the perception that the Anglo and African-Americans in the race don't matter. A network spokesman explains the candidates were chosen based on the amount of money in their campaigns. An FIU flak adds that the school is only renting the facility, so it is not obligated to pay for an interpreter.
5:46 p.m.: Our candidate and a small entourage of young campaign volunteers sit quietly in the back row of the student performing arts hall at FIU, where the forum is being held. Dressed in a plaid short-sleeved shirt and cream-colored slacks, Campbell listens raptly as a supporter translates the questions and candidates' answers for him. He doesn't disrupt the event, but when it's over, Campbell tells a CBS4 reporter covering the small controversy: "I feel sick about this. The kids sent us emails about this debate. They were disgusted by it."
Friday, May 13, 9:03 p.m.: Campbell's wife, Kristin, holding the couple's 2-year-old son, Blake, addresses a gathering of 20 people attending a small fundraising dinner for the campaign. "When we got married three years ago, I had to make the same decision a lot of the voters are going to have to make," she says. "Should I really take him seriously? What kind of man are we dealing with? What type of person is Luther Campbell? This is somebody who has given his all to everyone else but himself first." A beaming Campbell stands quietly next to her. Kristin is his Michelle Obama. The campaign needs more of her front and center in the final 11 days.
Saturday, May 14, 1:31 a.m.: Notorious Nastie is decked out in a blue tuxedo jacket with tails, blue dress shirt, red-and-white trousers, and a gigantic stars-and-stripes top hat. He is again onstage with Campbell. This time they are at Eve Nightclub for a nocturnal campaign rally. Nastie announces he is now Campbell's official Spanish translator: "¡Todo el mundo hay que votar por Luther Campbell!" The 75 Uncle Luke supporters in the audience roar, "Woooooooo!"
Channeling his onstage persona, Campbell joins Nastie and the crowd to sing an alternative, politically minded version of a popular Luke ditty.
Campbell: One and one,
Nastie: Luther is having some fun!
Audience: In Miami all day and all of the night!
Campbell: Two and two,
Nastie: I'm gonna vote for you!
Audience: In Miami all day and all of the night!
Campbell: Three and three,
Nastie: You better vote like me!
Audience: In Miami all day and all of the night!
Campbell: Four and four,
Nastie: Luke will settle the score!
Audience: In Miami all day and all of the night!
Campbell: Five and five,
Nastie: Freedom's alive!
Audience: In Miami all day and all of the night!
Campbell: Six and six,
Nastie: Luther will tax all the tricks!
Audience: In Miami all day and all of the night!
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