FOR THE GREEN BIKINI
by Rip Rense
(Originally published in the Los Angeles Times, 1993.)
I've made up my mind. I'm voting Eileen
Anderson for mayor.
No, I'm serious. I'm referring to Eileen
Anderson, the self-described "dancing landmark" and perennial entry for just
about any office she can run for. The aging Irish-English redhead who for years has stood
on a corner near City Hall in a green knit bikini, dancing and singing. (She still sings;
the bikini has been retired.)
I've had enough of all these self-serious
candidates and their silly television ads, their sniping at one another, their cheesey
slogans. Every time I hear of "The Man With The Plan," I think only of the
palindrome, "A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama." When I see that guy who owns the
Original Pantry, I think only of great cole slaw and fried potatoes. Face it---wouldn't
anybody take a dollar-a-year mayoral salary if they could afford to take a dollar-a-year
mayoral salary? I'm tired of pledges to put a thousand more cops on the street, a gay or
lesbian on the Police Commission; of campaign literature with pictures of homeless people
accompanied by captions about how they are more dangerous to themselves, and to
"us," than ever. I'm tired of hearing about the Hispanic vote, the gay vote, the
black vote, the "white backlash," the woman candidate (there are many), the
centrist candidate, accusations of sexual harrassment, hypocrisy. Hell---ask enough
questions, and you'll find that everybody's a hypocrite.
I think it's time to take Eileen
seriously, and elect her. This is her sixth run for mayor. There are things that can be
said about the woman with some certainty that cannot necessarily be said for the other
candidates. She is not a phoney. She is utterly sincere. She does not appeal to fear, she
does not campaign by accusing others of scandal. All those years of her song-and-dance
protests outside city hall demonstrate an unselfishness and dedication to public service
that none of the other candidates can equal (unless you consider politics a kind of
song-and-dance, which many do.) After all, she did it for free!
I made my decision based on two things:
Anderson's "vision" for L.A., as she described in this newspaper's op-ed page
(March 22, 1993), and her remarkable appearance on a Century Cable talk show hosted by
Bill Rosendahl. Both demonstrated---and this cannot be disputed---great love of the city,
and noble ideas for fixing it. Consider:
Eileen's L.A. vision includes "youth
centers" and trade schools to teach kids a skill, and self-respect. She wants
troubled kids placed in rehabilitative programs that will teach them to help their
communities, and learn a trade. She wants more police to patrol on foot and horseback, to
foster rapport with the community. She wants teachers to be paid adequately. She wants to
hire the homeless to paint over graffiti and clean up parks and beaches---for a salary of
clothing, food, and shelter. She wants to hire the unemployed and laid-off to work for
environmental organizations and city and county public works departments. She wants a
train system that serves the whole L.A. basin, not just the Wilshire corridor. She says it
can all be done by redistribution of existing funds, and a city lottery.
What's that? You chortle at the naivete
of these notions, and their feasibility? Well, laugh if you like, but you cannot dispute
their fundamental goodness. And when you get down to it, naivete might be a better quality
to bring to public office than that attribute known as "political savvy."
(Government is so choked with political savvy these days that it can't seem to get
anything done.) What's wrong with youth centers and trade schools? Can't afford them? Tax
booze and cigarettes. Shake down some corporate donations. Hit Barbra Streisand up for
another contribution; maybe Jack Nicholson can kick in a million or two from his next
paycheck. Get Eddie Murphy, Paul Rodriguez, and all those rappers to organize a couple of
monster benefit concerts a year. Call George Harrison---you know, The Concert for
Losangelesh . Put Edward James Olmos in charge of the youth centers; let Jim Brown
run rehab centers for "bad" kids and gang members. (I'll bet they'd work for a
While it's doubtful that many cops these
days feel good about getting closer to the community by walking beats or riding horses,
it's still a nice idea. And aren't candidates allowed to change their ideas after being
elected? Didn't President Clinton do a wee bit of that, after he learned the "real
figures" about the deficit? The point is that Anderson's suggestions are
constructive---and she's open to new ones. (Asked recently what she thought of building a
university in south-central(!), she said, simply, "Sounds good---this would give the
people pride in their neighborhood, and a chance to get an education.") So when
things finally cool off in this town, maybe more footbeats can be tried. You know, after
Ross Perot offers to pay a year's college tuition for every gun turned in by a kid under
In that cable TV appearance with five
other lesser-known candidates, Anderson was asked to explain her platform. In response,
the lady did what she is famous for. She sang:
"The cost of living's
rising high/the taxes almost made me cry/the school's federal aid is running dry/I must
fight and I will try/I want to be what I have started out to be/I want to be a woman
representing you, you see. . ."
I phoned her and asked about the
"Usually you get a minute to
speak," Anderson said. "They say 'hello, what is your name?' and I tell them
Eileen Anderson, and they say 'thankyou for coming.' There's not enough time to say
anything detailed. So I sing my ditties."
Makes sense to me. Besides, it's a hell
of a lot more interesting to listen to---and often just as informative---as the rehearsed,
stilted things candidates usually say. When Anderson was asked to make a closing statement
on that same show, her response was nothing less than profound. She sang: "Oh,
Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling/ from glen to glen, and down the mountainside/
the summer's come, and all the flowers are dying. . ."
Now, "Danny Boy" says more to me about what's going on in
this town than any statement I've heard from Mayor Bradley, Chief Williams, the other
mayoral candidates---far more, than Rodney King's "can we all get along?"
"I sang it because it was near St.
Patrick's Day," Anderson said, "and because it's sort of sad---like the city of
L.A. is sad. I'm trying to say that 'Danny Boy' is the story of L.A.---what's happened to
it. I try to sing that song wherever I go."
The lady has no campaign headquarters, no
campaign money. Corporations and groups with political clout aren't interested in her.
Some women's groups, she said, have offered to endorse her in exchange for her espousing
their agendas. "I said no," said Anderson. "I'm an individual and I say
from my heart what I'm going to do for the city. And I don't want anyone pushing me around
and telling me what to do."
Evidently so. She was once arrested for
carrying a sign reading "Send a Woman to the Paris Peace Talks to End All Wars"
outside President Nixon's "western White House" in San Clemente. She was also
arrested for dancing an Irish jig welcoming 1968 Democratic presidential candidate Hubert
Humphrey to Farmer's Market. (I wonder which section of the penal code covers the Irish
jig.) Those two things alone make her worthy of holding office, in my book.
I asked her what her first official act
will be if elected.
"Show love to the people," she
said instantly. "It's completely absent among elected officials. For instance, the
mayor and the police department didn't get along---they were fighting with each other. How
can we expect citizens to obey laws and rules when the likes of these people are fighting?
The first thing we need is love, and we've got to show respect for people of all colors
and ages that live in L.A."
So there you are. Pay teachers what
they're worth? Hire the homeless in exchange for food and shelter? Install citywide
trains? Show love for the people? Oh, these things are unrealistic? Maybe. But sometimes
unrealistic things come to pass just because a president or a mayor or a governor is a
good cheerleader. Seems to me that's basically how we got to the moon in ten years. Eileen
Anderson is, if nothing else, a good cheerleader.
Besides, "When Irish Eyes Are
Smiling" would sound nice at a press conference.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Eileen Anderson, unbeknownst to the
writer, was terminally ill at the time of this interview. She lived to receive more votes
than in any other election---and more than any other independent candidate---which
thrilled her. Her daughter phoned shortly after her passing to say how grateful Miss
Anderson was for the recognition.
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