By Sabina Mollot
The race for the City Council seat currently occupied by a term-limited Rosie Mendez is beginning to heat up, with the newest candidate being Jimmy McMillan, otherwise known as “The Rent is Too Damn High” guy.
McMillan, who has previously run for mayor of New York City and governor as well as having had a brief dalliance with the 2012 presidential election, said he was approached about running for Council by Manhattan GOP.
The organization, formerly known as the New York Republican County Committee, gave McMillan its blessing in an email blast to members last week.
On getting the local Republican nod to run, McMillan, who’s running as a Republican as well as on his own party, The Rent is Too Damn High, said, “I almost cried.”
And this is no small thing. As the 70-year-old, mutton chopped, Vietnam vet and martial arts aficionado, who claims he was once tied up and doused with gasoline when working as an investigator, also told us, “I’m not a baby. I don’t cry.”
He’s also here to say what he’s been saying all along, that the rent is unquestionably too damn high, and if this is fixed, specifically by halving rents across the board, many of the other problems facing this city — like struggles faced by small businesses — will solve themselves.
“If you raise rents and you go to the store, they have to raise their prices in the store,” he said. “There is no way around it. The rent is too damn high,” he said, before going on to blast economic experts who opine on such matters. “I don’t have a degree, but they (think they) know more than me because they call themselves professors or economic experts. I’m an economic master.”
Now, he acknowledges, as a City Council member, all he could do to try to slash rents would be to argue for this effort and push the state legislature to act on changing the rent regulations.
“The City Council can bring up the argument that is there’s a violation of some laws. Then the legislative body must act,” he said. “They speak about affordable housing, but the City Council is not doing anything for the people.”
He’s also interested in strengthening protections for tenants by changing the law so that landlords couldn’t force tenants to reveal Social Security numbers or undergo credit checks.
“That leaves you vulnerable to identity fraud,” said McMillan, “while they’re hiding behind LLCs. Landlords are not registering their buildings. The criminal atmosphere in New York is serious.”
McMillan also wants to do away with tenant blacklists — list of individuals who’ve been in Housing Court that get sold to landlords for tenant screening purposes. Another issue he wants to tackle is shoddy repair work in buildings. “Building inspectors should all be fired,” he said.
While being interviewed at the Brooklyn Roasting Company in Flatiron, seated next to his attorney, Seth Nadler, McMillan also spoke about his previous runs for office. The attempt to beat Andrew Cuomo had a lot to do with corruption, though McMillan feels much of it can be blamed on the now-disbanded Moreland Commission, which ironically was there to probe unethical behavior. McMillan said there were too many conflicting interests there and, overall, too much of Albany’s legislature owned by real estate interests.
He’s currently in court with his own landlord over the East Village apartment where McMillan said he first signed a lease in 1977. Previous news stories have had conflicting information on whether he lived there or had a campaign office there and if he in fact paid rent for it. One report said he pays no rent because he’s the building’s maintenance man. When interviewed, McMillan insisted he does live there and has always paid rent for the apartment, which is in a rent-stabilized building on St. Marks. He declined to get into specifics of the dispute though, since it’s still pending.
In 2010, when running for governor, McMillan was spoofed on Saturday Night Live, which, on the one hand, put on a smile on his face, when recalling the fame it generated, but also, he, griped, made his platform seem like an act.
“A lot of people saw me on SNL and thought it was a joke,” he said, but, he added, “I am serious.”
Asked if he sees himself as a political activist or in any way a performance artist — for background, the man used to drive a car with his photo splashed across it — McMillan had this to say.
“I am a Vietnam vet,” he responded. “I had surgery in 1968.” Asked what kind of surgery, he responded, “Surgery.”
(As for that car, it’s no longer wrapped with the photo because when it was, he was constantly stopped by people requesting photos.)
With regards to the surgery, McMillan later said he’s had pain in his neck for the past 50 years, has scrap metal in his body and suffers from PTSD from his time seeing action. During that three-year period, he said he shot numerous people, including one fatally and he survived an explosion. He now has a grown son and a grown daughter, the latter of who has deformities. McMillan said this was due to his exposure to Agent Orange.
Then, on the subject of former military service members, McMillan said, “We’re denied everything.”
He gave an example of a doctor visit he had recently to deal with his surgery, which he said never healed properly. During the visit, he was asked for proof he had the surgery in the first place. “You know I had surgery,” McMillan said. “This is what they do to us. They say they care about you and they don’t. It’s a lot of big talk.”
He feels similar about seniors. “In the second district, there are a lot of seniors, a lot of disabled folks, and they’re being treated badly,” said McMillan.
He blames New York Democrat politicians, who he accused of “brainwashing” voters by distracting them with anti-Donald Trump sentiment, instead of focusing on the needs of constituents.
“They’re using Donald Trump so they can get elected and defending Muslims, but what about the homeless program?” he said. As for the fact that incumbent elected officials have gotten re-elected consistently and easily, McMillan said he suspects this is because not enough young people are voting, while seniors “are voting because they’re scared about Obamacare.”
On this issue, while McMillan has openly supported President Trump, he disagrees with the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “You don’t need to repeal it; just make it free,” he said.
On the subject of rent regulations, when asked how he feels about the fact that in the state legislature, Republicans are not exactly known as being tenant friendly, McMillan laid the blame on the Democrat governor.
“If I would have been elected governor, we would not have a problem. It’d be solved.”
As an on-and-off political candidate, however, he has clearly made some enemies. The prime example is the gasoline incident, in 1993 during his first run for mayor. According to McMillan, the perpetrators, whose identities “I cannot confirm,” also threatened to kill his family. At that time, he added, “I realized I had to get out of the Democratic Party. After being a combat veteran I knew something was wrong. The Democrat Party is just using people so I turned Republican.”
The Obama years continued to be a turnoff from the Democratic Party in his view, especially when the president supported a bailout.
“He’s taking away tax payers’ money and giving it to corporations. All they had to do was go through Chapter Eleven. So I supported Donald Trump. I figured now we’ve got the right guy.”
However, McMillan admits he’s had some second thoughts about this, feeling the new president’s become more like “Donald Duck, and sounding like the other candidates.” This was mainly over the president’s stance on Obamacare.
As for his own candidacy, McMillan insisted that he was running “for the people, not Republicans.”
His platform, he said, was centered around his observations of people struggling and from what he’s seeing, not being helped.
“I watch landlords giving out one-year leases. You buy everything new for the apartment and when the lease is up, you’re on the street. I want people to have a vacation. I want them to start a savings account, but all the money goes to rent. Raise the minimum wage.”
Another thing he wants to do is enact a law that would make reparations to descendants of slaves by exempting them from having to pay federal taxes.
Ideally, he said he’d like to see that one picked up across the country.
Another priority is to raise cops’ pay.
“When you put on that uniform it means, ‘I don’t care if I get killed or not. I’m here to protect and serve.’ They’re being overworked. They’re being asked to be psychologists. They need to be making psychologist pay.”
On the other hand, McMillan also accused the de Blasio administration of spending too much money. “This mayor spends money like he’s crazy,” McMillan said, adding that when he ran for governor, he did so “with $16.91 in the bank.”
As for his current campaign, which was officially launched at the end of February, McMillan will begin fundraising soon, Nadler said. This is just one in a couple of times during the interview that Nadler piped in. The other time was when McMillan brightened when discussing his GOP party endorsement.
“I almost passed out,” he recalled. “Since 1993, I’ve been doing it by myself. I had a vision, but nobody believed in my vision.”
Nadler quickly added, “He’s very happy and he views it as a great opportunity to fully expand his base.”
He also suggested the endorsement is due to Manhattan GOP looking for “a different face, a fresher face.”
Back on district matters, McMillan said if he’s elected, residents are “not going to be run out of their apartments. $3,600 for a walkup — have you lost your mind?”