Chicken John Rinaldi is a man of many words. But he uses just one to answer if he's going to ditch the city in the midst of his mayoral campaign and head to Burning Man: "Yeah."
So, for a dozen days in late August and early September, while Mayor Gavin Newsom is busy issuing press releases and assembling task forces and his opponents are busy with their day jobs (or lack thereof), Rinaldi will be hundreds of miles away, both physically and metaphysically, in Black Rock City, where he's been an artist and impresario since the mid-1990s. But don't think he's suspending his campaign.
In fact, Rinaldi told us that he'd like to hang a campaign poster on every Winnebago in Black Rock City. Considering the number of San Franciscans who attend Burning Man, this could be a stroke of political genius.
When asked if there is any special "Burning Man Code" that might prevent him from campaigning for elected office at the festival, Rinaldi — a Chicken Johnny-come-lately to politics — parsed like a pro: He noted there is no "Burning Man Code." It's more of a "mission statement." Besides, he says, "What are they going to do? Throw me out?"
So, yes, Chicken John will be shaking hands, handing out posters, and making stump speeches. If you're a San Franciscan, he wants your support — vote him second-place on your election ballot. Wait, what? Second place? Why not first? "Don't be stupid," he snaps. Rinaldi knows he can't win. He wants San Franciscans to think about how they got to the point where "only one person can win this race and he's already here. Jesus Christ could descend from heaven and run for mayor and not win."
But while Rinaldi thinks you should vote for him "because it's fun," at least one surly individual with Internet access doesn't think so. Visitors to the innocuously named ChickenJohnforMayor.org will see what first appears to be a site earnestly promoting Rinaldi's candidacy, stating, "Chicken John is the only candidate focused on these important issues ... " And what would those issues be? Here's one: "Chicken John wants people to give him money." Scrolling down, the joke becomes more blatant with this snarky tag: "Don't be left out. PRETEND TO SUPPORT ART AND INNOVATION by giving Chicken John the money and attention he desperately craves! You haven't done enough today for him! Because he says you owe him, and he's really loud!"
Rinaldi said he has no idea who's behind the Web site, speculating it could be a disgruntled tenant, a critic of his Burning Man activity, or a fellow candidate.
"You have no idea who I am. I'm a public figure, a target — duh! ... What are you, like, young?" he asked, doing little to dispel charges of egomania.
Clearly irritated at being asked why someone would dislike him so much, Rinaldi snarled, "You want to draw me out? OK, I did it." How can we know that's true? "You can't know it's true, but quote me on it. Have a good day." Then he hung up.
It just goes to show: Don't flout the Chicken, or you'll get scratched.