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I received my New York City 2021 General Election Voter Guide from the New York City Campaign Finance Board for the municipal elections taking place on November 2, 2021. While thumbing through the guide’s pages, I noticed that the “Rent Is Too Damn High” party was running a candidate for Brooklyn Borough President, Mr. Anthony T. Jones. What caught my attention was not the peculiar party name – the “Rent Is Too Damn High” party is familiar to New York City voters – but the fact that the candidate chose three priority issues to highlight for the voter guide, and none of the issues involved rent.

Mr. Jones lacks message discipline.

The founder of the “Rent Is Too Damn High” party – Mr. Jimmy McMillan – never had problems with message discipline. Although Mr. McMillan appears to have retired from running for political office after 13 attempts in 25 years from 1993 to 2018, he left an impression greater than his subpar electoral record would suggest on account of the force of his personality and his clear, unequivocal, commitment to a single political position.

Jimmy McMillan photographed in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2011.
Photo of Jimmy McMillan in Flatbush, Brooklyn, from February 24, 2011. Credit: “Jimmy McMillan Flatbush 2 2011 Shankbone” by david_shankbone is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/

On one occasion about 10 years ago, I had the pleasure of encountering Mr. Jimmy McMillan in person. While I did not speak to him, what I heard from him in an entirely non-campaign setting led me to conclude that the man on television was quite similar to the man in person.

This line is too damn long!

Jimmy McMillan

After a brief introduction, I will tell the story of that time I waited in the same Dunkin Donuts line as Mr. McMillan.

Who is Jimmy McMillan?

From 1993 to 2018, Mr. McMillan ran under the “Rent Is Too Damn High” banner in runs for the following political offices in New York:

  • 1993: Mayor of New York City
  • 1994: Governor of New York
  • 2000: United States Senate for New York
  • 2005: Mayor of New York City
  • 2006: Governor of New York
  • 2009: Mayor of New York City
  • 2010: Governor of New York
  • 2013: Mayor of New York City
  • 2014: Governor of New York
  • 2018: Governor of New York

(I previously covered the winners of the 2006, 2010, and 2014 gubernatorial elections that Mr. McMillan participated in. While he never one office, he can tout the fact that he was never forced to resign under pressure.)

Mr. McMillan did not always run under his own “Rent Is Too Damn High” banner, despite being the chairman of the party continuously since 2005. In 2012, he sought both the Democratic and Republican nominations for President of the United States. In 2018, he ran as a Republican for New York City Council.

Whether he was running as the “Rent Is Too Damn High” candidate or as a Democrat or Republican, Mr. McMillan was never shy about articulating his campaign position. It often seemed as he did not have a campaign platform so much as he had a campaign step-stool, but there is something to be said for message-discipline. Unlike other candidates, no one had cause to doubt what Mr. McMillan’s top issue was.

You Can’t Miss Jimmy McMillan

Jimmy McMillan laughing in front of the CUNY Brooklyn College campus in 2011.
Jimmy McMillan standing just outside the CUNY Brooklyn College camps on February 24, 2021. Photo information: “Jimmy McMillan Brooklyn 6 2011 Shankbone” by david_shankbone is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/

Mr. Jimmy McMillan not only cultivated a distinctive campaign persona but also a distinctive appearance. He was always impeccably dressed. Mr. McMillan wore black gloves black gloves – which he said he wore due to having been exposed to agent orange during the Vietnam War or so that he would not leave fingerprints when he strangled a political commentator. Mr. McMillan had slicked back hair, sideburns leading into a mustache, and a goatee – never the least bit unkempt. Taken together, he is someone who would stand out in public even if he were not constantly running for office yelling about the rent.

Jimmy McMillan and Dunkin Donuts in Flatbush

I have noted on site before that I went to college at CUNY Brooklyn College in Flatbush, Brooklyn. On days when I had a lunch break, I would go to a Dunkin Donuts just off campus for a coffee. This Dunkin Donuts was small, but not too crowded.

Jimmy McMillan standing at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Hillel Streets in 2011.
Jimmy McMillan standing across the street from the Dunkin Donuts where I encountered him. The Dunkin Donuts would be a bit more to the right. Image credit: “Jimmy McMillan Flatbush 2011 Shankbone” by david_shankbone is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/

On one such occasion in 2011, I was accompanied to Dunkin Donuts by a friend who, like me, was familiar with Mr. Jimmy McMillan. We noted that there was a Jimmy McMillan campaign van, painted with his campaign banner, parked just outside the Dunkin Donuts. Little did we know, however, what awaited us inside Dunkin Donuts.

Jimmy McMillan's campaign car for the "Rent Is Too Damn High" party, pictured in 2013.
A later picture of the Jimmy McMillan campaign car – this one from 2013. Credit: “Rent Is Too Damn High Car Jimmy McMillan” by david_shankbone is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I took pains to highlight how recognizable Mr. McMillan is in order that you understand that my friend and I had no doubt who we saw in the middle of an 8-10 person line when we stepped foot into that cramped Dunkin Donuts.

It was Jimmy McMillan – exactly as he always appeared on TV. He even had the gloves.

My friend and I got into line. We looked at each other knowingly, but said nothing. No one said anything. Everyone, including Mr. McMillan, calmly waited in line.

I would guess about sixty-to-ninety seconds had passed when a booming voice echoed through the small Dunkin Donuts.

THIS LINE IS TOO DAMN LONG!

Jimmy McMillan, founder of the “Rent Is Too Damn High” party, overheard at a Dunkin Donuts in Flatbush in 2011

We had heard the voice on TV many times before. Mr. McMillan had spoken. But he spoke not of the rent. Instead, he complained about the line at Dunkin Donuts.

You may wonder what happened next. Nothing happened. Mr. McMillan did not speak again until it was his turn to order. Nor did we or anyone else. It was only after I had purchased my coffee and walked out did my friend and I discuss what had transpired.

Additional Note

I found the Jimmy McMillan photos that I used in this article through a search for Creative Commons images. With the exception of the Jimmy McMillan-mobile photo, the photos were taken around Brooklyn College on February 24, 2011.

Given the time and location, I think that it is likely that these photos were taken on the same day my friend and I saw Mr. McMillan inside the Dunkin Donuts just off campus – but I cannot say that it was the same day with absolute certainty.

Conclusion

There comes a time for many children when they learn that the celebrity they had come to admire is not who he or she appears to be on television.

I only encountered Mr. Jimmy McMillan in person on one occasion. From that encounter, I came away with the impression that one of the most unique figures in New York politics from 2011-2020 was and is exactly who he appears to be on television: The man and the legend was not a myth.

Mr. McMillan is now retired, but I am confident that he has no more patience for high rents or long lines than he did one decade ago.