NEW YORK — Whenever the mayor’s job is up for grabs, New Yorkers can be sure that at least one off-the-wall aspirant will jump on the campaign trail. Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, porn star Robin Byrd and two talk-show hosts have all had a go at it. Some would say that celebrity breeds its own arrogance.
This year’s exotic offering is mayoral candidate Bernard H. Goetz, familiarly known as “The Subway Gunman.” At a dangerous time in the city’s history, liberals scorned him as the ultimate racist urban devil, while conservatives hailed him as a man who struck a blow for law and order.
“I think if I can get on the ballot, I can win,” Mr. Goetz said in a recent telephone interview, voicing the customary optimism of an underdog. He spoke while stroking his pet squirrel “Cuba.” Mr. Goetz, who will expound on the supremacy of rodents over mammals at the drop of a chestnut, obtained “Cuba” from a homeless man in Union Square Park not far from his downtown Manhattan apartment. Picking up orphaned squirrels is his passion.
Mr. Goetz, 53, who is white, achieved nationwide notoriety for shooting and wounding four menacing black teen-agers on the IRT subway 17 years ago — a time of soaring crime in the city. Three of the youths who carried screwdrivers insisted they were only panhandling when they demanded $5. Mr. Goetz pleaded self-defense and was acquitted of attempted murder and assault. However, he served six months for carrying an unlicensed weapon.
One of the teen-agers, Darrell Cabey, who was paralyzed by the gunfire, won a $45 million lawsuit and subsequently Mr. Goetz filed for bankruptcy.
So much for name recognition, an important political asset. Since that time, Mr. Goetz has led a quiet life running an industrial electronics business out of his apartment, which also serves as campaign headquarters.
The election issues are clear-cut for a man who made his name as a subway vigilante.
“I personally am not at all intimidated by responsible members of the public owning guns,” said Mr. Goetz, invoking a key campaign issue. He thinks the state’s strict gun laws are just fine: “Basically, it’s impossible to get a carry permit in New York. In my case, the jury ruled I had a right to use a gun, but not carry it.”
All of this gun-toting would disappear, said the candidate, if people avoided red meat.
“There would be much less violence in our society if there were more vegetarianism,” said the mild-mannered former nuclear engineer.
In fact, he is on the record saying that if he had not been eating meat at the time of the subway incident, he would not have been mugged (“vegetarians have good karma”).
Accordingly, his platform calls for a vegetarian menu to be installed in city-funded facilities such as public schools and hospitals. His Web site directs the searcher to a section titled “101 Reasons Why I’m a Vegetarian.”
The platform also calls for a more tolerant drug policy, specifically not putting drug-users in jail if there is no other crime involved.
Mr. Goetz stopped his own daily smoking of marijuana in January after a domestic tragedy. “My squirrel got lost and I went on Xanax.”
If elected, he cautioned, he would not “bust anybody in Central Park for celebrating the anniversary of Woodstock.”
The AIDS epidemic is perhaps the most politically unique position of the subway gunman’s candidacy. “AIDS is a tremendous help in getting rid of the crappiest elements of society,” he said in his rapid-fire delivery. “People from the left know in their hearts that it’s true. I’ve been in jail with these people and know what goes on,” he said.
Mr. Goetz, who describes himself as a conservative, is hoping to be the candidate of the City Independence Party, a group he founded after the Independence Party of which he is a member, decided to support media tycoon Michael Bloomberg in the race. New York requires would-be candidates to acquire 7,500 signatures, no mean feat when you are virtually a one-man political operation. He won’t accept contributions and will spend no more than $1,000 of personal funds. If he meets the Aug. 21 deadline for petitions, he would face the veteran politician Herman Badillo in the Republican primary.
The city’s political establishment is ignoring Mr. Goetz’s challenge, even the term-limited Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is a hero to Mr. Goetz. If elected, the subway vigilante said he would like to appoint Mr. Giuliani as his aide-in-command.
“He can write his own ticket,” he said. “In fact, I’d like to keep on most of the Giuliani administration.”
Opposition candidates are not amused. Asked what Democratic mayoral candidate Mark Green thinks of the Goetz juggernaut, a spokesman replied, “Is this a joke?”