Mayor Norman Mailer: Free Bikes, Clean Air and No Private Cars

Michael Frumin, who worked with the Regional Plan Association to develop the intriguing Triboro RX concept a while back, has a vintage 1969 Mailer-Breslin mayoral campaign poster up on his Frumination blog today. The artwork was squirreled away by Frumin’s grandfather for 30 years. It’s worth a look. 

Norman Mailer, the great American writer, larger than life character, and volatile New York intellect, died on November 10. Mailer’s candidacy was centered around the political reformer’s evergreen fantasy of casting off Albany’s yoke and making New York City the 51st state. Though treated as a publicity stunt by many, some of Mailer’s ideas were seriously considered. He was the only candidate to support open admissions at the city’s heavily segregated public colleges.

As the campaign poster illustrates, Mailer also had some Livable Streets goals in mind. In addition to "Free Bikes" for Lower Manhattan the Mailer Administration planned to construct a "rapid transit monorail" around Manhattan as the first step towards banning private cars. Mailer claimed a monorail would move 100,000 people an hour, could be built at one seventh the cost of a new subway and would be much more fun. Mayor Mailer’s campaign poster also promises "Clean Air, No Smog" and "Neighborhood Power."

Crazy? Or a man way ahead of his time?

  • Gretel

    Well, I like some of his ideas (The Monorail makes me think of The Simpsons), but he was probably drunk at the time.

    I’m also anti-stabbing, so he would have lost my vote on that issue.

  • Jonathan

    This poster confirms that Ridgewood used to be in Brooklyn; it’s now in Queens, according to local sources. Something like Poland’s westward migration through the centuries, but in reverse.

  • Candidate Mailer also vowed that under his mayoralty visitors to the city would be required to approach the metropolis by ship from New York Harbor, in order to absorb the full waterfront vista of lower Manhattan ‘and fully appreciate the city’s grandeur’ — or something like that.

    Still a pretty good idea.

  • Gerg

    “Crazy? Or a man way ahead of his time?”

    Couldn’t it be both?

  • Benjamin Bigfield

    Please link to the high res version of that poster! Naparstek / Sadik Khan 2010!

  • da


    U.S. out of Hudsonia!

  • John, thanks for putting up the Mailer-Breslin poster. Brings back memories…

    In May 1969, teaching high school in New Rochelle but living on West 16th Street, I went to what was billed as a Mailer-Breslin campaign evening at PS 41 on West 11th Street. I was a serious Mailer fan (he and I had both marched at the Pentagon in October 1967, though only one of us had written a Pulitzer-Prize-winning account). And I was intrigued by his campaign plank of banning private cars from Manhattan — an idea Paul Goodman had floated in a NYT Mag article in 1962.

    Unfortunately, an evening of political speech-making was not to be. Mailer was seriously late, and during the long wait the stage was commandeered by “The Crazies,” a bunch of East Village street punks. Mailer finally showed up, three sheets to the wind, of course, and neither he nor us in the audience had the cojones to storm the stage and eject the Crazies. As I recall, they heckled and baited him, and after not very long he gave up and retreated into the wings. Evening over.

    Tom Robbins has a vivid account of the same evening in last week’s voice, here:,robbins,78425,2.html
    (on page 2 of 3)

    I never forgot the evening — my frustration at not hearing Mailer, my shame at not leading a charge to get those a**holes off the stage. But who knows, perhaps those feelings were part of why, in 1986, I left a comfortable life and grabbed the horns of leadership at T.A. Those bad feelings are long gone now, replaced by satisfaction at being part of a vibrant and increasingly successful Livable Streets Movement.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    And I was intrigued by his campaign plank of banning private cars from Manhattan — an idea Paul Goodman had floated in a NYT Mag article in 1962.

    Wow, thanks for that, Charles! Here it is:

  • Jonathan

    According to Goodman:

    The advantages of our proposal are very great. Important and immediate are the relief of tension, noise, and anxiety; purifying the air of fumes and smog; alleviating the crowding of pedestrians; providing safety for children. Subsequently, and not less importantly, we gain the opportunity of diversifying the gridiron, beautifying the city, and designing a more integrated community life.

    and this one:

    There is space for recreation and play. E.g. the length of a tennis court fits across Ninth Avenue; an occasional corner is big enough for a softball field. Given the large fund of newly available land, now wasted on largely unnecessary and always inconvenient traffic and parking, it is possible to develop new neighborhoods in a leisurely fashion…

    Take that, Atlantic Yards!!
    And don’t miss the link to Guy Debord’s Situationist Theses on Traffic, with this gem:

    We must replace travel as an adjunct to work with travel as a pleasure.

    How better to explain why I like to bike to the job site?

  • dbs

    As recently as 2003, legislation was introduced to consider secession…a visionary attempt to remove S. Silver and R. Brodsky from the CP Obstruction Unit. Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., now planning a run for Queens Borough President, introduced the legislation. NY Times reported on the flop:

    And text of Int 0386-2003 here:

  • Gstonbely

    I was brought on to the campaign as a favor to Norman Mailer, as I had worked for Bobby Kennedy and Mailer and Breslin were big supporters of Bobby’s ill-fated campaign. Norman asked me to help him “look like a candidate” . . . no smalll feat. When that effort blew up, I decided that campaign literature and posters, that might raise some money . . .resulting in the creation of the poster.


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