Matthew Hill is literally running for mayor, jogging hundreds of miles with a camera on his head to chronicle cavernous potholes and the concerns of everyday New Orleanians.
Another candidate, Johnese Smith, has proposed replacing the New Orleans Police Department with a fleet of "gladiators" who would be trained — and battle tested — at the lakefront.
Edward Collins Sr. doesn't even live in New Orleans but entered the race with the quixotic intention of "prosecuting" State Farm for insurance fraud.
The Oct. 14 ballot includes an array of political neophytes, a gumbo that's added spice to an otherwise mostly low-key campaign to succeed Mayor Mitch Landrieu. There's a Belgian wine connoisseur, a registered nurse and a recent college graduate who, at 22, is barely old enough to drink a beer legally.
The race appears to be a toss-up among three well-funded front-runners — former judges Desiree Charbonnet and Michael Bagneris and City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell — and almost certainly will be settled in a Nov. 18 runoff. But that hasn't dampened the aspirations of more than a dozen fringe contenders who run the gamut of eccentricity and experience.
"Anytime an incumbent can't run, you're going to get some yahoos and wahoos," said Manny "Chevrolet" Bruno, a comedian who has run in each mayoral election since 2002. "We all know we're not going to win. But it's about getting your voice out there, making people think a little bit and adding a little humor to it."
Not all of the lesser-known candidates are content with the periphery, and several complain they have been excluded from public forums and unfairly relegated to junior varsity status. They lack name recognition and have struggled, even with the field-leveling ubiquity of social media, to cut through the noise.
"It's frustrating," said Hill, who for weeks has told anyone who will listen about his plan to implement "Lean Six Sigma," a process management system, at City Hall. "I'm very specific about what I'm saying. But I do feel like I disappear a bit in the message because I'm always sitting next to Troy Henry."
Hill and others complained that businessman Frank Scurlock, another long-shot candidate, stole their spotlight for days after The New Orleans Advocate reported that he was accused of masturbating in an Uber vehicle earlier this year in California. Scurlock, known for his skywriting over the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, has said the allegation is without merit.
"Many of these candidates have weeded themselves out," said Derrick O. Martin, the executive director of the Algiers Economic Development Foundation, who is running for mayor for the first time. "They've excluded themselves by not being serious."
Of course, there is nothing unconventional about unconventional candidates, especially in New Orleans. In 1969, millionaire Rodney Fertel ran for mayor on the sole platform of providing the Audubon Zoo with a gorilla. He finished 10th out of 12 candidates — losing to Moon Landrieu — but later bought two baby gorillas for the zoo.
More recently, in 2010, the comedian and activist Jonah Bascle ran for mayor to bring awareness to the lack of wheelchair access on the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar. Bascle, who had muscular dystrophy and died in 2014, once halted traffic on the streetcar line in a similar bid to draw attention to the issue.
In this year's race, Charles Anderson, an artist and activist, announced his candidacy in a rap video that made a splash online. In an interview, Anderson said he knows he has no chance of becoming mayor this year but wanted to bring new attention to CeaseFire New Orleans, an anti-crime initiative in Central City. "The only reason I'm running is to set the agenda," he said.
Patrick Van Hoorebeek, owner of Patrick's Bar Vin, threw his hat in the ring for similar reasons. His slogan — "More wine, less crime" — is intended to further the city's perpetual conversation about public safety. (He chose that one over "More bubble, less trouble.")
"This is the first time that I've been afraid to walk home at night," said Van Hoorebeek, who has lived in the French Quarter for 31 years. "Fear has become a virus in this city."
Speaking of libation-themed slogans, there's mayoral hopeful Ed Bruski, a registered nurse who has sought — perhaps counterintuitively — to emphasize his lack of ties to New Orleans. He also notes that he's "the only Polish candidate on the ballot."
"I'm not from here, but that also means I'm not beholden to any political party or name," Bruski said. "All I care about is the residents and steering the ship into prosperity."