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April 9, 1985
Of Odds, Olive Loaf and City Hall

by Dennis Duggan
He is either straight out of the Frank Capra movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," or he is the political version of baseball madcap Jimmy Piersall, who once celebrated hitting a home run by running the bases backwards.

Whichever it is, George Thomas McDonald -- who yesterday said he is running for the City Council presidency -- is an original, and for that alone we should be grateful.

McDonald is a tall, sandy-haired man of 40 who said he used to "yuck it up all over America" as an $80,000-a-year vice president for a sporting goods firm. He drank with Joe Namath and Phil Linz. He was a big spender.

But six years ago, he decided to quit his job and go to work for the fruitless presidential campaign of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Since then, McDonald -- who now lives in a $55-a-week, single-room-occupancy hotel on East 51st Street and dines on 35-cent bagels, olive loaf and milk -- has single-mindedly pursued a political career that causes some people to say he is either a flake or a nut.

A main reason for this is that no one runs for political office without money. "Money is the mother's milk of politics," the saying goes.

McDonald said that he is running to prove to the city's vast underclass that in life all things are possible, even getting elected without money.

That he hasn't been able to prove this assertion in three other times out of the gate doesn't seem to faze McDonald one whit. He has run for Congress in Manhattan's "Silk Stocking" district, where he lost the Democratic nomination to Mark Green in 1980 and Betty Lall in 1982, then got bounced off the ballot last year after a petition challenge from an opponent in the congressional primary, Borough President Andrew Stein.

He pointed out that in his first race, he got 15 percent of the primary votes. Against Lall, he said, "I spent $7,000 and got 40 percent of the vote." There is no mightier incentive for a politician than a respectable vote.

Stein's challenge to his petitions threw him out of a six-person race for the chance to run against Republican incumbent Rep. William Green. Green went on to beat handily Stein in the general election. What McDonald thinks of Stein is mostly unprintable.

McDonald was raised in a well-to-do New Jersey suburb and educated in parochial schools and at Fairleigh Dickinson University and has been married and divorced twice. He is the fourth of at least seven candidates expected to bid for the City Council presidency, a job that appears to have been created out of thin air.

Nevertheless, Carol Bellamy's decision to quit that job and run for mayor has left a vacuum that, as much as nature may abhor it, is how much politicians adore it. The front-runners are expected to be former Deputy Mayor Kenneth Lipper and Stein, both still undeclared and both of whom are blessed with the kind of money that the rest of us dream about winning in lotteries.

It's fair to assume that both these politicians would have been taken aback by the strange troupe that showed up at City Hall yesterday to cheer McDonald's candidacy. Most were homeless. One of them posed with a bat that McDonald said would symbolize his determination to go to bat on their behalf.

"I'm behind him," said 34-year-old Jewel Byrant later in the Board of Estimate chamber which is where, as McDonald explained, "it happens in the city." Byrant, a mother of four, lives in one room at a Queens hotel for which the city pays $2,600 a month.

Another of McDonald's supporters was Lauren Fahy from Brooklyn Heights, who arrived in a fur coat with her 3-year-old daughter, Lindsay. "I've known him for almost 20 years," she said, "and I think he's brilliant and creative and he cares about people."

McDonald is sure to stir things up in what might otherwise be the political equivalent of a college hockey season. Last year, he tried to get on the Democratic presidential primary ballot in New Hampshire under the name John Kennedy Toole, a name he took from the writer of a book called "Confederacy of Dunces."

That didn't work, but McDonald said he will set up his table outside the dazzling Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to gather the 10,000 petitions he needs to get on this year's ballot. He said his campaign will be designed to "comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable."

He is surely a long shot. But one thing McDonald does have in common with most politicians is optimism. "I'm going to raise a million dollars and I'm gong to win," he said.

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