Mayor of Discordia
Paul Tay’s disruptive campaign
Mayoral candidate Paul Tay
Sometime B.C., before the Trojan War, all Greek gods, save Eris, met on Mount Olympus for the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Eris, the goddess of chaos, wasn’t mailed a save-the-date. Snubbed, she snuck into the wedding, wrote “to the most beautiful” on a golden apple, and hurled it in front of the invited goddesses. They all fought for the apple, each one of them believing they were the most beautiful. The event is the origin of the satirical religion of Discordianism, which uses absurdity and chaos to illuminate hidden truths. On Wednesday, June 1, Tulsa’s favorite snubbed candidate, Paul Tay, threw some Discordianism into Tulsa’s mayoral race.
Ambushing a live, televised debate between candidate GT Bynum and current Mayor Dewey Bartlett, the cowboy hard hat-wearing Tay jumped in front of the camera during closing remarks. Tay, who only received two percent of the mandatory ten percent required to participate in the debate, protested what he believed to be the censorship of anti-establishment voices. Asked to leave by moderator Royal Aills, Tay repeatedly yelled “I will not step off!” He brandished a roll of duct tape, which he later said he hoped to use to wrap Bynum in before dumping him in the river. He also called a cameraman “Matt Damon.”
The day after Tay’s tantrum, social media showered the perennial shit-stirrer with attention.
Video of the bizarre event was plastered across Facebook, accompanied by Tulsans’ liberal use of the “like” and “haha” responses. Memes were created with “I WILL NOT STEP OFF” written underneath his cowboy-hatted silhouette. The Frontier posted Mayor Bartlett’s 911 call from the debacle. Tay personally commented on the myriad posts, reiterating his belief that politicians “need to entertain voters.” Local comedian Dan Fritschie asked Tay if his plan was to “fight bullshit with batshit.”
For Tay, batshit is the name of the game. Apart from running for mayor more times than he can remember, he’s famous for bicycling on the B.A. expressway during rush hour while wearing a Santa suit, towing a giant inflatable penis with his bike, and generally accosting motorists and cyclists in feverish outbursts.
Tay was far more mayoral than usual when we met on The Hunt Club’s patio. Leaving the Santa suit and dildos in the closet, Tay wore his now trademark cowboy hat, dress shirt, tie, and western duster (despite the 80 degree heat). This new, more reserved look is a nod to mainstream politicians, and his hat was inspired by former OK political hopeful, Virginia “Blue Jeans” Jenner.
“I take notes on all our politicians, and Virginia always had the hat,” he told me. He’s right, Jenner rocked one hell of a hat.
Aside from the more traditional attire, Tay came across as more determined than in past runs. He’s taken the un-Tay-ish route of walking back controversial statements (namely, his plan to drown Bynum, and his labeling of the Rotary Club as “racists”) and has sought to harness the media blitz around him by hosting press conferences and setting up a proper channel for donations.
He’s also laid out a more serious set of goals. Speaking at length on his platform, Tay assured me he wasn’t just a dog chasing a car, unsure what to do if he caught it.
Tay wants to remodel all of our city parks after the Tisdale Food Forest. “We had a question on Wednesday night,” he said of the debate he interrupted, “where they asked about the mowing cycle. I thought ‘why are we paying to mow our parks when we can plant and let food grow on them instead?’” If elected, he says he would hire a Secretary of Education, and a Secretary of Cyberspace. “We’ve got a super-computer in City Hall, and that thing oughta be cranking out algorithms to make city processes work more quickly,” he said. He’d also require police to carry liability insurance, divert the war on drugs to a focus on rehabilitation, and increase cycling safety.
“Ninety percent of cycling deaths are at intersections, so why are we worried about putting lanes on the streets between intersections?” Tay asked me. He stressed his belief in bicycle awareness over infrastructure, citing his Santa suit as a security feature in high traffic. “We need to put biking and infrastructure between [motorists’ and cyclists’] ears before we put lanes on the streets,” he said.
Though sharing similar goals, prominent members of Tulsa cycling and marijuana initiatives claim Tay hurts more than he helps.
I asked Cry Baby Hill organizer Andy Wheeler what he and his team thought of Tay’s plans to host an event called Bike Cry Baby Hill Naked. “Ninety-nine percent of cyclists wish he’d just stop, and we wish he’d bike-ride naked into a chigger farm,” Wheeler replied.
Dean Franklin Grove II is a board member of marijuana advocacy group Oklahomans for Health. He told me Tay participated in Green The Vote’s 2015 petition effort, and left a sour impression upon medical marijuana advocates. “His antics during the petition included screaming at traffic in his Santa suit and begging for money while circulating for signatures,” Grove told me. “This is not what a serious activist does when he is trying to liberate people and save lives.”
Though Grove feels Tay’s efforts delegitimize medicinal marijuana in the eyes of mainstream Tulsa, he nonetheless plans to vote for him, “simply to try and force a runoff in this broken electoral system.”
A growing number of Tulsans have similar plans to Grove’s, and, if not planning to vote for Tay, are at least praising his Discordian campaign. His political piss-take is a growing pastime in an era when the parodic City of Tulsa Parking Enforcement can win “Best Tulsan to Follow on Social Media” from this newspaper’s readership for telling the official @cityoftulsagov Twitter account to “suck my balls.”*
Tay has modeled his campaign after Donald Trump’s (even though he called his supporters “donkeys” in a press conference) and, like the presumptive Republican nominee, is proving the effectiveness of guerilla, shoestring budget campaigns. And apart from providing Tulsans with the entertainment he believes voters deserve, Tay’s actions have actually raised good questions during this election cycle.
When Tay rushed the mic on live TV, Mayor Bartlett called 911, and was put on hold. The audio of the call gave Tulsans a laugh, but it also highlighted just how poor our emergency services can be, even for the Mayor. And if this was an emergency, and someone had entered the studio with a gun instead of duct tape, how could he just walk right up to a live broadcast with our Mayor? Bartlett asked himself that last question, and has made security a prerequisite for future debates.
Aside from questions of safety, people are asking “why weren’t Tay and the other candidates allowed to speak in the first place?” If Tulsans hear a mayoral candidate speak on drug reform and bicycling, isn’t it possible those conversations could move into the mainstream? Bernie Sanders, once seen as a fringe candidate, brought income inequality and banking reform to the national debate, after all.
But Tay doesn’t want to raise questions or push his rivals to the left. He wants to win.
He’s encouraged his growing base of supporters to buy dusters and cowboy hats and act as surrogates to boost the number of “PT sightings” on social media ahead of the June 28 primary election. On June 9, he live-streamed a stroll through Utica Square businesses where he talked to customers about his platform, and asked them to hold “I’m with PT” signs before he was given the boot by security.
I asked what other antics he has planned for the campaign. “None that I can disclose, for now,” he said with a smile.
I asked Tay if he thinks his chaotic approach to campaigning is working. “It works, because you’re here talking to me,” he said.
*Tay will debate the City of Tulsa Parking Enforcement moderator Austin Bryant live at the Comedy Parlor on June 25. What they’re debating, I’m not sure.
For more from Mitch, read his article on The Frontier's first year.