Jello Biafra, the sardonic front-man for the Dead Kennedys, both in his writing and live performances, was an expert at assuming villainous roles to reveal greater truths about society—whether it be as a serial murderer (as in the song “I Kill Children”) or as a military advisor (as in the song “Kill the Poor”) or as a stumping politician (as in his failed 1979 bid for Mayor of San Francisco).
In what might have been equal parts prank, publicity stunt, and actual desire to force social change, Biafra threw his hat into the mayoral ring in 1979, running against Dianne Feinstein, Quentin Copp, and David Scott, among others.
Writing in the 33 1/3 series book, Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, Michael Stewart Foley describes the anarchic DIY nature of Biafra’s campaign:
Dirk Dirksen hosted a “Biafra for Mayor” benefit on September 3, and raised the necessary $1,125 in filing fees. Consistent with the punk ethos, the volunteers who made up the campaign staff ran it as an entirely DIY affair. Dirk Dirksen, Brad Lapin, Ginger Coyote, Mickey Creep, Joe Target Rees, Klaus Flouride and plenty of others held meetings at Target Studios on South Van Ness to plot strategy.
The actual campaign events were few, but got plenty of media attention. A “whistle-stop tour,” for example, started with a rally at City Hall, followed by stops along the BART line down Market Street. Kathy “Chi Chi” Penick, Dead Kennedys’ new manager, carried a sign that said “If He Doesn’t Win, I’ll Kill Myself.” Other inspiring placard slogans included “Apocalypse Now,” and “What if He Wins?” Biafra, led the procession, “kissing hands and shaking babies.”
Using the slogan “There’s always room for Jello,” Biafra got onto the ballot In San Francisco. Any individual could legally run for mayor if a petition was signed by 1500 people or if $1500 was paid. Biafra paid $900 and got enough signatures to become a legal candidate, meaning his statements would be put in voters’ pamphlets and he would receive equal news coverage.
Original art for Biafra campaign buttons from Flickr user “Wackystuff”
This past Monday, Joe Rees of Target Video, the de facto documentarian of the San Francisco punk scene, uploaded an edit of eleven minutes worth of TV clips from this news coverage. Being somewhat of a Jellophile myself, I had previously seen a few of these clips which had been included on old Target Video VHS compilations back in the day, but some of this stuff is brand new to me—and I suspect also unseen by many of our readers. It’s a treat that Rees is still opening up his archives to the public like this.
It’s remarkable how serious young Biafra appears in some of these snippets, while at the same time completely mocking the political process. Pay particular attention to Biafra’s campaign platform, which is utterly absurd, but probably resonated with many 1979 San Francisco voters.
Biafra finished an incredible fourth out of a field of ten, receiving 3.79% of the vote (6,591 votes). His participation in the election caused a runoff between Dianne Feinstein and Quentin Kopp which resulted in Feinstein’s election.
Here it is. One of the great punk rock pranks of all time: