Cross-dresser, artist enters mayoral race

Lil’ Miss Mess-Up, the alter ego of local artist Bill Saunders, is running for New Haven mayor. He wants more liquor stores on Broadway. And more places that sell cigarettes, too. And he does not really care if University President Richard Levin dislikes that. He does not want Levin’s vote.

Mess-Up, an 11-year New Haven resident, is running as a write-in candidate representing the “Guilty Party.” His platform includes the expansion of patronage jobs, the increased presence of family-owned liquor stores, and the institution of a policy that would give an old-boarded up home in New Haven to anyone with $2,000. The lollipop-toting candidate, who makes campaign appearances in a polka-dot strapless dress, smudged red lipstick, red leather boots, and a bright red wig, expects that a lot of people are going to vote for him on Nov. 6.

“We’re going to pull more than the looney vote,” he said.

And if the rally he held on Saturday is any indication, mainstream politicians are not eschewing him.

Republican candidate Joel Schiavone ’58 made an appearance Saturday at the Guilty Party’s Orange Street headquarters, which is covered with black and white polka-dotted fabric and bears giant likenesses of Mess-Up in the picture windows. And while Schiavone may not respect Mess-Up — he is on the record as having called him a “crank,” — he enjoyed the appearance nonetheless.

“I’m doing this because it’s fun,” he said.

The appearance included a musical performance by guitar-playing Mess-Up and the banjo-playing Schiavone. Mess-Up stood on the “Guilty Party Platform,” a round polka-dot covered stage in front of the party office, and sang “Lil Miss Mess-Up,” a song he wrote four years ago. His dress frequently fell below the nipple line, which he explained by saying that society objectifies women’s bodies, so they should objectify men’s bodies, too.

“It’s equal opportunity exploitation,” he said.

Schiavone, who appeared displeased with Mess-Up’s reluctance to tune his guitar or play in any standard key, played “You Are My Sunshine” and “This Land is Your Land.” Mess-Up interjected with random guitar notes.

“I’m playing out of tune on purpose,” he said.

Spit flew from both candidates’ mouths as they sang.

After the bluegrass classics, Schiavone began to play a Yale fight song, but then stopped himself.

“This is the wrong crowd,” he said

The fight song would likely not have been popular among the motley crew of Guilty Party members. One of the party’s major areas of contention is with the University.

Mess-up was critical of undergraduates, who he feels are apathetic.

“I say Yalies don’t care about New Haven,” he said. “There is a community here that you need to engage.”

He also criticized the University’s relationship with the city, especially its fostering of businesses on Broadway which Mess-Up feels are contrary to the spirit of the city. Guilty Party media director Ned Ludd said the party’s complaints are against the Yale Corporation, not Yale University.

The idea that local merchants should have storefronts near campus is not the only issue on which the cross-dresser and the Republican agree. Mess-Up opposes school bussing and supports many of the same education plans that Schiavone advocates. When Mess-Up began explaining his educational proposals, Schiavone interrupted.

“You are not supposed to make sense,” Schiavone said. “I was the one who was supposed to make sense.”

If Mess-Up is elected, he said he will wear conventional men’s clothing in City Hall.

“I will probably have to wear a tie every day,” he said.

He added that some occasions will allow him to dress as Mess-Up.

Not all of his constituents would like that, though. As party members and onlookers gathered outside the Guilty Party headquarters Saturday, a woman with hair dyed the same color as Mess-Up’s wig passed by. Mess-Up called out to her, and when the woman saw the candidate, she ran across the street and around the corner.

“You’re a member of the Guilty Party,” Mess-Up shouted after her.

According to party officials, membership is widespread. Ludd said members include anyone who is guilty of anything. He added that the party officials represent several of the Seven Deadly Sins.

“Everyone’s got a vice,” Ludd said. “We just tend to wear ours more on our sleeves.”

But Ludd said that not all of the seven sins were represented at the event.

“Greed and sloth are not here because the Democrats turned down our invitation,” Ludd said.

Mess-Up said he intends to give Democratic incumbent John DeStefano Jr. a run for his money at the ballot box. With a $2,000 budget raised from the sale of Mess-Up’s paintings, he has managed to throw the Guilty Party into the national spotlight. The Associated Press ran a story about his candidacy after he interrupted a debate last week between DeStefano and Schiavone.

He professes noble goals for the party, and said that they are in sharp contrast to the current mayoral administration.

“[I want] to fight the bureaucracy and the hypocrisy in an uplifting, entertaining way,” he said.

Those who want to see Mess-Up take his act to city hall have the option of writing in either Bill Saunders or Little Miss Mess-Up on Election Day without worrying about splitting the vote.

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Arielle LevinBecker
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