Thirteen days from now, Luther Campbell, godfather of Miami Bass and former member of 2 Live Crew, could become the mayor of Miami-Dade County.
Campbell’s shot at the slot comes courtesy of a billionaire-funded recall of Carlos Alvarez, the county’s two-term mayor who raised property taxes 40 percent–then built a publicly funded ballpark for the Florida Marlins.
In a field of 12 candidates including Jeb Bush-endorsed frontrunner, Julio Robiana, Campbell has been dubbed a wild card because he’s famous.
Campbell seems to be rising to the occasion. According to luke4mayor.com, his slogan is "I’m Dead Serious … Are You?", an attempt to reconstruct the Uncle Luke persona he used to market products such as "Best of Luke’s Peep Show Vol. 1," "The Best of Luke’s Freak Show Vol. 1-6" and "Hoes."
Through his weekly Miami New Times column, Campbell posits himself a political outsider, a hometown hero who will represent for non-elites, especially the city’s poor black folk in neighborhoods such as Liberty City, Overtown and Richmond Heights. Indeed, Campbell has raised important issues through the filter of race and poverty such as felony disenfranchisement and prison privatization, police brutality, and term limits for county commissioners who take black voters for granted. In his official platform he claims he will save embattled public hospitals, remove blight from poor neighborhoods without gentrifying them, and support programs that uphold "the cultural values of our diverse communities."
Incidentally, I believe Luther Campbell intends to make meaningful change for poor people of color in Miami-Dade County. But just as presidential flameout Donald Trump fell prey to the racist dog whistle of birtherism, Campbell has a fatal flaw: his sexism.
Now, Campbell is fond of saying that women–especially the dancers and strippers who have lent their bodies to his empire–love him. He uses their supposed love to justify one of the more headline-grabbing aspects of his campaign, a so-called stripper tax. In his March 29th column, "Miami Could Be the First Wave in a Stripper Tsunami," he claims he’ll use the fees to fund childcare and after-school programs and writes:
"What I’m proposing is actually done in other major metropolitan areas. Take Atlanta. The city charges exotic dancers $350 for a permit to perform. In Houston, the city just raised its license fee for a new "gentlemen’s club" dancer from $60 to $250. In some cities, these licenses have produced millions of dollars in annual revenue. And considering the hole that Alvarez dug for us, this could be a big plus.
Local police conduct background checks on female entertainers. That’s a good thing. If a stripper makes five or even six figures a year–and some do–a few hundred bucks to register with the state like a real estate agent or a nurse is a wise investment. For one, cities could keep underage girls out of the industry."
Campbell doesn’t mention what will happen to the "underage girls" after police prevent them from dancing. (Will they be sent to child protective services? Incarcerated? Deported if they’re undocumented?)
Nor does he account for the ways in which strippers are already taxed. Typically, they pay club owners rental, DJ and other fees and they generate money for the bar by pushing watered down cocktails on patrons. Dancers are already contributing to state coffers, assuming club owners pay their freaking taxes.
In a very, very, very long profile in the neoconservative "Weekly Standard," Campbell continues:
"If you tax the girls, now they have to do their own books. They’re legal. They’re taking control of their own finances and being much more responsible."
The assumption here, of course, is that female strippers can’t manage their money without state intervention.
And in case we don’t quite get the point, there’s the candidate’s take on "strippers who have pimps," a class of folk who may resist voting for him "because that would be tapping their money." When the reporter suggests that pimps aren’t likely to vote on May 24th anyway, Campbell replies,
"I’m pretty sure pimps vote. A pimp is a responsible individual. [If not], a girl won’t trust him with her finances."
What the fuck?
So, I had an interview scheduled with Campbell. I wanted to ask him if the neocon bible had misquoted him and discuss his platform beyond filling budgetary gaps on the backs of female sex workers. I was also curious about how he might approach women’s reproductive healthcare, HIV in black and brown people, and LGBT issues.
Sadly, the candidate cancelled day of, without any indication of a replacement date.
So we’re left with his columns, his "Weekly Standard" performance and a bunch of mainstream media clips that cheekily repeat ‘stripper tax’ as if there’s something cute about exploiting women.
In recession-era Miami-Dade, Campbell may very well be the lesser of all evils. I just wish it weren’t such a compromising choice.