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The Troubled Man Speaks 

Manny "Chevrolet" Bruno didn't finish last in the race for mayor -- and that's something to build on.

Manny "Chevrolet" Bruno, who finished 13th among the 15 candidates for mayor in the primary election, says he may decide this week who he will endorse in the March 2 run-off -- Police Chief Richard Pennington or cable television executive Ray Nagin.

"I'll endorse Nagin if he fixes my cable," jokes Bruno, a political newcomer and part-time supermarket clerk who moved to New Orleans from California four years ago.

About Nagin's opponent, he deadpans: "Chief Pennington is a lot like me but he has money, big staff and more people to prep him on answers to questions."

Bruno finished with 274 votes or 0.2 percent of the 133,000 primary vote, just 14 votes behind businessman Clarence Hunt, the first announced candidate in the mayor's race. Bruno set himself apart from the 14 other mostly stoic candidates in the primary campaign with his comic antics and rhetoric.

He denied widespread rumors that he hired lap dancers for a January fundraiser, but expressed regret he didn't hear the idea sooner. "I had old-school burlesque dancers ... and belly dancers," says Bruno. "But I could have raised more money with lap dancers. I was putting the fun back in fund raising."

His barroom fundraiser netted $250, which he used to buy his only campaign banner, which hung from the balcony of his third floor apartment atop the Circle Bar at Lee Circle.

"It said 'No. 25 Manny Chevrolet, a Troubled Man for Troubled Times,'" Bruno says.

Prior to the election, he explained his motto this way: "A vote for Manny Chevrolet will not only solve a whole lot of problems for the city but it will solve a lot of problems for me, personally. I am pushing 40. I work for a grocery store. I live on the third floor above a bar and by the end of week, I can barely afford cigarettes and cocktail. I don't have a car. That is one of the reasons I am running so I can get a city car and a driver."

Asked how he would protect city green space, Bruno told the local League of Women Voters he would "no longer sleep in any of our city parks." He also pledged to end patronage: "I have no friends to pay off -- I have no friends at all." He promised to clean up the city's littered streets with 24-hour "chain gangs" and vowed to address the city's vacant housing problem: "If rehab can work for me, imagine what it can do for abandoned houses."

Bruno says he moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans four years ago and stayed for romance. His political ambition came later, when he noticed the city had no shortage of problems -- or elections. About a year ago, he says, he decided to run for mayor and began canvassing for votes.

He attended five forums. Friends with cars gave him rides to campaign events. When he could not get a ride, he took the streetcar or a bus. His girlfriend, a graphic artist, was his sole campaign staffer. He planned to stage his election night party at the bar downstairs from his apartment, adding that the tavern "doubles as my living room." He had no campaign war chest, but no campaign debts either.

As election day neared, the Troubled Man became more optimistic about his chances in the crowed race for mayor. "I think I can break into the top 10," he said at the time. "Thirty-three percent of the voters are still undecided." On election day, he rode around the city in an open convertible, shouting his name through a bull horn. "Then I had to go to work," he says. After the polls closed, he watched the election returns at the Circle Bar downstairs from his apartment. And he got drunk.

For awhile, Bruno says, it looked like he would indeed slip into the top 10. But it was not to be.

The morning after the election, Bruno says, he bumped into Councilman at-large Eddie Sapir at the Fair Grounds racetrack. Bruno says the seasoned political veteran offered him consolation. "He said I got 274 votes and that it was something to build on." Bruno does the math: "Since moving to New Orleans, I have 12 good friends, 20 or so acquaintances, and there are more than 240 people I didn't know who voted for me, who got my message."

The Troubled Man has not ruled out a future run for public office. "But I don't know if I would shoot so high as mayor," he now says.

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