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[whitespace] Argyle Sox The candidate: Will this canine air his dirty laundry in public?

Pup Rally

Pesky puppet provokes provincial politicians


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HEY, SAN RAFAEL! What's that smell? No, not the scent of kettle corn wafting over the heads of the crowd. Nor the aromas of tangy tangerines and grilled, spicy sausages, tantalizing passersby at San Rafael's weekly farmers' market. I mean that other smell: the bright, breezy, cling-free odor of freedom and political expression, gloriously rising from that sock puppet across the street.

Right, that sock puppet, the one who, come November, just might get elected to San Rafael's spectacularly unamused City Council.

Since late July, Argyle Sox--the floppy-eared dog with mismatched eyes--has been running a colorful, if somewhat troubled, campaign for a seat on the council, which has two seats--those occupied by incumbents Cyr Miller and Barbara Heller--up for grabs. Denied an official application for candidacy--some fine-print detail about candidates needing to be registered voters over the age of 18 (evidently dog years don't count)--Argyle Sox has rebounded with high spirits, launching a populist political campaign that aims to win enough write-in votes to land him as the underdog in office.

It's a campaign that has landed Sox in the doghouse with some city officials. Miller has suggested that Cooper stop the nonsense and run for office himself, and councilman Gary Phillips was quoted in the Marin IJ as suggesting that Argyle Sox's campaign was making a mockery of the City Council.

That is exactly the point.

According to Cooper, Sox feels that the five-seat City Council is a growth-obsessed, mutual-admiration society desperately in need of a dissenting opinion. Which is what brings the puppet downtown tonight.

The farmers' market, which draws thousands of potential voters to San Rafael's downtown area each week, is Sox's favorite spot for flesh pressing and baby kissing. Standing up tall--an imposing eight inches or so--the candidate is assisted by his trusty "campaign manager," actor/artist/home theater designer Robert Cooper. Clutching a clipboard and a sheaf of "Argyle for City Council" bumper stickers, man and puppet scan the milling crowd, preparing for their weekly public appearance. Approaching Kaye Spence of San Rafael, the gruff-voiced puppy introduces himself.

"Hi, I'm running for City Council," he says, waiting a well-timed beat before adding, "I heard there's already four puppets on the council, so I thought I'd fit right in."

Charmed, Spence spends the next five minutes engaged in meaningful dialogue, during which she never once looks at Cooper, focusing all of her attention on the puppet.

Sox lobbies a series of questions, covering topics ranging from traffic and local-growth issues to the more immediate problem of whether any write-in votes he earns in November should be tallied and reported.

"Do you think every vote in an election should be counted?" he asks.

"Well, we'd have a different president if they were," Spence says with a laugh. Asked if she'd vote for Argyle Sox when the election rolls around, she says, "I might. I just might."

THE ARGYLE SOX campaign, though certainly novel, is hardly unprecedented. In 1996, a fig bar from Detroit mustered a lively Internet campaign. History reveals a number of dead people who've received healthy numbers of write-in votes.

From the late comedian Pat Paulsen--whose straight-faced grabs at the presidency resulted, in 1992, in a second-place showing in the New Hampshire primary--to the regular "Nobody for President" campaign run by political clown Wavy Gravy, there's always been room for candidates whose very existence blends social activism with political theater.

Just ask Jonah Raskin. A professor of communications at Sonoma State University, he's the former secretary of education for the Youth International Party (commonly known as the yippies), which in 1968 ran a pig against Republican presidential candidiate Richard Nixon.

"Her name was Pigasus," says Raskin. "The idea was to make people aware that there are pigs in politics. Unfortunately, she did not win."

But at least Pigasus was alive. Any hope of an inanimate object winning an election seems to have been dashed by Al Gore's recent defeat. Still, Raskin likes the idea of Argyle Sox running for City Council, and he strongly objects to San Rafael's refusal to put him on the ballot.

"There are plenty of nonhuman beings in office already," he says.

As for the age thing, come on, right now we have a babbling frat boy in the White House, and Bill Clinton exhibited some fairly immature behavior. So age shouldn't be an issue. "It's a free-speech issue," Raskin insists. "You can burn the American flag. You can burn a cross in front of a black person's house. Why shouldn't a sock puppet be allowed to run for office? Politicians do seem to be pretty puppetlike. Their strings are pulled by the powers that be."

Raskin's only criticism of Argyle Sox is his name. The former yippie thinks he might be enjoying better success had he changed it. "Mr. Sox should have consulted me," Raskin says. "A candidate's name is very important, Pigasus was a great name. It was mythical. It had pizzazz."

Even so, Raskin would be happy to lend some experienced campaign advice to Sox."If he needs me," he says, "I'm available."

BACK AT THE FARMERS' market, Sox is wrapping up his work for the evening. After chatting up a woman laden with grocery bags, he asks if she'd vote for him in November.

"Darlin', I'd vote for you three times and come back for the fourth," she says with a smile.

The exchange delights the candidate and his campaign manager.

"No matter who they are or what their politics might be," says Cooper, "nearly everyone Argyle meets and talks to leaves with a great big smile."

Adds Argyle Sox, brightly, "And what other candidate can say that?"

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From the September 13-19, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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