Clint Eastwood: small-town mayor – Carmel, California

Walter Roessing

On most Tuesday nights, the downtown streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea are so quiet the seagulls outnumber the people ten to one. But on the first Tuesday of each month, this idyllic, upscale resort town-situated on the famed Monterey Peninsula about 120 miles south of San Francisco-takes on an entirely different character. That’s the night Mayor Clint Eastwood, America’s perennial No. I boxoffice favorite, steps into the limelight to preside over Carmel’s city-council meeting.

The 15-year Carmel resident was elected to the two-year mayoral post in April 1986 when he thrashed his incumbent opponent by almost a 3-1 margin. Since that election, he has given his mayoral job priority over his movie career, making only one film (Heartbreak Ridge), in 1986.

In his new role as small-town mayor, Eastwood’s popularity remains as strong as ever. Indeed, inside the Carmel Women’s Club on the first Tuesday of each month some 200 tourists townspeople, and journalists arrive early to make sure they get seats.

At one recent council meeting, newspaper reporters from New York, Melbourne, and London competed for front-row seats with a matronly Eastwood fan who had driven all day to attend the proceedings. Elsewhere in the jammed-to-capacity room, a noisy, circus-like atmosphere prevailed. Starry-eyed teen-age girls giggled and chattered; local citizens argued about pro-growth versus no-growth; and tourists readied their cameras for Eastwood’s arrival.

But all the hullabaloo halted when Eastwood stepped center stage, banged his gavel, and proclaimed: “The Pledge of Allegiance tonight will be led by Boy Scout Troop 6 of Carmel-by-the-Sea.”

Hours later, when the meeting ended, most of Eastwood’s fans had already left. Still loyal to the end, however, was that middle-aged fan, who had gazed adoringly at the mayor the entire evening. Her patience was rewarded: Eastwood not only signed an autograph but also posed for a photo with her.

Also rewarded for their patience were the members of the press, who zeroed in on the mayor with such question”When your term is up, will you seek reelection? Or will you run for higher office?” True to the Dirty Harry character Eastwood plays in the movies, he winced and squinted disapprovingly at some of the questions. Nevertheless, he did his best to answer each one.

The questions about his political future seemed right on target. That’s because Eastwood’s popularity as a big-time movie star in a small-town political environment has fueled rumors that this registered Republican might seek higher office, such as governor, senator, or even president. After all, he’s been a guest at Ronald Reagan’s ranch in Santa Barbara and at the White House. However, before you begin thinking of Eastwood as a presidential successor to his fellow actor Reagan, listen to what this devout “Carmelite” has to say about such unfounded talk.

Speaking slowly in his low, gravelly baritone, Eastwood explains, “Everybody keeps talking about me going on to another political office. But that’s not my ambition at all. I only took this job because it’s in the community where I live. This is where I want to stay.” He adds that it'”way too earl ” to consider a second term as mayor-though that subject is on everyone’s mind.

To most people, serving as the mayor of a pocket-size resort town seems rather dull in comparison to Eastwood’s status as a filmland superstar. But the tall, lanky, 57-year-old actor insists that being the mayor of Carmel is anything but boring. He calls his job “interesting, challenging, and quite different, because I’ve never been in a political office before.” Then, with a touch of dry humor, he quips, “I make $200 a month on this job-and some people think I’m overpaid.”

Despite insisting the job is “interesting,” His Honor dislikes all the media attention, because, down deep, he’s really a shy, sincere, and very personal individual who enjoys his privacy. Asked if the job of mayor has been a big infringement on his privacy, Eastwood mumbles, “Absolutely–yeah. I’ve always enjoyed privacy. But once I decided I wanted to run for mayor, I knew I had to forgo that privacy for the time being.”

Some Carmel residents believe their privacy has suffered, too, from having a celebrity mayor. They complain their town is changing from an artist’s hideaway and quaint tourist retreat to a klieg-light “Clintville.” Tour buses now unload swarms of gawking visitors who can’t wait to buy the cheap “Mayor Clint” T-shirts, trinkets, and souvenirs that prevail in some shops along Ocean Avenue, the town’s main street. To accommodate the increase in tour buses, the city council recently extended the parking time from 20 to 40 minutes on some streets.

The out-of-towners-now labeled “tour-orists” by some residents-besiege the locals for information about where to catch a glimpse of Hollywood’s most famous tough-guy. And when spotted in public, Eastwood is fair game for young and old alike. “The groupies, including those from both out-of-town and Carmel, will practically throw themselves in front of his car,” says Sue Hutchinson, his assistant.

This box-office heavyweight is surprised by the continued and constant adulation. Naturally, he expected some commotion when he announced his campaign in January 1986. The cartoonist Garry Trudeau responded by devoting a week of his “Doonesbury” comic strip to the election. And reporters and TV crews from several continents were stacked up three deep to talk to Eastwood and his two opponents.

Eastwood says today, “Robert Redford was on some sanitation district in Provo [Utah] and nobody made a big deal about it. Maybe if it had been Paso Robles [California] or somewhere else, they wouldn’t have thought so much about it. The town of Carmel is like a co-star.”

The mayor has a point. Carmel, the crown jewel of the Monterey Peninsula, is a fairy-tale hamlet with gingerbread houses, quaintly named streets, picturesque bed-and-breakfast inns, stunning physical beauty, 80 art galleries, and traditional seaside charm. The picture-postcard community for some 4,800 affluent residents includes a downtown area acclaimed as a shopper’s and gourmet’s paradise. Just a few blocks from the town’s center is the main beach, a fantastic curving swath of white sand that tiptoes into the cobalt waters of the Pacific. Compact Carmel has no chamber of commerce, franchise outlets, neon signs, numbered addresses, traffic lights or parking meters, or buildings more than three stories high.

Before Eastwood became mayor, the area’s major attractions were the AT&T (formerly the Crosby) golf tournament in February, the Carmel Bach Festival in July, and the Monterey Jazz Festival in January and September. And before 1986, Eastwood had maintained a low pro file-as had other local celebs named Doris Day, Merv Griffin, Paul Anka, and Joan Fontaine. So why did Eastwood decide to give up his privacy and become a candidate for mayor? Why did he go looking for a fistful of votes instead of a fistful of dollars?

It all started in 1985, when Eastwood threatened to sue the council. He argued it placed undue restrictions on a two-story office and commercial building he wanted to erect on the lot he owns adjacent to a restaurant he co-owns. Town fathers eventually accepted a modified design for his $1 million office-retail project.

Subsequently, Eastwood began testing the political waters by paying for a city-wide telephone poll. Pleased with the results, he held strategy sessions with community leaders. Finally, he tossed his Stetson into the ring-decrying the “kill-joy mentality” of Mayor Charlotte Townsend and the council toward tourists and local businesses. He continued, “I’ve lived here a lot of years, and I just want to put something back into the community. This mayor and this council have just been too unreasonable in trying to thwart growth, trying to stop everything. We can’t stand still forever.”

Denying he was development happy, Eastwood went door-to-door to meet voters. In this nonpartisan race, he reportedly spent nearly $25,000 in a town where $750 had been regarded as a huge campaign war chest. But whether the deciding factor was issues, stardom, or money, Eastwood emerged victorious.

The new mayor quickly cleaned house on the planning commission. Then he approved reconstruction of a parking lot and stairways by the beach and cleared the way for eating ice-cream cones in public again. Earlier this year the council agreed to lay plans for building a library annex in an old bank.

Although Eastwood supports progress and change, he’s determined to maintain the town’s idyllic charm. He explains, “The people who were deposed would love to see me say, ‘Build a 75-story hotel at the foot of Ocean Avenue.’ But that’s just not going to happen. I’m the last person to advocate that sort of thing. The realities have set in-everybody feels the same way about preserving the town.”

Indeed, Eastwood recently demonstrated his environmentalism by purchasing the 22-acre Mission Ranch to protect its untouched pastures from eager developers. Carmel had tried unsuccessfully to buy the former dairy farm, which houses a bed-and-breakfast inn, tennis courts, a barn, and a popular restaurant and piano bar. It’s guesstimated the wealthy movie star spent $5 million to buy the property-about $1 million shy of Carmel’s annual budget.

“I think what he’s done is absolutely magnificent,” says one of a group of residents dedicated to preserving the ranch. “Our intention has always been to keep the land from developers. When Clint came along and did it all by himself, it saved us a monumental task. I’m just thrilled to death.” Eastwood has promised not to build on the property, and he’s asked the preservationists to advise him on land-use matters.

Most Carmel citizens believe their mayor is a real nice guy. So do the people who have worked for him in Hollywood, some of whom have been with him ten years. Incidentally, it looks as though both his children will follow in dad’s footsteps. His son, Kyle, 18, and his daughter, Alison, 14, have already appeared with him in a couple of movies. And right now Kyle is studying film at USC.

However, of all the roles Eastwood plays-father, actor, director, producer, mayor-there is one other he’d like to accomplish. Eastwood, a passionate golfer, says, “I’d like to play a pro golfer who wins the AT&T Pebble Beach pro-am. That would be nice. You know, my first association with the Crosby [now the AT&T] golf tournament was in 1951 when I was a GI at Ft. Ord. I was sneaking into the Clambake by telling the guy at the door that I was the assistant to Art Rosenbaum of the [San Francisco] Chronicle. Since then, I’ve always had a great affinity for sportswriters.”

This 15-handicap golfer no longer has to sneak onto the Pebble Beach golf course-he’s on the tournament’s board of directors. Moreover, there has been talk of calling the annual tournament the “Clint Eastwood/ AT&T Pro-Am Golf Tournament.” Eastwood, modest despite his fame, isn’t likely to push the idea himself.

Lots of good things keep happening to this son of an Oakland bluecollar worker. He still wonders why he’s so popular. “I don’t know the answer,” says the ruggedly handsome actor, who looks the same in person as he does on the big screen. He continues, “If I knew why I was so popular, then I’d be able to bottle it or sell it or write a book about it and say, ‘Here’s the answer.’ “

Actor-mayor Clint Eastwood of Carmel-by-the-Sea is proof positive that nice guys can win, too.

COPYRIGHT 1987 Saturday Evening Post Society

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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