Playing Chicken

Categories: Government

Chicken John Rinaldi, right, enjoys Josh Wolf's new mustache. Photo | Luke Thomas, Fog City Journal

Chicken John Rinaldi says his campaign is based on serious issues. Just be careful asking him serious questions.

By Joe Eskenazi

As my colleague Benjamin Wachs revealed on this page, mayoral candidate Chicken John Rinaldi worked his ass off on the fund-raising circuit and apparently surmounted city's $25,000 threshold for matching public funds.

Especially now that he has a taxpayer-funded bounty of $50,000 headed his way, I'd love to ask Rinaldi what he plans to do with the money.

But it appears I can't.

I contacted Rinaldi last week for a mini-profile in this week's print edition of the S.F. Weekly. When I asked him general questions he was as clever and charming as you'd expect a professional eccentric to be. Yet when I queried him about an anonymous critic of his who created a venomous anti-Chicken Web site, Mr. Rinaldi morphed into Chicken Hyde.

I was condescendingly told I "had no integrity," and didn't know the first thing about John Rinaldi and, what's more, it wasn't within my mental capacity to understand him and contemplate what he's all about.

When I e-mailed him this week hoping to ask questions about his environmental ideas, it was more of the same. Since I'd touched on subjects he didn't want to talk about, I was notified that he no longer had any use for me. And, again, I was told I couldn't understand him — couldn't possibly understand him — and didn't know him, didn't know him, didn't know him.

I'm not the only one this has happened to. Earlier this month, Luke Thomas of the Web site Fog City Journal was subjected to a public dressing down from Rinaldi one onlooker described as "cringe-worthy."

Thomas' crime? He asked the mayoral candidate about what he'd do if he were mayor.

"We got the sense if we were going to understand this guy and his platform, we'd have to ask him about his stands on the issues and the knowledge of the issues," said Thomas.

"I asked him 'What are the most pressing issues facing San Francisco?' And he said, 'I don't know, you tell me.'"

While Rinaldi has been happy to parlay his showman's persona into oodles of coverage, he's maintained all along that he has real and serious reasons for running this race other than self-aggrandizement.

Well, if he wants to be taken even quasi-seriously as a candidate, shouldn't he answer the serious questions (especially if he accepts public funding)?

Chicken John Rinaldi is an intriguing, creative and colorful man. I'd love to ask him about his environmental platform. So, If Rinaldi wants to engage in an honest interview about the real issues that purportedly drove him to run for mayor with a reporter who is genuinely interested in his environmental stance, I'm still game.

But if it means adhering to only his scripted subjects and knowing the punishment for doing otherwise is a torrent of angry ridicule — well, to hell with all that. There's a word for that sort of behavior: Chickenshit.

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