Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"Two Hot Dogs, a Drink, and a Nod to Obama"

City Room, NY Times political blog:
Since 1973, the griddled frankfurters at Gray’s Papaya, home of the $3.50 “Recession Special” (two franks and a 14-ounce drink), have been served with fresh fruit juices, tangy sauerkraut and a side of politics.
Nicholas A. B. Gray, the chain’s founder and resident pundit, has offered endorsements of candidates seeking the presidential nomination from Jimmy Carter in 1976 to Bill Bradley in 1999 to, most recently, the noncandidate Michael R. Bloomberg.

Last August, Mr. Gray, 71, began displaying signs at two of his three stores encouraging the candidacy of the mayor with the slogan “Run Mike, Run!” He told The Times in October that he was hoping for a Bloomberg run for the White House because “he’s cool under pressure” and he believed that the mayor’s personal wealth made him less corruptible.

But after Mr. Bloomberg officially ended his extended flirtation with presidential candidacy in an Op-Ed column last week, Mr. Gray did not waste any time.

This weekend, the large window at the original Gray’s Papaya store on Broadway at 72nd Street was filled with a white sign bearing the words “Yes Senator Obama. We are ready to believe again” in red and black uppercase letters.

“I think he is a very inspirational man and I think he’s what the country needs; we’ve grown a bit cynical,” Mr. Gray said in a phone interview.

Despite the bold new message at the Broadway store, few of the patrons at the shop on Sunday afternoon showed much excitement about politics. Outside, some passers-by on the sidewalk did stop momentarily to read the sign.

“I’m here for the hot dogs and the papaya drink,” said Mona Walsh, 54, in between the last couple of bites of her amply garnished frank. “Even if Gray’s Papaya were supporting the most deplorable candidate imaginable and there was a big sign about it out front, I’d still be here eating hot dogs.”

For his part, Mr. Gray said he has never been overly concerned that his endorsements would offend customers. “Maybe I shouldn’t do it,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t mix business and politics. But it’s a high-traffic location, and I feel strongly about certain things.”

He makes no pretense that he is a bellwether for a candidate’s success. “I am often wrong, unfortunately,” he said. “I think I’m going to be right this time, though.”

Perhaps that explains why Mr. Gray’s Obama sign is conspicuously missing the promise from the one he posted for Mr. Bloomberg: “Free hot dogs on Inauguration Day.”



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