“I’m really glad they didn’t send a woman reporter,” says Ray Wardingley. “They make me open up, let my guard down. You can’t say no to a pretty woman. Especially not now, after I’ve just woke up.”

It’s one o’clock in the afternoon. We’re at the L. & G. Restaurant, on Western at 111th, which has a hand-painted red, white, and blue sign in the front window that reads “Ray Wardingley for Mayor–1995.”

“You want some coffee?” He motions to the waitress. “Honey, this guy wants some coffee. He’s from the Reader.”

“Imagine that,” she says. “He came all the way out here to interview you.”

“Heh, heh,” Wardingley says as she walks away. “She’s a funny one. You know, I wish I could have got it together, brought my platform here for you to read. But it’s in the car, which just blew up on me this morning. Pffft–the battery’s dead. You know, the old girl just ain’t what she used to be.”

Wardingley, one of eight Republican mayoral candidates on the ballot, ran for mayor once before, in 1979. He’d worked part-time as Spanky the Clown at Chicago Sting soccer games, and he ran in the primary wearing his clown guise as a way to raise money for the children’s cancer ward at Saint Jude’s. “I wasn’t on the ballot as Spanky the Clown. That was touchy. It was under my real name, but they knew. I had my clown outfit on, and they knew.” He received 2,877 votes, nearly 16,000 fewer than the winner, Wallace Johnson, finishing fourth of four candidates.

“After that I got serious. This time I want to win. Spanky the Clown is gone. He’s just a myth anyway, because then people start saying you have a split personality, which you don’t have. That wasn’t me. This is me. Spanky is something that was part of a job. That’s all it was. I enjoyed it, I did good, I raised money, I’m proud of being a clown. But all of a sudden you lose it. Baseball players, they know there’s a time when you stop. You’ve gotta end it somehow. So you pick up your pieces and you start over.”

He motions around the restaurant. “People are talking to me. They’re coming here to see me. They know who I am. They want to hear my ideas, but my ideas come from them.” He says he’s building his platform around the suggestions of the more than 900 people who signed his nominating petitions. People he didn’t know, he adds. “The hard work is getting out to get your own signatures. I earned the right to win. I earned it. I worked hard. I’m not saying I’m better. I’m saying I’m as good as they are, equal to them. I’m no better than they, and they’re no better than me. But I worked. I went out in the cold weather and got my signatures. I went door-to-door, stood on corners. I came in here– everything. I think I earned my way. It cost me wrinkles in the face.”

Wardingley says he’s currently self-employed, doing “anything I can. Dispatch cabs. Sometimes I work on houses. I’m a disabled veteran, so I’m living on what I can do.” He won’t say how he became disabled. “It was between wars. Not something I want to talk about. I was born and raised in Chicago. I’m between 1 and 56 years old–I don’t want to give the real age away. I’m five foot four and strong as a bull. A lot of bulls get bogged down in the field because they chase all the women. I don’t. But I’m a flirt. I love women, I love God, love country.”

He outlines his campaign ideas, which include eliminating the school board, the head tax, school busing, and bilingual education. “Why should I speak Spanish? This is America. Speak English. That’s not racist–it’s a fact.” He’s also in favor of school prayer. “I’m a religious person. I’m not overreligious, but I believe in God. I believe in country, you know. Maybe apple pie and all that stuff.” He laughs.

He’d also call for an extra veterans’ parade, stricter inspection of nursing homes, and the firing of many government officials, who’d be replaced by “senior citizens, disabled veterans, Americans, at $10,000 a year.” Asked about crime, he says, “My idea is kind of radical. They wouldn’t allow it. Drug pushers? Hang ’em. They’re guilty. They do it in other countries. Logically, the only thing you can do is give them life in jail. If you have to castrate them, fine. And hang ’em.”

What does he think his chances of winning are?

“Look, I never thought I would get this far. I’m not playing the game. I understand that I might not win. Chances are a million to one that I would win the Republican nomination. Chances are two billion to one that I would win Democrat. I understand that. I’m not fooling myself. Like I said before, maybe if the issues get across they’ll pick them up. Mayors have listened to my ideas. Harold Washington used a lot of ’em. A lot of people knock Harold Washington, but he was a damn good mayor. He was. Jane Byrne was a good mayor. So was Sawyer. Daley’s a good mayor. They’re all good people. But there’s something they lose, something up there they forget. Maybe they lost where they come from.”

“So you’ll be campaigning for the next two months?” I ask.

The waitress, who has reappeared, laughs. Wardingley glares at her. “Yeah, I’ll be out there. I don’t think I’ll get publicity, television or radio. I’m not spending any money on television. They don’t feel any Republican can win anyway. They don’t even want me on the ballot. Imagine a guy, a clown, winning, being the candidate for the Republican Party?” He breaks up laughing, then takes a sip of coffee.

“I mean, think about it for a minute. Here I am, running for mayor. I know I’m not going to win–maybe. But all of a sudden I win Republican. Those poor bastards, they’re gonna shoot each other. Gonna jump in Lake Michigan. ‘What are we going to do with Ray?’ they’ll say. ‘Will he put on his clown outfit?'”

He pauses. “I won’t. I’m not a clown, but this is the way people think. That is the fun, that is where the fun begins. They all ignore me–and I win.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.