On Jan. 13, D.C. voters won't be able to cast ballots in the D.C. Presidential Preference Primary Election for Rep. Richard Gebhardt (D.-Mo.), Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and John Edwards (D-N.C.), or for retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark. But they will be able to vote for the man who calls himself Vermin Supreme. He is a candidate, sniffed the Washington Post in a Dec. 28 editorial, "about whom we have heard and know nothing."
That lack of knowledge suggests that the District truly is new to big-time national politics. Supreme may be obscure, but he's hardly unknown. Self-described as "America's favorite fringe candidate," he has been running for office in New Hampshire and elsewhere since 1987. He favors dressing as a Viking, wearing a rubber boot on his head, and brandishing a giant toothbrush to promote mandatory dental hygiene. ABC, NPR, and the Manchester Union Leader have all covered him; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) invited him onstage in 2000.
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics put the candidate on the ballot without a lot of scrutiny. "He filled out an affidavit consent form," says Karen Brooks of Registration and Voter Services at the board. Asked if the Board of Elections had verified Supreme's identity, Brooks says, "He doesn't reside in the District, so, no." But, she adds, "He sent photographs. He sent photographs with his passport ID."
But Supreme's identity can be as tricky to pin down as Kerry's stance on Iraq. In 1993, the Boston Globe reported that he was a "33-year-old Cape Ann native and street performance artist."
In 1996, Supreme was reported by the Albany, N.Y., Times-Union to be a "35-year-old Republican from Brockport, Mass."a town that does not, apparently, exist.
A more solid clue to his identity comes from the Toronto Sun, which ID'd Supreme in 1995 as Scott Taylor of Rockport, Mass., after he'd forged ex-Boston Bruin Bobby Orr's signature on a flier asking for donations to save Boston Garden. (Supreme later apologized and said he'd return the money.)
In a 2000 article on local punk-scene history, Baltimore's City Paper described Supreme, "(nee Scott Taylor)," as a promoter of "postmodern vaudeville" at the bygone "Vermin Supreme's Fabulous Galaxy Lounge."
The Rockport, Mass., phone directory does list an "S. Taylor." And the D.C. Board of Elections has a phone number for the Supreme campaign with a Massachusetts area codea number that's only two digits away from the phone number for S. Taylor. A message left at the Taylor residence leads to a call back from a woman identifying herself as Kathy Taylor; "S.," she says, is her husband, Steve, a Boston security consultant and former British Army officer. She's never heard of Supreme, she says.
While still on the phone, Taylor says she's Googling the candidate. "No, I've never seen him," she concludes, explaining that she's glancing at online pictures of a man in a clown wig. "He doesn't look familiar, like I've seen him in town. And I've lived here forever."
At the campaign number, an answering machine picks up, announcing "Vermin Supreme's Campaign Headquarters." Then Supreme himself gets on the line. "I was never Scott Taylor," he says.
In a follow-up call, though, Supreme changes his tone. He has legally changed his name to Vermin Supreme, he says, to better do the "piece that is the ongoing project that is Vermin Supreme." He used to be Scott Taylor, he admits, but now he is Supreme, a character he invented while working as a Baltimore nightclub promoter. He asks not to have his original name published, because "the human-interest angle detracts from the issues....It takes away from the mandatory tooth-brushing."
As for getting on the D.C. ballot, well, that was the easy part, Supreme says: "It's beautiful, because they required absolutely no money and no signatures. That's my kind of state." CP