When Clint Eastwood trounced incumbent Charlotte Townsend by a vote of 2,166 to 799 to become mayor of the small, rich seaside town of Carmel, Calif., on April 8, 1986, the landslide victory did a lot more than make his day: It made the squinty-eyed actor, then 55, the most famous petty bureaucrat in America — and the second celluloid-cowboy-turned-conservative-politico to win high office. (Cowboy No. 1 was still in the White House at the time.)
”I’m doing this as a resident,” Eastwood told the local weekly paper, The Carmel Pine Cone, during the campaign. ”I don’t need to bring attention to myself. This is where I live. This is where I intend to live the rest of my life.”
He got the attention anyway. Dirty-Harry-on-the-hustings quickly became the most media-saturated political event of the year, with news crews from as far away as Japan, Germany, and France jetting in for his speeches. On election day, 400 reporters crowded around the voting booths at Carmel’s community center — one journalist for every 12 citizens.
Eastwood entered the race after the Carmel City Council refused to let him build an office and retail complex next to his restaurant, the Hog’s Breath Inn. (A modified version of his plan was approved.) The hottest issue of the campaign was a 1985 city law forbidding local stores from selling ice cream cones and other take-out foods (the idea was to cut down on litter and preserve the town’s character). Positioning himself as the ”pro-business candidate,” Eastwood overturned the ordinance shortly after he took office. He also added water to the town’s supply and built public restrooms. Oh, and while he was at it, Eastwood directed Heartbreak Ridge and Bird and returned as Dirty Harry in The Dead Pool.
Eastwood retired from public office when his term was over in 1988 and has stuck to moviemaking since then, leaving California politics to the likes of Sonny Bono. But as the primary season continues, can’t you just hear the ghost of Dirty Harry asking Bill Clinton, ”Are ya feeling lucky, punk? Well, are ya?”
Time Capsule: April 8, 1986
The Huxtable family from The Cosby Show was America’s favorite TV clan. Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Supremacy reigned supreme on the best-seller list. And the less-than-top cops of Police Academy 3 were most arresting at the box office.