BEND, Ore. — One Bend resident set on becoming the city’s first elected mayor has an ambitious policy platform: eliminating cars, stopping all new construction and enforcing strong leash laws.
He’s a newcomer to the political scene, but he’s well-known in some circles of town through his work with small businesses. He’s also a lifelong Bend resident who started his political career out of frustration with city policies.
And one more thing. He’s a cat.
Leonardo F. Bend, age 5 1/2, works as a greeter at Bright Place Gallery, which has become a de facto campaign headquarters replete with buttons and other swag for his supporters. The gallery’s owners, Stuart Breidenstein and Abby Dubief, speak for him while he lounges nearby wearing a red bow tie.
Of course, they know Leonardo can’t officially run for mayor. Their efforts are part political commentary, part publicity stunt, part fundraising — they want to raise money for animal welfare organizations.
Their cat, who goes by Leonard, is a quiet but imposing presence at 26 pounds.
“It doesn’t offend him when people call him a fat cat politician,” Breidenstein said. “Politician, yes, but not fat cat.”
Dubief and Breidenstein convinced Leonard to run for office because they — or was it he? — were unsatisfied with local government: In this case, the city of Bend’s sign code.
Bright Place Gallery, along with many other businesses, had to take down temporary signs because they violated city law.
While reading about that city law, Dubief and Breidenstein found a loophole: Bend allows campaign signs up to 16 square feet in nonresidential areas.
“We figured that if Leonard ran for mayor we could have a big sign for his campaign and draw people to the gallery,” Dubief said. “Leonard’s reason is that the humans have made a mockery of the political process.”
Leonard has been employed full-time as the greeter at Bright Place Gallery, where customers regularly stop to pet him, since it opened in March of 2017. Before then, he was a mouser at the Workhouse on Scott Street and a greeter at the Old Ironworks Arts District.
“His experience with small business, that will really help him out,” Dubief said.
If elected, Leonard would not be the first feline mayor in the U.S. That distinction belongs to Stubbs, a yellow cat who served as mayor of the historic district of Talkeetna, Alaska, from July 1997 until his death in July.
He joins Angus P. Woolley, a 3-year-old Vizla from Hutchinson, Kansas, as prospective nonhuman candidates in 2018. Angus attempted to run for governor of Kansas, a state with requirements for filing so lax that at least six teenagers and the arts editor of the Eugene Weekly in Oregon filed to run for governor, but Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — who’s also running for governor — drew the line at a dog on the ballot.
Leonard, too, won’t be able to run for office, Bend City Recorder Robyn Christie said. The city requires that candidates for City Council seats be registered Oregon voters who have lived in Bend for the past year, and only humans who are at least 18 years old can register to vote.
Leonard will demand to see the laws preventing him from running to make sure they weren’t adapted after his campaign started (they’ve been in the city’s charter, a governing document that functions as the city’s constitution, since at least 1995), according to Dubief and Breidenstein. If he can’t run officially, he plans to organize a write-in campaign.
The cat kicked his campaign off with a fundraising brunch with about 30 attendees. He plans to have at least one more fundraiser before November, with proceeds from the fundraisers and sales of Leonard merchandise donated to animal-themed organizations, including the Bend Spay & Neuter Project and the Humane Society.
Leonard and his campaign managers are also prepared for negative campaigning, Dubief said. He has a birth certificate and siblings — Sheldon, Raj and Penny — who can vouch for his Bend residency, and he’s prepared to dispute any allegations of biting. Other past comments about dogs could come back to bite him as well.
“He has said some negative things about dogs,” Dubief said. “He has denied it, so there’s potential scandal there.”
No matter how the campaign ends, Leonard has already vowed not to concede the mayoral race.
“I imagine he’ll demand a recount no matter how many votes they say he got,” Breidenstein said.
Credit: NY Post