When Hyde Park artist Ben Shepard looks at the problems besetting Chicago, the only solution he sees is a provocateur at the controls. He imagines someone with a high enough profile to turn up the volume on the debate over the city's future and a big enough ego to stand up to the outsized personality of incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The obvious choice, Shepard believes, is Kanye West.
And so he has launched kanye4mayor.org. Though he hasn’t tried to contact him directly, Shepard has gone online to convince the Chicago-raised rapper to set aside his plans to launch a worldwide fashion empire and instead return to his hometown with new wife Kim Kardashian to fight with Emanuel about street violence and potholes.
Of course, West has garnered a reputation as a selfish eccentric prone to celebrity feuds and strange artistic choices. For example, in the the oft-parodied video for "Bound 2,” horses cavort while he rides on a motorcycle with a topless Kardashian – the city’s potential first lady. Still, Shepard said he's optimistic about the rapper's mayoral potential.
"He was a producer before he became a rapper, and that requires a strong ability to collaborate," Shepard said. "I think he would be willing to hear people out, to bring people from around the city in to offer their ideas."
"I like the volatility" of West, Shepard said of the entertainer's much-publicized outbursts, such as when he said President George W. Bush "doesn't care about black people" during a televised fundraiser in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"If you look to the 19th century, there's a tradition of politicians who were much more emotional," Shepard said. "Sure, he's crazy and unpredictable, but he would also look out for the concerns of poor people in the city better than the current administration."
The inspiration to draft West for a run at the helm of City Hall started with a 10-year-old enrolled in an art program where Shepard was working at the time. The kid wanted to do nothing but "listen to the Kanye song 'Power' over and over and over again," Shepard said.
Shepard, 29, said he was struck both by the dedication West's music engenders in Chicago, and by his song's lyrics: "The system's broken, the school's closed, the prison's open."
Shepard hasn't heard from West or his representatives since he launched the campaign. He said he hopes people visit to look at essays he has posted about Chicago's history.
"I would love for Kanye's people to call and say 'OK, give us your pitch,'" Shepard said. "But if that doesn't happen, maybe Chicagoans will learn something about the city. That would be cool."