The Best Mayoral Cameos, From Bloomberg to Villaraigosa

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 10 2012 12:30 PM

Which Mayor Is the Best Actor?

rahm emanuel chicago fire 2
Rahm Emanuel's cameo on Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire, which debuts on NBC today, represents a fresh start for its creator, Dick Wolf, who is best known for the Law & Order franchise. Instead of New York, the action takes place in the Second City; instead of cops and lawyers, the new show chronicles the adventures of firefighters and EMTs; and instead of the strictly business approach of Law & Order, Chicago Fire emphasizes its characters’ personal lives.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

But one scene proves that Wolf hasn’t completely changed his ways. Although he seems happy to hire actors to play cops, firemen, and criminals, Wolf has always preferred to use mayors to play mayors—and Chicago Fire proves that he still loves to cast high-profile public servants in his shows. As the men of Firehouse 51 round up their equipment after a dramatic rescue from a burning building, a vehicle arrives on the scene, and a familiar figure strides purposefully toward the group of exhausted firefighters. It is none other than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

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During their terms as mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg both played themselves on Law & Order. And those were by no means their only acting appearances. Like some other heads of city government, these men have extensive filmographies. Who are the best acting mayors? Read on.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Fire, 2012

Emanuel plays the mayor of Chicago as a man of action—he opens his own car door and leaves his aides behind. Nothing can keep him from bonding with the city’s bravest. Like a true pol, Emanuel used the role as a chance to make friends and to flatter the all-important actors lobby. According to the Chicago Tribune, Emanuel said, “It’s easier being mayor than playing mayor. I told them I’d do it under one condition: The TV show is making an investment to the firefighter’s widow and orphans fund.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson, EastEnders, 2009

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is much too posh to blend in with the working-class characters of the BBC’s primetime soap opera EastEnders. But when he was elected mayor of London in 2008, it suddenly made sense for him to pay a visit to the show’s watering hole, the Queen Vic pub. After all, the show is a perennial leader in the national ratings. Johnson’s main political rival, former Mayor Ken Livingstone, complained that the cameo proved the BBC had a pro-Boris bias, while another Labour politician said, “It’s a coup for Boris, being portrayed as a pretty straight guy on such a popular show.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 2011

Michael Bloomberg has played “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg” in feature films, comedies, and dramas, but as Vulture observed with some understatement, “the demand for [his] services probably has more to do with his celebrity than with his acting ability.” In this scene (Bloomberg shows up around the 1:10 mark), Larry David’s apparent callous disregard for Michael J. Fox’s mission to “put Parkinson’s out of business” seems to anger Mayor Bloomberg only slightly more than supersized sodas.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Cosby, 1997

As John Dickerson chronicled back in 2005, Mayor Giuliani has a long history as a performer, and he has a special affection for appearing in drag. Like Bloomberg, Giuliani’s acting career took off during his days in Gracie Mansion—he even hosted Saturday Night Live while serving as the 107th mayor of New York City. After roles in Seinfeld and Mad About You, Giuliani popped up in Bill Cosby’s less successful Cosby Show follow-up, Cosby. Judging from this performance (Rudy makes his entrance about 17 minutes into the clip), there wasn’t much time for rehearsal. Giuliani’s response to Madeline Kahn’s offer of a chocolate shrimp, “Are you a registered voter? Yes! Then I would love one,” shows a surprising willingness to acknowledge some of the ugly truths about the political process—or, perhaps, to parrot the lines given to him. (Giuliani’s predecessor, David Dinkins, a close friend of Cosby’s, also had a cameo on the show—and he, too, played a man looking for a handout.)

Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Portlandia, 2011

It may be coincidence that six months after appearing as put-upon assistant to Kyle MacLachlan’s fictional mayor in Portlandia, Mayor Sam Adams announced that he would not be seeking a second term. Adams, who prepared for the role by spending 11 years as assistant to Mayor Vera Katz, told Willamette Week that he took the part because he wanted to help the show get picked up, filming the episode took just “an hour on a Saturday,” and his performance made him look “like a total goofball.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, George Lopez, 2005

Earlier in this episode of George Lopez, George attempts to convince a biker dude—a cameo from Dog the Bounty Hunter, helping to prove that politicians are better actors than reality show stars—that he is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. When the real mayor shows up in George’s backyard (nine minutes and 31 seconds into the clip), the dialogue is stiff and unfunny, but at least he doesn’t ask for money.

Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, The Wire, 2004

In his years as Baltimore’s mayor, Kurt Schmoke, who ran the city between 1987 and 1999, played himself on the police procedural Homicide. During The Wire’s Season 3 exploration of drug legalization, Schmoke appeared as a health commissioner who opposed the drug-tolerant “Hamsterdam” zone. The commissioner tells the mayor that if he doesn’t toughen up his position, he will be considered “the most dangerous man in America.” Schmoke told Gelf magazine that he thought The Wire’s creator, David Simon, was making a joke when he cast him in that role, since Rep. Charles Rangel had once said the same thing about Schmoke, because he favored the “medicalization” of illegal drugs. (Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich also had a cameo in The Wire. In Season 4, Ehrlich played a security guard who tells Baltimore Mayor Tommy Carcetti that the governor will see him. In the time between filming and airing, Ehrlich lost his bid for re-election to Martin O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor who many people believe to have been the real-life inspiration for the Carcetti character. According to the Baltimore Sun, O’Malley declined to make a similar cameo.)

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