“There’s no one else like me,” says Paperboy Love Prince about their place in the mayoral race. Prince would be the youngest (they’re 28) and first non-binary mayor of city. Prince also ran for congress last year, seeking to unseat incumbent Nydia Valasquez, who has represented the city’s 7th congressional district since 1992.
While doing this, Prince has also developed a celebrity-like persona and a cult-like following, both of which are centered on a message of relentless positivity. It seems that if Prince did not enter politics last year, they would have become visible elsewhere. Paperboy also raps — their songs are on Spotify, and you can see them dancing on their YouTube channel, always dressed in costume or in an elaborate, often regal, outfit.
Paperboy Prince first appeared in the media in 2015, as the subject of a Washington Post article titled “Meet Paperboy Prince, the flashiest Wizards fan of them all.” The article details Paperboy’s notable and religious attendance of Wizards games. The piece also features some of their songs. Paperboy has popped up every now and then since.
“I first actually met Paper when they were performing at the Myrtle-Broadway stop. They were rapping and dancing and playing loud music, and before I even knew who this person was, I was like wow, this person has something else, you could just see some kind of energy, just such a free spirit,” Abigail Richards, who works with Paperboy’s Our Foods NYC food distribution network, told Bushwick Daily.
“They’re really good at getting on the ground and finding creative ways to get exposure on their own,” Richards said.
Prince moved to New York in 2014. They had grown up in Baltimore, moved to an affluent D.C. suburb at 12, and then attended the University of Maryland. But in Bushwick, Prince found a community of creative young New York transplants that already vocally embraced a message of radical acceptance, and Prince has given a face to it.
”More than any individual policy, it’s more so about the principals, about being able to turn the establishment upside down and really represent people that are currently ignored by the system, predominantly working class families, artists, creatives, folks that have indigenous wisdom to pass on to us,” said Briana Calderón Navarro, who helped to start Our Food NYC.
“They are open and so, so kind, but they are just so involved in many areas of life— like rap entertainer, politician,” said Lindsay Brett, who helps with design work for the campaign. “It’s not just the one-track mind of a politician. Paper is a human, they have all these interactions with the community in Brooklyn and everywhere, and it’s someone I can trust. It’s someone I would trust if they were mayor. I would feel comfortable.”
Paperboy Prince utilizes Instagram to gain their support, where they have nearly 40 thousand followers.
“That’s how I found out about them originally, literally people sending me Paperboy’s Instagram like ‘this person is running for congress, I’m voting for them,’” said Brett.
Like other politicians in recent years, Paperboy co-opted meme culture to spread their broad cultural messaging, both on Instagram and in their songs. Over trap beats and glossy production, Prince espouses their political messages through irreverent hooks that reference catchphrases from and memeified personalities. One of the most popular is “Yang Gang Anthem.” The trappy chorus raps, “Yang, gang, president. Yang gang, campaign, doing it for Yang, and I put that on the gang.” Other tracks include “How to Sell CryptoCurrency,” in which Prince literally explains blockchain, and “Spreading Love,” in which Paperboy raps about how they are spreading positivity. They have, in some ways, memeified themself.
Paperboy has not only transcended the often mundane landscape of local politics, but almost completely ignored it. They almost never references specific or local policy.
Thier main platform is “spreading love,” listed as a “legislative philosophy” on their website.
“No one in city politics on this level has been reciting and mimicking this message to this level that I have,” Prince tells Bushwick Daily. “And you already see, if you even watch the mayoral forums that we’ve been in with other candidates, a lot of them are talking about love and how important it is in a time like this, but that wouldn’t be there without my persistent fight and advocacy for love as a policy,” said Paperboy.
This message hits a nerve.
“I think we had to endure a president that spread so much hate during, before, and after his presidency, that I think we could all use some happiness and someone who is genuinely so caring about others,” Bret said. “It was really exciting for me and my friends because this was finally a person who was saying really honest things that needed to be addressed and talked about, and I adored how they are not a traditional politician.”
In addition to “spreading love,” in a graphic under the policy tab on Paperboy’s website, they list their main policy initiatives: “Universal Basic Income” (every American over 18 would receive $1000 monthly), “Medicare for All,” and “Democracy Dollars,” in which Americans would receive a $500 dollar stipend to donate to the political campaign of their choosing.
As you scroll through the page, a new graphic explains each platform. Overlaid on the graphics, Prince poses in sparkly gold sneakers, parachute pants, and an unbuttoned sheer shirt.
“There are so many politicians who, when I ran for Congress last year, spent $2 million and got 10,000 less votes than me. It doesn’t make sense. I spent 20 dollars. 20 dollars and we got over 17,000 votes, meanwhile they’re spending $2 million and are barely getting close to us,” Prince said. Prince is overselling their total a bit: according to the certified election count, Prince won a total of 13,946 votes in last year’s race.
Prince also emphasized their accessibility as a candidate— they give out their cell phone number and email address on their website. They also plan to create an app where constituents can “airbnb” their representatives’ time: “for example, on Tuesday from 2-5, I want you to work on housing, on Wednesday from 4-6 I want you to work on mass incarceration,” they explained.
“I just believe that love is the solution for all of the problems we’re facing, but it takes someone who’s really diligent and just ready to fight against the powers that be. Someone that’s smart and knows how to think from their point of view and see what things work and what doesn’t but also stand up for the community that’s been oppressed, esp in NY, I think is really important to me,” said Madi, another member of the Our Food NYC initiative.
Paperboy runs their campaign out of a brightly colored van called the “love tank” and a storefront called the “Love Gallery,” a clothing store on Myrtle Avenue. that sells vintage pieces and clothing and accessories from local artists. The storefront opened in January, and, out of it, runs Our Food NYC.
Our Food gives away free food every Wednesday outside of the gallery. The food in the community fridges, set up and maintained by Our Food NYC, comes from a variety of sources— from donations from companies like Kombucha Healthade to food thrown out from cafes at the end of the day. The program is focused on distributing vegan food to people in need.
Paperboy Prince plans on holding more and more community events at the Love Gallery. “Once elected as mayor, I would use that position to create love centers. Basically, what allows people the chance to meet their neighbors in a more dynamic way, to learn about other people, and to just generally spread love,” said Prince.
The lines blur between Paperboy Prince the entertainer, the mayoral candidate, Our Food NYC, and the Love Gallery. It is perhaps all part of the same movement that Prince spearheads.
“When I got to hear from him one-on-one, I actually found him to be extremely compelling, I don’t know about mayor, but a compelling individual and leader, I really did,” said Samuel Fishman, the president of the Columbia Law School Democrats, who hosted Prince for a talk last month.
“Our Food NYC is the future,” said Navarro. “We want to make our mutual aid group as futuristic as possible, so more integration with technology, we’re moving into studying cryptocurrencies and blockchain, seeing how we can connect our advocacy with more decentralized ways of funding projects and establishing a strong foothold not only in New York City, but all over the country and any place that could use our help.” Another supporter said that Our Food fridges have popped up in Austin, Portland, Florida, California, and soon, Colombia.
One supporter said she hoped the group would host art and music festivals.
“Universal acceptance,” said a supporter who identified themself only as ‘the twink next door’ and works at Prince’s love gallery in Bushwick, sells their clothing line there and was active in Prince’s congressional and now mayoral bid.
“I’m a big believer that the world around you definitely impacts your day-to-day life, so I really love their concept of changing your surroundings to immediately impact the people that need it, giving the people that need it a little bit more hope. I think that’s really important to bring a positive change to everyone’s mental health to get more of a stable and functioning society where everyone is more connected— I think they’re doing a really good job of it.”
Top photo credit: Andrew Karpan
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