The McManus Midtown Democratic Club has been a mainstay in Manhattan politics for generations, and a member of the McManus family has been a Democratic district leader since 1892. But that reign ended last week, when a dark horse emerged to claim victory.
Drag queen Marti Gould Cummings wasn't particular political in her act until Donald Trump’s victory last November. Stunned by the impotency of Democratic clubs in New York, Cummings founded HK Dems, which is gaining support among voters who feel the older generation has lost touch with the party's younger. more diverse, base.
“I said, ‘I don’t know what [a political club] is, but I’m going to start one,’” he told The New York Times.
On Tuesday, Cummings's HK Dems elected Tom Shanahan over Mickey Spillane Jr., nephew of 83-year-old incumbent Jim McManus. (All political parties in New York State are required to have at least one district leader per Assembly district.)
There's a certain symmetry to the 29-year-old queen's victory: McManus’s great granduncle, Thomas J. McManus, began his family's political dynasty in 1892, when he ousted Tammany Hall crony George Washington Plunkitt. (Mickey Spillane Jr.’s father was actually iconic New York gangster Mickey Spillane.)
McManus, who stepped aside after more than 50 years so his nephew could take his seat, seemed stunned by the loss: “They had the whole establishment against us, everybody," he told the Times. He's still a venerable presence in the neighborhood, but hasn't been able to muster votes in recent years.
"The district leader can’t help people the way we used to help them,” admits McManus, a lifelong bachelor. “In the old days, you could get people jobs, take care of their problems, help with their daily life. But you just can’t help anybody anymore. You can’t even take care of a jury notice.”
Political clubs don't have the sway they did back in the days of Tammany Hall, but they can still be springboards for higher office—on the city, state or even national level.
Could Gould's election signal the rise of America's first drag president? Stranger things have happened.
Catch Marti Gould Cummings on Shade: Queens of NYC premiering October 5 on Fusion.