Who would vote for this clown

Political candidates often talk about balancing the budget. But balancing on a unicycle while juggling flaming pins? That’s got to count for something, right?

Kenneth Kahn is hoping it does, because his ability to pull off the aforementioned stunt definitely sets him apart from his fellow candidates for mayor of Alameda.

Kahn, known professionally as “Kenny the Clown,” tossed his rainbow-hued afro into the ring over the summer. Other than his years at U.C. Berkeley majoring in sociology, the 41-year-old secular Jew has lived all his life “on the island.” He’s even played pickup basketball with Jason Kidd.

He has the same hopes and concerns of any Alamedan and he takes this election very seriously — perhaps even more seriously than the average resident (if you or I drive over a pothole, big deal. If Kahn hits one he might light himself ablaze).

“The statement I’m trying to make is that we need to have a vision for our city. We need to have growth, but sensible growth. We need to be able to take care of our traffic and infrastructure needs,” he said.

“I’m very serious about winning and becoming the mayor of Alameda.”

Well, if he does, it will be without the votes of his mother, Beverly, or sister, Sylvia. Both were quoted in a widely circulated Associated Press article expressing shock and even dismay at Kahn’s candidacy. Sylvia Kahn, a teacher and member of Temple Israel, said her brother was “making a mockery of our system.”

The vehemence of his sister’s comments surprised Kahn — after all, we live in a state in which the movie star governor rose to fame shooting aliens (and, on one memorable occasion, Sharon Stone) and was caught on film smoking marijuana and comparing muscle-posing to sexual climax in “Pumping Iron.”

What’s more, a sociology major didn’t prepare Kahn for a career in clowning right out of school. He’s worked with emotionally disturbed children, substituted at his alma mater, Encinal High, and many other Alameda schools and coached Encinal’s boys’ basketball teams.

The clown says he’s devoted his life to children, and one of the top priorities of the Kahn administration would be to bring a movie theater to Alameda so young people wouldn’t have to leave the city to hang out on nights and weekends.

Fellow candidates Mayor Beverly Johnson and City Councilman Doug DeHaan may or may not be afraid of Kahn, but the clown acknowledges that others are.

“People have a lot of misinterpretations about clowns. They have unnatural fears because of Stephen King or John Wayne Gacy,” he admits.

“My integrity is high, and I think that helps me get through the pride issue of having people make discouraging comments about what I do to make a living.”

And Kahn isn’t just a good clown, he bills himself as the “two-time heavyweight clown champion of the world.” While this implies that he lost a title bout or retired at some point, and doesn’t exactly claim that Kahn is the current champ, the implication is, he’s seriously funny.

“I can juggle fire torches while riding the unicycle or skateboard. I do card magic. And I also do balloon sculpting,” he notes.

Kahn is most proud of his Spiderman, monkey-in-a-tree and two-teddy-bears-hugging-a-heart balloon sculptures, and claims that, with a little remedial study, he can whip out a menorah, dreidel or Star of David around the Jewish holidays.

And while Kahn isn’t writing his victory speech just yet, he’s heartened by noticeable support he’s received from friends and neighbors.

“I can’t go down the street without people yelling ‘Mayor!’ or ‘Get ’em Kenny!'” he said with a laugh.

“Our unofficial slogan is, ‘Put a real clown in office.'”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.