Paul E. Amori is lying on a sofa surrounded by candles while Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love” plays in the background. Wrapped in a silky red robe and cradling a glass of wine, he looks into the camera and gives his best sales pitch for Amori's Casino and Burlesque, a new venue he’s fundraising to install at Lightning in a Bottle music festival.
“Together we can create a temple of love for the ages,” he says, affecting a thick Italian accent. “If I build it, you will come — preferably multiples times.”
The video, uploaded to YouTube in 2013, resembles a low-budget commercial for a love coach that might have aired on late-night cable in the 1990s. It’s the kind of clip that could scandalize any politician if it were discovered he’d previously been the star of it.
Not Paul E. Amori. The Los Angeles mayoral candidate is not only running for office using his tongue-in-cheek, innuendo-laced music festival persona — even his name is a play on the word polyamory — but he’s also doubling down on his pledge to spread love, this time to everyone in California’s most populous city. His image remains virtually unchanged since being named mayor three years in a row during mock elections at Lightning in a Bottle — his reign ended in 2015 when he stepped down to support the festival’s first female mayoral candidate — and he’s tweaked his message only slightly since announcing his candidacy in a real election last fall.
Now, instead of promising his supporters multiple orgasms, he’s using the platform of love to push voters toward compassion and empathy: Housing the homeless, defending immigrants and protecting the environment are among his key issues.
“My guiding principles are love,” Amori, dressed in his signature red smoking jacket and matching wingtip shoes, tells me over coffee on a recent evening near his Echo Park home. “When love is your true north, as I like to say, when it’s your compass setting, it’s easy to see what things you need to stand behind — and standing behind immigrants and people that make up the backbone of our culture and society … how do you not support that?”
Amori is one of 10 candidates, many of them politically inexperienced and some of them nearly as idiosyncratic, who are facing an extremely uphill battle against Mayor Eric Garcetti in his bid for re-election. Amori has interviewed about half of them so far in a series of goofy Facebook videos intended to introduce fellow candidates like YJ Draiman, Northridge-based entrepreneur and father to Disturbed’s lead singer David Draiman; David "Zuma Dogg" Saltsburg, a goggle-wearing performer and activist with a long history of interrupting City Council meetings with shouting matches; and Frantz Pierre, a former Occupy Wall Street activist and self-proclaimed fashion designer who says he’s working on a book about Christian meditation.
“I love these guys, I really do,” says Amori, 41, a San Francisco-raised Burning Man devotee. “These people are in it because they want to make the city a better place, not because they’re trying to line their pockets. There’s not a lot of glory in this.” It’s rare to hear a political candidate gush about his opponents, but even weirder to see him act as a hype man in a series of promotional videos about them. But true to Amori’s self-invented “love party,” his affection for the other candidates is all part of his greater goal to raise political awareness and boost voter turnout — even if it comes at the cost of his own campaign. It’s enough to wonder: Does Amori even want to be mayor of L.A.?
“I absolutely want to be mayor,” he assures me. But “the win is not the most important thing to me. It’s getting out and changing the way people play the game and thinking about politics and engaging those who have never felt engaged by the city.” That includes many of the people in the underground music and performance art scenes where Amori frequently serves as a curator and emcee. He says most of his voters wouldn’t have even known about the March 7 election if it weren’t for him.
Still, he acknowledges that the content he’s creating on his Facebook and YouTube pages — including the videos he shoots on a near-daily basis in Skid Row — are in some ways an extension of his work at Incite Visual Media, the branded video company where he serves as president and founder. Colleagues and clients know him by his real name, Eric “Helix” Wolfson. The business has also allowed him to self-finance his campaign, which he estimates he’s spent at least $7,000 on.
He frequently cites Los Angeles’ embarrassingly low voter turnout as a key motivator for the campaign: Just about 10 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the city’s 2015 election, and Garcetti won the office in 2013 with votes from just 12 percent of registered voters — a smaller total than any incoming mayor since the 1930s, according to the L.A. Times.
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Ironically, his foray into politics has soured some of his Lightning in a Bottle good vibes. “It’s funny,” he says. “I’m the love candidate, but the more I have sunk my teeth into what’s happening in this city, the more angry I become.” He’s referring to mounting crises like homelessness and affordable housing, which he says are reaching a tipping point within the city.
“This city is going to become the next San Francisco, the next new York, forcing our minorities, forcing our lower income people, forcing artists and certainly pushing out the homeless as far out as we can,” he says. “Do we want to live in that city? It’s not the city that I want to live in, and right now at City Hall it seems like every man for himself, not every man for the city. It’s just not sustainable.”
Amori has no illusions that he’ll be the one to fix the city’s problems; he admits, unprompted, that a mayoral win is highly unlikely. But he hopes that at the very least his run will motivate others to get involved in local politics — and particularly to cast a vote in the primary. He imagines that the incoming mayor might decide to recruit him as a “love advisor,” or as he puts it, a kind of watchdog for the city’s well-being. But with incumbent frontrunner Garcetti having ignored all of Amori’s requests for communication, according to Amori, this scenario is doubtful, too.
“I think that whatever happens in this election, win or lose, that the message of what I’m trying to do will live long after this,” he says. “This idea of voting for love, maybe this is just what the world needs. Maybe this is the perfect antidote to politics in the Trump era.”