Kim Kardashian for mayor? When public service becomes publicity.

Kim Kardashian sort-of announces that she wants to run for mayor of Glendale, Calif. Yes, California has its share of celebs-turned-politicians. But reality TV is changing the game.  

Jumana El Heloueh/REUTERS/File
TV personality Kim Kardashian smiles during a news conference in Dubai in this file photo.

Whether or not Kim Kardashian is serious about her pseudo-announcement that she wants to run for mayor of Glendale, Calif., a town of some 191,000 in the shadow of Tinseltown, her words have set off a local media tizzy.

The first point of discussion – aside from the mere fact that it's Kim Kardashian – is the equally important fact that no one can run for mayor of Glendale, not even Ms. Kardashian. Glendale's mayor is one of the five members of its city council, appointed to a single-year term on a rotating basis.

Second is the mode of her declaration: It came in a YouTube video of an unaired outtake from her sister's "Khloe and Lamar" reality show, in which the Armenian-American actress says she is "for real" about her intentions to run "in, like, five years," because Glendale "is, like, Armenian town.”

On that last point, Kardashian is correct. Glendale is home to the largest Armenian population outside the mother country. And her fame as the star of another reality show, “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” has two city council members reportedly backing her bid, with one even offering her the post of “honorary chief of staff” as a crash course in politics, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger, she is not, say political analysts. Yes, California has a long history of celebs-turned-politicans, from President Reagan and former Governor Schwarzenegger to Clint Eastwood (mayor of Carmel) and Sonny Bono (US representative).

But Kardashian's proposed run points more toward a disappearing line between publicity-seeking and public service, says Gary Woodward, professor of communication studies at The College of New Jersey in Ewing.

“What seems to be happening at every level of government, from the Senate on down to the office of mayor in Glendale, is that people are seeking public office more as a way to establish identity than to actually do the difficult work of governance,” he says. “They are forgetting that public service is about governing and governing is a talent in and of itself. It requires skills in compromise and working with others to come up with something that benefits the public good."

“It is not a place to simply stake out who you are,” he says.

So far, Kardashian's forays into public service have involved blogging in support of recognition for what Armenians call the genocide of a million countrymen by the Turks at the end of World War I, support for breast cancer research, and participation in an antipoverty campaign through a lipstick line. The slogan: “Kiss Away Poverty.”

Glendale city clerk Ardy Kassakhian says he has not yet received any official requests for information from Kardashian. He is not particularly concerned about her bid. Glendale would not serve as a good political nursery, he says.

Glendale has a budget of nearly $300 million, and residents are keen to know how candidates intend to use those funds, he adds. The city holds candidate forums on a regular basis. 

“The people of this city are very well-informed and pay close attention to local politics,” Mr. Kassakhian says. “This is not a place for someone who hasn’t done their homework."

Could Kardashian become a serious politician? Why not, says Allan Saxe, a political scientist at the university of Texas at Arlington and editor of "Modern Mayors: Monumental Decisions.”

"If this is a small community, she may just have chance of becoming mayor, especially since it is not elective office," he says in an e-mail. "Nothing wrong in this, and often the celebrity becomes a very good town officer.”

After all, P.T. Barnum became the mayor of Bridgeport, Conn. Then again, says GOP strategist David Johnson, most of the earlier incarnations of celebrities-turned-politicians first found success and renown “for actually doing something.” 

He suggests that reality TV can encourage a sense of entitlement to the spotlight. “Once these people get used to being important for nothing other than being themselves,” he says, “they begin to feel they have some sort of divine right to attention.”   

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