Carmel-by-the-Sea was, and remains, a picturesque oceanside one-square-mile town 120 miles south of San Francisco. At the time of the 1986 mayoral election, the town consisted of 4,825 residents. Carmel had “rigid preservation and development rules,” which frustrated many of the residents, including Junior. For example, the town council refused to grant a permit for an ice cream shop because of their concerns over water usage, parking issues, and litter problems that were certain to come along with the new business. The town had strict rules concerning signs, awnings, paint colors, and fences around homes.
Junior, then 55 years old, had lived in Carmel for two decades, was a divorced father of two teenagers, and owned a restaurant in town. “I had the experience a lot of people had in this community of going before the city council, and I watched a mighty closed-minded group of people who were not particularly courteous or friendly to the community,” he said during an interview. “I felt if they could do it to me, there certainly must be other people out there that had even more of their life invested in what they were discussing. There’s no reason to make jokes about it or be treated rudely.” He argued that Carmel officials could enforce building codes “in a friendly manner” rather than with “threats and intimidation.”
After careful consideration, Junior decided to run for mayor, a position which only paid a salary of $200 per month. This was no small feat. He challenged 61-year-old two-term mayor Charlotte Townsend and two other candidates for the position. Incumbent Mayor Townsend favored the tight restrictions which had been put into place to retain the community’s character. Junior was not in favor of over-development nor was he in favor of mass tourism. Junior saw the need for change.
By most accounts, Junior was a reserved and quiet man. Until February 21, 1986, Junior had never made a campaign speech in his life, yet he drew the loudest applause during the first electoral debate in the small town. Whereas previous electoral debates in Carmel usually drew a crowd of between 10 to 20 people, this debate drew about 200 people. The focus of Junior’s campaign was to replace the negative relations between the city and its citizens with “positive camaraderie.” Incumbent Mayor Townsend argued, “If you want more tourism … more intrusion of the business community … more traffic and erosion of community character, you should vote for any of my opponents here.”
And they did. Voters went to the polls on April 8, 1986. When the votes were tallied, Junior received 2,166 votes, Townsend – 799, Tim Grady – 31 votes, and Paul Laub – 6 votes. 72 percent of voters chose Junior. The voters had made Junior’s day. Thrilled at the overwhelming show of support, Junior visited local taverns and celebrated by having drinks with well-wishers, a celebration which lasted well into the early hours of the following morning.
Work as the town’s mayor got off to a rocky start. In one meeting, after four planning commissioners opposed his policies for change, Junior fired them and replaced them with what naysayers referred to as Junior’s “Clones.” Under Junior’s leadership, Carmel installed more public restrooms for the town’s tourists, the library got a new annex, which Junior personally funded, and Junior purchased for preservation the historic Mission Ranch which was in danger of being torn down and replaced with condominiums. Carmel finally got its ice cream parlor.
Junior served his full two-year term as Carmel’s mayor and did not seek reelection. Despite what his opponent in the election claimed, Carmel’s character remained intact. Some people tried to convince Junior to run for higher office, but he was simply not interested.
Today, Junior owns several properties in Carmel including a restaurant and a hotel. Although in his 90s, Junior still works creating entertaining products that many of us enjoy. Since his stint as mayor, Junior has won four Academy Awards and other accolades too numerous to list here. For many, Junior will always be associated with a character he played called Dirty Harry, but we all know Clinton Eastwood, Jr. as Clint Eastwood
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