How Clint Eastwood Went from Legalizing Ice Cream to the RNC Stage

Clint Eastwood, 2011

Clint Eastwood in 2011. Photo by gdcgraphics/Flickr

Take a moment and Google “Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood.” A handful of links down, you’ll find this 2009 query:

“Is Clint Eastwood still the mayor of Carmel, California?”

The answer is no, not for more than 20 years. But for politicos and news outlets, it might as well have been yesterday.

Eastwood’s bona fides as the Republican-leaning mayor of Carmel, a small well-to-do town south of Monterey popular with tourists, are all over news coverage of the former actor’s speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention (a performance being widely described this morning as bizarre, by the way). A search for “Carmel mayor” in Google News this morning returned 967 mentions of the address, with his term as mayor characterized as his ticket to the RNC stage.

For the record, Eastwood served one term as Carmel mayor, from 1986-1988. Articles and coverage of his term as mayor refer to him as non-partisan and Republican-leaning, although many posts about the RNC speech describe him as a Republican mayor. (ABC News reported last year that President George H.W. Bush considered Eastwood as a possible V.P.). Here’s how the BBC described Eastwood’s election:

He polled 2,166 against the 799 votes cast for current mayor Charlotte Townsend, a former librarian.

Two of Clint Eastwood’s supporters were also elected on to Carmel’s local council, giving him control of the five-member body.

Mr Eastwood, a resident of Carmel for 14 years, decided to run for mayor after a series of clashes with the council.

After being refused planning permission to renovate his restaurant, the movie star took legal action and had the decision overturned.

His campaign centred on relaxing the strict controls on business in the town of 4,000 residents.

People, meanwhile, described his campaign thusly:

By design, there are no rabble-rousing “Make My Day” slogans. Expecting a close election in this hamlet of tall pines, elegantly rustic homes and only 4,900 people, Eastwood fears that what he calls a “sideshow” atmosphere could cost him crucial votes. But the carnival has already come to town. Garry Trudeau has been spoofing the campaign in Doonesbury, and “Make My Day” buttons are being hawked all over Carmel.

So what did Eastwood accomplish as Carmel mayor? Here’s what The New York Times had to say 16 months into his term:

Under his gavel, the city has legalized the sale of ice cream cones, provided more public toilets, built new stairways to the town beach and expedited previously stalled efforts to expand Carmel’s library.

Mr. Eastwood has proved to be a shrewd political operator, appointing the publisher of the local newspaper, a potential source of criticism, to one vacancy on the City Planning Commission and appointing a prominent critic of his policies to another.

Wait, ice cream cones? From the Times again…

Along with other members of the City Council, who were elected with him in April 1986 in a rout of the prior administration, Mr. Eastwood overturned an ordinance that had restricted sales of fast-food, including ice cream cones.

Ice cream cones became a cause celebre in the campaign. The ordinance was evidence, Mr. Eastwood contended, that the previous administration was too hard on business. Now visitors can lawfully stroll down Carmel’s main street, Ocean Avenue, with ice cream cone in hand.

But Eastwood the politician couldn’t be separated from Eastwood the celebrity. Again, from the Times:

…when many residents discuss Mr. Eastwood’s mayorality, they separate the issue into two parts: first, his on-the-job performance; second, the substantial indirect effects of his celebrity status.

Over Mr. Eastwood’s objections, some merchants have responded to the invasion of fans by merchandising T-shirts, charms, posters, ashtrays, Christmas tree ornaments and other items with Mr. Eastwood’s likeness.

”Law, Order and Ice Cream,” one poster declares beneath a sketch of the Mayor. ”Thou Hast Made My Day,” proclaims another with the likenesses of Mr. Eastwood and Pope John Paul II, who is scheduled to visit Carmel in September.

CBS Sunday Morning offered this look back at Eastwood’s mayorship:


Eastwood remains a frequent presence in Carmel, and he still had a home in the town as of 2010. He owns the Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant on the edge of Carmel. And a portrait of him hangs in the Hog’s Breath Inn, a restaurant he once owned.

While reviews of Mission Ranch are generally positive, the reaction to Eastwood’s RNC speech has been mixed. You can find a good wrap-up of reaction by the Canadian broadcasting network the CBC on Storify. Here’s video of the speech. The imaginary person in the empty chair…that’s President Obama…

  • OReardon

    You call the speech bizarre, but both Mel Brooks and Bob Newhart thought he was parroting their comedy styles. It’s not ice cream cones to the RNC, it’s Academy Award Career to the RNC. His speech was clever and was about one thing: understand the moment when you tried but it work out, and being an American, by knowing how to move on. People attacking it are intellectually dishonest.