Like Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent, "Mayor-Man" is a hard-working and unassuming public servant. When faced with a United States Marshal's star, however, Cunningham is transformed into a hero, dashing to save city residents from whatever is threatening their peace of mind or quality of life.
The 16-page black and white comic, entitled "The Adventures of Mayor-Man" and printed recently by Cunningham ostensibly as an outreach tool for children, last week captured the attention of both local residents and regional media. To address the issue, the mayor held a press conference Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to explain how the idea came about and how he will develop it in the future.
"I'm pleasantly surprised at all the attention," Cunningham said as a group of children from the Hudson County Boys' and Girls' Club sat reading the comic book on the steps of City Hall behind him. "Calls have been received all day from people asking where they could get [a copy]."
The idea for the comic came about when Cunningham, after greeting a woman and her child on the street, was referred to as "Mayor-Man" by the child. Struck by how much resonance the image of the mayor as a comic book hero would have on children, Cunningham thought about how he could apply the "Mayor-Man" concept to his childhood outreach efforts. The comic book idea just presented itself, he said.
"The original concept was to hand out something to kids to learn about civics," Cunningham said. "This is the first issue."
Drawn by city employee Gregory Malave, who also sits on the Planning and Zoning boards, the comic book features the three avatars of "Mayor-Man," which are a Jersey City police captain, a U.S. Marshal and a Marine. The book's other main character is the mayor's wife, Sandra Bolden-Cunningham. She is referred to in the comic as "Lady One."
The narrative thrust of the comic book involves "Mayor-Man" edifying Jersey City residents about civic issues in three different scenarios, which include a child endangered by a runaway car, a criminal escaping from prison, and city residents arguing at a "Support Our Troops" rally.
As a police captain, "Mayor-Man" reminds the child that being careful will keep him safe and that he should always call the police when he thinks he is in danger.
When the escaped convict is captured by "Mayor-Man," the hero - clad in a trench coat and cowboy hat - says, "If you do the crime, you have to do the time!"
At the rally, "Mayor-Man" arrives in full official Marine regalia. The accompanying text reads, "The people are confused. Some support the war to bring freedom to Iraq. Other believe we should find another way to change Iraq. But the soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors who are fighting in Iraq are Americans, and they need the support of their family, friends and the American people."
"Mayor-Man" then says, "My dear citizens, it does not matter if you are for or against the war. What matters is that you support our troops!"
The last page of the comic book features eight safety tips for children.
As innocuous as the comic book might seem, it has already been seized by Cunningham's political opponents as a tool to take jabs at the mayor's adherence to state election laws. The Democratic candidate for state Senate in the 31st District, Cunningham is currently being sued by the rival HCDO Democratic slate he and his running mates defeated in the June primary election. They claim that his campaign spent in excess of state-mandated limits.
When the comic first surfaced, there was a section of whited-out text on the back cover that had "Paid for by Cunningham for Mayor 2005" typewritten onto it. When the Wite-out was scratched off, it revealed text that said "Paid for by the Jersey City Reform Democratic Organization."
The Jersey City Reform Democratic Organization is the political action committee that Cunningham rivals allege overspent its limits.
"[The comic book] was clearly for the State Senate campaign," said rival slate spokesman Roger Jones. "It's very bogus on their part and to think the public wouldn't see right through these things."
The mayor said in previous reports that the Wite-out was used to cover an error made by the printer.
Several area residents interviewed for this report said they weren't interested in the discrepancy over which Cunningham campaign fund paid for the comic book. They said they thought the comic book was "stupid."
Children at Wednesday's press conference, however, had positive things to say about the comic.
"He saves people and he's a superhero," said Jarvis, 9, about "Mayor-Man."
"He's cool," said 10-year-old Nidiyaa.
City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said the initial run of the comic was 5,000 copies. Cunningham said two more issues will be produced.
Call City Hall at (201) 547-5000 to inquire about "The Adventures of Mayor-Man."