I'm not quite sure of the proper name for what Katherine "Kat" Gallant is wearing. It's not a teddy, not a bustier exactly; it appears to be made from vinyl, is skin-tight and seems as revealing as a bloody fingerprint. Then there is the garter belt, and the black stockings that follow her long legs into a mighty pair of six-inch stiletto heels.
I can tell you the names for those things.
And I can tell you this: You can perform a number of activities in six-inch stiletto heels, but running is not one of them. Unless you are doing the kind of running that Citizen Kat is doing, the kind you can do sitting down. That's running for office, for the position of mayor of the fair city of Mesa.
"It is my underwear that makes me stand out," she tells me, batting mascaraed eyes. "And it is because of that that I have been able to speak out and talk about the issues that are a strong concern of mine."
It is also because of her underwear that she has worked at a place called Fantasies for the past two and a half years, rising through the ranks from part-time to full-time to general manager to franchise owner. If you want your hair cut by a woman dressed in revealing lingerie, Fantasies--with four Valley locations--is the place to go. And if you want a manicure or a pedicure or a massage administered by a woman dressed in revealing lingerie--well, you get the idea.
Kat is opining about the political process. "Everything focuses around getting elected, and what's inside of a person--what a person has to say--doesn't seem to hold water. That's my statement: The total image we've created for our politicians has led to these guys in Washington, and no one can make a decision, and no one does anything but spin their wheels there. There's no heart, there's no passion, there's nothing. There's a big nothing going on in our government today.
"I don't think that politicians should all look alike; I think politicians should be who they are. And I think if politicians were more who they were, we'd probably have a lot better government."
Kat crosses and uncrosses her legs. Then she crosses them again. I wonder what she would look like as mayor, if she would wear an outfit like this. "Oh, no, I'd wear leather."
Kat readily admits that politics has never interested her. "I'll be right up front about that. The best thing I've got going for me is I'm not a politician."
No, but in her 46 years, Ms. Gallant has been many other things: a divorced mother of seven boys, a paralegal for the County Attorney's Office, a model in commercials for the Suncraft patio furniture company, and a singing, dancing, joke-cracking Suzanne Somers impersonator.
Kat also admits that these are not the sort of serious qualifications necessary to hold public office; yet she feels her achievements will stand her in good stead.
"One thing is, I've been to 11 different universities and schools--majored in real estate, art, journalism, physical therapy, law," she explains. When I ask if she has any degrees, the answer is, umm, no.
But there are reasons for that.
"I started college as early as 16 years old, going at night when I was in high school. And I evolved through the years as a woman did in those days. I'm 46; you didn't worry about degrees, you were taking care of babies. I had seven boys, so I was that mother at home raising kids and going to night school. So did I ever get a degree? No, because it wasn't a focus of mine until just recently. So what qualifies me is I have the background, the education, the work experience. And I'm a business owner, too."
And she strikes me as a people person.
"Yeah, absolutely. You don't get to be much more of a people person than wearing your underwear in front of the world."
If the Gallant political machine has a nerve center, it is right here in the back room at Fantasies. This is where the ladies come to change clothes, eat lunch, relax; where she has met with reporters from CNN, Inside Edition, and Swedish and Norwegian dailies.
There's a microwave and a fridge, and a variety of costumes strewn and hanging about--delicate items crafted from crushed velvet, leather, faux leopard skin; things small, lacy, reinforced and fringy. A matronly, high-collared housecoat in bright pink is folded on a shelf; they must trot this out for clients with truly unique demands.
Today, business is slow but steady. If you close your eyes, you can hear the relaxing, familiar hum of the electric razor, the intermittent whoosh of the blow dryer and the low, constant soundtrack of a Seventies station on the radio. If you open your eyes, however, you see a bunch of happy, regular guys getting a wash and trim from a couple of women spilling out of their bras.
Why would Kat want to trade in the comfy security of this place for the hectic world of city politics?
About six years ago, Gallant says, she bought a historic house in downtown Mesa and put $30,000 into fixing it up. Then one day, "the City of Mesa Housing Authority knocked at my door and said, 'We can help you with this.' They have special grants, so I said sure. It ended up being the worst experience of my life, because then they owned me.
"I went back to school as a journalism major, and when I did, I had to rent my house out because I couldn't afford $1,000 a month as a student. When they found out that I had done that, they slapped a lien for $25,000 on my house."
Kat adjusts her Godiva-length blond hair, shifts on the couch and continues. She had a 15 percent interest rate on the house and wanted to reduce it, but the City of Mesa told her "flat out they would not subrogate. When that happened, I explained to them that I would lose my house if they wouldn't subrogate. So I hung up the phone with them, and just then a guy walked into my salon and said he was running for judge.
"I said, 'Really? I'm going to run for mayor.' And that's how the whole thing started."
Since then, her campaign has attracted the interest of international media, and Kat has upcoming appearances scheduled on Sally Jessy Raphael and Montel Williams. Which may smack of a cheap publicity ploy--something a few of the other mayoral candidates assert--but Kat says it ain't so.
"Once people hear that I am an intelligent individual, and I have some really good ideas about government, they do take me seriously."
Kat has plans, opinions, visions she relates to me with whistle-stop gusto. There in the back room.
"My thoughts are that we really have to focus on the social issues--homelessness, gangs, problems with children, improved parks and recreation programs--and try and clean up that part of the aspect of it," Kat stresses. "I have a plan that we can clean up this town without costing the taxpayers any money. I have seen this program instituted in other places, and it'll work. The plan is to get buildings, and have the homeless themselves bring them up to code."
(For some reason, this reminds me of a Monty Python line where instructions are given on how to play the flute: Blow in one end and move your fingers up and down the other.)
"My thoughts are that these people do have jobs; they just don't have affordable housing. What we need to do is provide at least a halfway-house environment."
Helping the homeless help themselves, making society a better place without costing taxpayers a dime--aren't these fairly grassroots, conservative views?
"If you really look at it, in so many ways I'm politically incorrect," Kat shoots back. "I think men should have the right to look at a woman, and I think men should have the right to express themselves. I think men have had a bum rap in the last couple of decades--the feminist movement.
"I like to call myself the 'womanist movement.' Get back to being a woman, be proud of it and enjoy it, and so what if a guy looks at you and says, 'Hey, you've got great legs!' How can somebody take offense to that? It's so stupid. And a guy could lose his job for that; to me, that's so bizarre. Let's get down to things that count--let's talk about heart, let's talk about passion, let's talk about the real issues in life.
"I think it's wonderful that women can go into a job and have the same opportunity as men, but it isn't really fair to the white male, is it? The white male is the most discriminated beast out there, he really is."
Hey, that's me!
Kat is all fired up, righteous with conviction, her voice rising above the occasional sighs and groans of a guy getting a massage in the next room. Over on the wall, there's a hand-lettered sign with quotes from Sophocles, Cicero and Harry Truman.
"I never give them hell, I just give them the truth, and they think it is hell," read the words of Harry. I don't know what his views on the tragic condition of the white male would be, but the outspoken president seems to have inspired the forthright Gallant. Was he a role model?
She looks a bit confused as I point at the sign, then says, "No. That was here when we moved in."
If the good people of Mesa see fit to elect Kat, she's determined to work for them, to do their bidding. She will achieve this through the magic of television.
"I'm going to produce a TV show," explains Gallant. "I'll bring in consultants, pro and con, on issues in Mesa, and allow people to call in and tell me what they want. I feel that politicians too often have their own opinions when they go into office, and you hope they'll keep those opinions, then nine times out of ten they don't, and they go off on their own tangent.
"My thought is, why not get voted in, and then do what the people want you to do? I'm going to enforce what the majority of people in this town want me to do. What we're always dealing with are not what the majority of the people want; we're always dealing with the people that scream the loudest."
Though she's up against some formidable opponents--Wayne Brown, current vice mayor Jerry Boyd, Ken Basham and perennial candidate Kirby Allan--Kat thinks she has "a real good chance" of winning. You might laugh at this, but don't forget about LaCicciolina, the ex-porn star who was elected to the House of Deputies from Viareggio, Italy, a few years back. Perhaps the quiet burg of Mesa is in need of a little spice, a dash of robust attitude, blind faith and high heels.
"I'm hoping to put Mesa on the map," she emphasizes. "If you look at it, Tempe is a nice place to live, Chandler is a nice place, Ahwatukee, even Gilbert has its country flair. Mesa's got nothing; it's totally beige. No one wants to brag, 'I live in Mesa.'"
But Kat has no fantasies about the difficulties inherent to the office of mayor.
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"It's going to be a lot of hard work," she says with determination. "The programs that I want to incorporate, the television show and getting a shelter for the homeless, it's going to be a lot of waking hours. That's what I see the hardest part being--certainly not the intellectual part; that part I could handle hands down with my eyes closed."
Think about it: With Mayor Kat in charge, fighting City Hall could actually be a lot of fun. And she'd sure look good riding in parades. Hers is, after all, an all-American tale, from humble hairdresser to political power broker, Capra meets John Waters. But could the job be too much? Might Kat find the stress level overpowering, as Mr. Smith did after he went to Washington?
"I imagine it will go up, but I'll just delegate. You take this problem, and you take that problem," Gallant offers, smooth and easy.
"I'm going to go look in the mirror."