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Mayoral candidate Carlos Allen’s campaign is probably more known for its monstrous 40-foot, 1985 Mercedes campaign bus than it is for any of its policy ideas. The Democrat, who is currently polling at 0 percent, agreed to give City Paper a tour of his bus after he finished talking to a Wilson High School class recently. “Just tell them you’re with the mayor,” he says when I ask how to get into the school.
The bus is emblazoned with a huge head shot of Allen on its side, with “MayorAllen.com” extending most of its length. (Mayor Allen is the stage name the mayoral candidate uses as a rapper.) He concedes that he’s not a very good rapper but says he uses his music career to spread a message of youth empowerment. He originally purchased and customized the bus back in July to use as a tour bus, but since Allen declared his candidacy, it has served as a mobile billboard and his campaign headquarters—a way for him to be on the ground in neighborhoods and always connect with voters, in the style of Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, he says.
“We know for a fact that we have something that people want to talk about,” Allen says of the bus. “Then they want to learn more about me.”
If the outside of the bus suggests a party, the interior is as professional as a tour bus can be. The floor is marble; it’s stocked with two couches, a gas stove, two flat-screen TVs, and no booze. It’s also disappointingly immaculate. “I’m a neat freak,” Allen says. “If I see it, I will clean it.” The main compartment of the bus is where the mayoral candidate meets with his volunteer advisors and fleshes out his talking points, which largely focus on improving the economy and fighting corruption. “Politicians are like diapers, they need changing,” he says, referencing a Mark Twain quote.
He takes the bus to each campaign event and his driver, a friend who isn’t paid, stays in the vehicle because a legal parking spot is hard to come by in the District. (The bus isn’t listed among Allen’s $3,497 in campaign expenses; he says it’s a personal vehicle that he purchased before he even declared his candidacy.) The ride has attracted some attention from other candidates: Andy Shallal once asked to take a tour. And Mayor Vince Gray’s camp (perhaps jokingly) suggested, according to Allen, that the bus would look great with Gray’s name wrapped around it. “We’re changing the political scene,” he says. “Four years from now, we’re going to have everyone with buses.”
The bus features a bedroom, full-sized bed, and bathroom, shower included, but these amenities are rarely used. The bus functions as an expensive way to get Allen around, not a home away from home. It runs on diesel fuel and gets seven to eight miles per gallon; it cost $435 to fill up the entire tank. (Fuel isn’t listed on his campaign finance reports, either.) Aside from the bus, Allen doesn’t own a car. He says when he’s not in the campaign vehicle, he usually takes the Metro or rides his Schwinn bike around the city.
Photos by Darrow Montgomery