20 People to Watch - Paul Luna: The unlikely candidate

The charismatic and colorful culinary mastermind wants your vote for mayor in 2013

In recent years, Paul Luna, the charismatic and colorful culinary mastermind behind south downtown’s Lunacy Black Market, has routinely blasted everything from Georgia’s immigration laws and Atlanta’s liquor licensing process to the newly proposed Atlanta Falcons stadium and, of course, his arch-nemesis, PARKatlanta.

Now and then, the enigmatic chef and downtown rabble-rouser has toyed with the idea of running for public office to tackle these issues, but to no avail. But with the well-funded, well-connected, and popular Mayor Kasim Reed running virtually unopposed in November’s election, it seems as though Luna’s inconsolable frustration with City Hall has finally gotten the better of him.

My name is going to be on that ballot and I will raise 2,500-3,000 registered Atlanta votes,” he says.

Luna, who doesn’t hide the fact that he’s never voted in an election, thinks he can change the city for the better. Since starting LBM on Mitchell Street in 2009, he’s attracted attention and drawn visitors to the often-overlooked historic district south of Five Points. He thinks he can bring the same type of progress to Atlanta.

Luna’s platform is simple: a government by the people for the people that involves everyone. And although he doesn’t believe in making promises — they’re the root of every lie, he says — he’s got big plans for Atlanta. He thinks the city suffers from a lack of social solidarity, public involvement, and transparency.

Luna’s solution? Get creative.

Under a Luna administration, longtime residents of up-and-coming neighborhoods would see their property taxes frozen to prevent them from being displaced.

Luna says he’d remain a chef and would forgo his mayoral salary, revoke the city’s contract with PARKatlanta, and, to reduce traffic congestion, he’d like to see “an incredible bus service with designated bus lanes that would allow you to park and ride.” The new Falcons stadium? Luna says he would block the project “in a heartbeat.”

“If they want it, they can pay for it themselves, or take it to Gwinnett like everything else,” he says.

To encourage public participation, he would keep City Hall open to the public once a week until 9 p.m. so citizens could attend meetings, ask questions, and voice their opinions. “I don’t think any legislation should be passed unless a majority of the people show up,” Luna says. “You just don’t create legislation and vote whatever you want in.”

He’s enlisted the help of a 15-year-old to man his Twitter account. His campaign slogan: “Not Just Another Dumb Motherfucker.” “I think it’s directed to everyone in general,” Luna says. “Even the public. Even the voters. Not just another dumb motherfucker. It’s directed to all of us as human beings.”

The Dominican-born Luna, who was once likened to a Navi tribesman from the movie Avatar by Atlanta magazine’s Christiane Lauterbach, has been ruffling feathers here since he first came on the scene in the early ’90s to open the upscale Italian restaurant Bice. In 1993, he opened Luna Si, followed by his iconic tapas restaurants Eclipse di Luna in ‘97 and Loca Luna in ‘99.

Those were Luna’s infamous “bad-boy chef” days, when he might just as easily eject you from his restaurant for requesting salt, or dance on your table wearing very few clothes, if any at all. His unpredictable antics lost on even those most loyal to his food, Luna eventually sold his restaurants and left the city. (“I’ve always done things in an unorthodox way,” he says.)

He resurfaced in 2009 after spending several years consulting for restaurateurs, cooking in Hawaii, and writing a children’s book, which he promoted with a cross-country bicycle tour, to open Lunacy Black Market. The chef who returned was tempered and more relaxed, but still full of fiery passion and armed with idealism.

“I don’t want people to like me because every like has a dislike,” he says. “I want people to love me for who I am. Yeah, I’ve thrown you out of my restaurant, so who cares? I’ve told you to fuck off, so who cares? The fact is that whatever I’ve done, I’ve done, and I can’t take it away. But if you want a genuine person, then it’s gonna be me.”