It's the same thing," Rinaldi told the Guardian.
It's about inspiration and participation, he said, about coming up with some kind of vehicle through which to facilitate a public discussion about what San Francisco is, what it ought to be, and the role that can be played by all the Chickens out there, all the people who help make this an interesting city but aren't usually drawn into political campaigns or other conventional institutions.
"The number one qualification for mayor is you have to be passionate about the city you're running," Rinaldi said. "The left of San Francisco can't agree on anything except the idea of San Francisco."
And it is Rinaldi's San Francisco that helped him transform his pickup truck into a "café racer" that runs on coffee grounds and walnut shells, an alt-fuel project inspired partly by the Green Man theme of this year's Burning Man. It is the San Francisco that supports his myriad projects from wacky trips aboard the bus he owns to offbeat performances at his place and asks for his support with others'.
"This is part of the innovation thing," Rinaldi said of his candidacy. "Take a mayoral campaign and turn it into an artwork project that raises interesting questions and ideas."
But should that be funded by taxpayers? Mayor Gavin Newsom's campaign manager Eric Jaye said he has concerns about Rinaldi getting money from that source. "It would be interesting to see public money go to someone's art project," Jaye said. "This is not the intent. The intent was for this to go to a legitimate candidate."
Yet how did Rinaldi raise $12,000 in one day? "I sent out one e-mail," he said. "At one time there were 12 people outside my door, sliding checks through the slot."
Again: How? Why? Rinaldi responded by quoting Albert Einstein, "'There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.'" But when you try to pin down Rinaldi on what that idea is, why his candidacy seems to have resonated with the underground artists and anarchists and geeks of San Francisco, the answer isn't entirely clear. And he disputes the idea that this is about him or his connections.
"These aren't fans," Rinaldi said of his contributors. "They are equals in a city of art and innovation. It's just my time.... I asked for something, and they gave it to me.... People don't necessarily support me, my ideas, or my platform."
Among those drawn to Rinaldi's campaign is Lev Osherovich, a 32-year-old postdoctoral researcher at UC San Francisco who helped with fundraising and administration and eventually became the de facto campaign manager.
"It must be quite a surprise for someone who appears to be a joke candidate to raise so much money and so much awareness," Osherovich told us. "But Chicken has a tremendous energy and a real gift for communication.... Outsider political movements are a great tradition in San Francisco people using the political process as a vehicle for getting ideas out."
Yet even within his community, Rinaldi has his detractors, such as the anonymous individuals who formed the fake campaign Web sites www.chickenmayor.org and www.voteforchicken.org (Rinaldi's actual campaign Web site is www.voteforchicken.com, and his personal one is www.chickenjohn.com).
The latter fake campaign site lists Rinaldi's primary goal as "Chicken John needs attention."
Ask Rinaldi what he does need for this campaign, what his real goals are, and he sounds unlike any politicians I've ever heard.
"I don't need a winning strategy. I don't need any votes.