NY Cage Aux Folles: When radio "Shock Jockey" Howard Stern's film Private Parts opened to lustily cheering audiences in New York, it was clear that it was not for nothing that internet sites had deemed the week "Howard Stern Week".

The foul-mouthed, shaggy-haired Colossus (6ft 5in) showed up on the cover of Time Out and Rolling Stone, in a profile in the New Yorker, in every newspaper, and on television, including the David Letterman Show and Entertainment Television, where, egged on by his trusty sidekick, Robin Quivers, he relentlessly coaxed the giggling, prim interviewer to embrace the bursting- bodiced bisexual seated next to her.

New Yorkers lemminged to the cinemas to see how the Long Islander had stayed faithful to his beloved noble wife, beat out his disapproving bosses at NBC, and raked in tens of millions of dollars by spanking lesbians, insulting minorities and celebrities and musing endlessly on air about flatulence and about his two-inch underendowment. Visitors might wonder why such a person would inspire such noisy devotions (Chris Evans, eat your heart out). The answer is that Stern is an overdue injection of pestilence into a town that was dying of too-good health.

For some time, New Yorkers had been looking a little down-in-the-mouth. Once, even the most unremarkable shopkeepers and pencil-pushers shared in the menacing shadow of Sin City. If a dreary administrative assistant caravanned her family from Queens to the Grand Canyon, she could count on fellow travellers shying fearfully away from her and her brood when she mentioned her point d'origine, and from their fear she could draw a certain satisfaction. No longer. The chill was gone, as New Yorkers found themselves being outcrimed by their countrymen in the sleepy south, the creepy plains, the sunnily violent west coast.

Stern understood this city's need for bad behaviour long before the disheartening statistics rolled in this winter: New York had suffered an appallingly low murder rate last year, not to mention a drop in violent crimes, an improvement in the parks, and an increase of beat cops. As the news went round, City Hall realised, with a jolt, that Manhattan had to drag itself back into the gutter before it fell off the map.

By early March, the city fathers had hit on a plan. Certain highly visible New Yorkers, such as Stern, would be designated to assume all of the evils and dangers that this town had lately lost. Like reverse Vestal virgins, these icons of vice would uphold the city's bad name.

The campaign kicked off two weeks ago, when the rather strident mayoral candidate, Ruth Messinger, announced at a mayoral debate that she had a lesbian daughter. As the news was disseminated that this daughter had a black partner and an adorable mixed-race toddler conceived via a sperm bank, Messinger basked in new-found popularity among a hotly interested public.

Not to be outdone, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani swiftly devised a career-saving gambit. At a gala at the New York Hilton, the mayor flounced onto the stage in a luscious, feather-trimmed, pink ball-gown, high heels, blonde wig, and full make-up - a dead ringer for Carol Channing. As a stunned audience of politicos and assorted journos gaped, the mayor tangoed lasciviously with Julie Andrews, croaked out a sultry "Happy Birthday, Mr President", leering saucily and chomping a whopping cigar all the while, then stripped behind a screen.

As the news of the mayoral burlesque spread, condo owners crowed with relief, knowing that their property values were safe, while in the city's outlying boroughs, Staten Islanders and Brooklynites rejoiced, picturing discomfited prairie dwellers wincing as the news tootled west. The mayoral race between Giuliani and Messinger was now back on even ground - only one wild card remained. Howard Stern had once briefly run for governor. If he were to enter the race for mayor, would either one of them stand a chance?

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