Lower Mills-based Barstool founder: ‘Dead serious’ about mayoral bid

David Portnoy, left, hired a firm to collect 5,000 signatures to join the mayoral race. The Lower Mills resident operates a network of websites called Barstool Sports. 	Image from YouTubeDavid Portnoy, left, hired a firm to collect 5,000 signatures to join the mayoral race. The Lower Mills resident operates a network of websites called Barstool Sports. Image from YouTube

On the Milton side of Lower Mills, up a small set of steps in a two-story office building on Adams St., down a narrow hallway lined with posters of women in bikinis, sits David Portnoy, Internet baron and a potential candidate for mayor.

“It’s a dead serious campaign,” Portnoy said as he sat in front of a laptop and a bladeless fan in his office, which is littered with paper and what looks to be an air conditioner on the floor.

He’s hired a campaign manager, a Maine native he half-jokingly derides as “Weird Haircut Seth.” He’s willing to spend up to $10,000 of his own money, he says. And he has a megaphone in the form of Barstool Sports, a popular and controversial network of satirical websites known for its sports commentary mixed with pictures of scantily clad women and posts titled, “Guess That Ass.”

Portnoy found office space for Barstool Sports after a walk around the neighborhood, since he lives in the apartments that used to be a chocolate factory on the Dorchester side of Lower Mills. His office once belonged to a doctor.

“There’s little sinks everywhere,” Portnoy said.

A Swampscott native who went to college in Michigan, Portnoy doesn’t have strong ties to Dorchester. He and his wife, Renee, moved here about five years ago because she works in Plymouth.

Portnoy’s job is maintaining his media empire, which has sometimes taken shots at retiring Mayor Thomas Menino over the years. Portnoy said he has felt frustrated when trying to put together Barstool-themed events in Boston.

“So when Menino decided that he wasn’t running, you know, we brought it up, ‘hey, I should basically run for mayor,’ Portnoy said. “Almost in jest. But people were like ‘you should really do it.’ The more I thought about it, the more I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to give this a shot and I actually don’t think it’ll be a total waste of time,’ meaning, I think we can actually make a little bit of noise.”

Portnoy said they will focus on college students, people who vote in presidential elections more so than mayoral ones.

“We want our crowd to vote,” he said.

His campaign will likely be an unconventional one. “This may not be fair, but this is how we’re looking at it: Dan Conley, I think he was at the Haitian parade and then he was at, there was a transgender parade of some sort yesterday,” Portnoy said, referring to the Suffolk County district attorney who is also running for mayor. “So he was at both of those. Our campaign on that would be, ‘Would you rather vote for the guy running around to all the parades so he could show his face or the guy who’s watching the Bruins at home?’ Because I’m not trying to appeal to everybody or be very political. I’m the guy, the typical guy next door.”

Because he will keep running Barstool Sports during the campaign – though he pledges to stop if he’s elected mayor – he doesn’t plan on being as “aggressive” on the campaign trail as the other candidates.

“We reach our people through the computer,” he said. “So it’s a little bit easier for us I think in that regard to do it that way. We don’t plan on being at parades, doing all that. We have a message, we’ll get it out through the Internet, press conferences and all that.”

Portnoy, who goes by the handle “El Presidente” on the website, considers himself a libertarian – “very socially liberal” while fiscally conservative.

There is the potential for faint echoes of Norman Mailer’s run for New York mayor in 1969. The controversial American author of “The Naked and the Dead” was also a libertarian, and launched a madcap campaign with the slogan, “The other guys are the joke.” Mailer came in fourth place out of five.

Portnoy has hired a professional signature-gathering firm to make sure he gets on the ballot, and vetting moves through the election lawyer, Vincent DeVito.

“It’s a lot more complicated than I originally anticipated,” Portnoy admitted.

“We’re constantly learning as we go,” he added.

A day after sitting down with the Reporter, a video went up on the Barstool Sports site. Tuesday was the deadline to get nomination signatures into the city’s Election Department, and Portnoy had an announcement: “We should be on the ballot,” he said, speaking into a microphone mounted on top of a Poland Spring Water Cooler. “If we’re not for some reason, you know, I guess it’s my fault.”

His team had turned in about 5,000 signatures, and mayoral candidates need 3,000 from registered Boston voters to make it onto the ballot. The firm he had paid to gather signatures picked up 4,500 of them.

“Long story short: I think we’re in the race,” Portnoy said. “I think.”