There were so many things Gustavo Rivera could’ve said the night he won his state senate primary — and anyone who knows the senator will tell you he might not say much, but when he does talk, it’s almost certainly worth listening.
For this particular night, with enough votes counted to ensure another term in Albany after a tough and spirited challenge from Miguelina Camilo?
“When you come for the king, you best not miss.”
At first blush, it’s easy to misinterpret Rivera’s words. Sure, he just won an election, but he’s not getting a throne. What kind of person compares himself to a king?
One that’s a fan of HBO’s “The Wire,” of course. Long before “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld” and “Succession,” there was this gritty crime drama deeply focused on Baltimore that made household names of actors like Dominic West and Idris Elba.
On primary night, Rivera was channeling Omar Little, played by the late great Michael K. Williams. He was a gangster without really any gang. He would rob people on the street, but usually focused on bad guys, like drug dealers. He’d never intentionally hurt an innocent person, and didn’t even like to curse.
In fact, if you were looking for Omar on a Sunday morning, listen for church bells, because he’d be arm-in-arm with his grandmother for her weekly visit with God.
Omar’s not only an intriguing character for Gustavo Rivera, but also for Barack Obama, who once said that while Little wasn’t his “favorite person,” he certainly was a “fascinating character.”
Quoting a television show or movie can certainly win you some fans — so long as they’re familiar with the source material. “The Wire” has been off the air for more than a decade, so it’s no surprise that some may have misunderstood Rivera’s remark.
It harkens back a bit to the late 1990s when James Cameron shouted “I am king of the world!” after winning the Oscar for best director. Cameron was certainly the king of the directors that year (and it’s time Hollywood recognized more queens, by the way). But of the world?
Apparently, Cameron thought everyone at that point had seen the film that got him that (and nearly a dozen other Oscars) that night: “Titanic.” In one iconic scene toward the beginning of that three-hour epic, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson stands at the bow of that ill-fated ship, the wind blowing through those golden locks, shouting, “I am the king of the world!”
Cameron hadn’t planned to shout that line at the Oscars, and there was some blowback. It’s likely Rivera didn’t plan to quote Omar Little, either. But what if the senator had taken some time to think about what inspirational words from the fictional realm he could use to express himself? Would he choose “The Wire”? “Titanic”? Heck, maybe he might have went in a completely different direction.
There’s always Calogero Anello — you know, “C,” from “A Bronx Tale,” with one of his classic lines, most of which can’t even be shared here. So we’ll just go with “I’m not in the mood for steak.” (Not exactly the most motivating.)
Maybe Rivera could’ve went deeper in the vault, pulling out a little “Casablanca.” You know, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” Then again, the crowd might have looked at the senator strangely if he kicked off a victory speech with that line.
Or, he could’ve fired them up with “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” which is pure gold from “Network,” but might not land the way he had hoped.
“Go ahead, make my day” would be fun, but only to amaze the crowd with the fact this line comes not from Clint Eastwood’s classic “Dirty Harry,” but its sequel from a dozen years later, “Sudden Impact.”
Come to think of it, this whole finding something cool to say isn’t as easy as you might think. I know I’d never be clever enough to borrow the “when you come for the king” line, so I’d probably just settle for something quick and easy, from my favorite curmudgeonly lovable newspaper editor played by Robert Duvall in my favorite Ron Howard film.
“Do you hate me? If you hate me, there’s no point.”
I guess we should be lucky I’ll never win anything that requires me to give a speech. And thank goodness for that.
The author is executive editor of Herald Community Newspapers, a group of 24 publications that includes The Riverdale Press