Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein is an unlikely social media star. But in the world of COVID-19 isolation, his low-key, guy-next-door style is just what the doctor ordered.
His weekly live-stream is reminiscent of New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s WWII radio chats about everything from the price of cantaloupes to the energy-saving virtues of pressure cookers.
Last week, for example, during his online chat he talked about the Victory garden he and his wife planted in their font yard, and watching the British Globe Theater 2017 live performance of Hamlet on YouTube. And every day he orders takeout lunch from a different Sunnyvale restaurant, and posts his lunch on his Facebook timeline.
“I’m happy to make people more comfortable,” he said. “I’m sharing more than ever before — over-sharing conceivably. It’s a small effort, but people appreciate it. The mayor does what the people want, right?”
Since Klein was first elected to the Sunnyvale City Council in 2016, he has always tried to connect with constituents in relaxed, conversational settings. “I started weekly ‘office hours’ at local coffee shops,” he said. “I wanted to support family-owned coffee shops.
“When Shelter-in-Place went into effect I couldn’t do that,” he continued, “I decided to do a live stream even though I’d never done one before. I started by summarizing what happened that week and answered questions.”
The first questions that he was asked focused on was “what are you doing for renters, landlords, small businesses?” The two-way conversation also alerted the City about places in Sunnyvale where people were still gathering — for example, playgrounds that were still open.
Over time, Klein added summaries of important federal and state news in addition to news from the county and City. “As much as news affects them, people shouldn’t be watching news all day, so it’s good to have a summary,” he said. “But, the county and city are the most important government in our daily lives.”
Being a restaurant critic isn’t normally part of a mayor’s job description. But in the new normal, Klein’s daily lunch posts are another way for him to connect with people. The day we spoke he got lunch from Ramen Sea, ordering tonkatsu ramen.
The daily lunch posting began St. Patrick’s Day.
“Murphy Avenue is well-known [for St. Patrick’s day parties],” he said. “But this year there were no parties. I wanted to let people know that restaurants were still serving, they were still doing business. The feedback from restaurant owners and residents who were fans of those restaurants, that built a community.”
For Klein it “was an opportunity to find new restaurants and revisit ones I hadn’t gone to, and experience the different types of food we have here in abundance.”
Some fans join him for virtual lunch at the restaurants he visits. When one of Klein’s favorites, the Bean Scene, reopened for takeout he highlighted the café’s chicken Panini — resulting in a run on the Paninis.
So what does Klein plan to do first when we are no longer social distancing?
“For me,” Klein said, “it will just be visiting in a coffee shop with friends. Having that contact and interaction, seeing a smile. I’m looking forward to that.” You can visit Klein on Facebook at www.facebook.com/larryforcouncil.