Ben Konop wanted to be mayor of Toledo. Some guy in a Budweiser hat wanted him off his front yard. Together, they produced Internet gold.
The setting was a campaign stop during the summer of 2009. Konop attempted to give a speech on the street where his mother grew up. As soon as he began to speak — with a crowd of supporters standing behind him — a man nearby began to boo. And boo. And boo. The heckling, an incessant monotone, was captured in all its annoying glory on camera. The moment made its way inevitably on to YouTube.
It became one of the biggest (and arguably one of the first) viral political moments in history. And it remains something of a cult classic among political reporters, who speak of it with the same awe that sports writers reserve for last-second upsets in college football. Roughly 850,000 people have watched Konop being booed. Even “South Park” lampooned it.
Six years later, Konop sat down with the Candidate Confessional podcast to discuss that moment and how a chance interaction, just three and a half minutes in length, can affect a campaign, a candidate, and, of course, a human being.
“Honestly, I don’t lose a lot of sleep over it,” Konop said. “A. You have no control over it. B. In my analysis, which obviously is completely biased, the way I handled it, while not maybe the textbook way a politician handles a heckler was, I think, in a fairly gentleman fashion. And you know, honestly, in the big picture, things worked out pretty well.”
At the time of his torment, Konop was a Lucas County commissioner running for mayor. The campaign had begun to feel like a miserable grind full of phony pomp and lame schtick. On that June day, he held one of those events that struck him as inherently contrived. His opponent was the former fire chief and there’d been a scandal over how he’d labeled hydrants. A woman’s house had burned down because of bad coding. So Konop held a press conference outside of a house with a fire hydrant nearby. To add a touch of homespun nostalgia, they chose the block where his mom had grown up.
Before he started, Konop got word of a guy sitting out on his porch “who thinks some of our supporters stepped in his flower bed and is upset.” He proceeded anyway.
“Booooo. Booo. Boo Ben Konop. Boo. Ben Konop. Booo,” the heckling began.
And it kept on going.
“Boooooooo. BOOO Ben. Go somewhere else. Run for mayor somewhere else.”
“I didn’t really think much of it except this is going to screw up our little press clip basically,” Konop recalled. “Honestly, I didn’t think it was that big a deal. I just needed him to be quiet for five minutes.”
At least for a few days, Konop’s instincts were right. The incident really wasn’t a big deal. Outside a mention or two in the local press, no one picked it up.
And then, Konop got a call from a friend. “He’s like, ‘Man, this thing is going viral. It’s crazy,’” Konop recalled.
The video had taken off. Both Konop and his campaign initially tried to turn it into something positive. They organized a beer summit with the heckler, hoping that it would paint Konop as magnanimous or high-minded. If covered the right way, they thought it might even give them a small bump in the polls.
But that bump never came, and Konop lost.
He took a break from politics, becoming a journalist for the Toledo Blade where he covered the Detroit Tigers and followed around Bob Dylan on a concert tour in Asia. But he didn’t stay away long. In 2011, Konop moved to Washington, D.C., to work at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
He doesn’t dwell much on his viral moment, he says, though he suspects it will “live on for eternity.” And as for his tormentor — the Budweiser-cap-wearing-boo-bird — he ran into him after the campaign and “had cordial interactions.”
“I ended up dating a girl after this who I believe was the maid of honor in his wedding,” Konop said.
Listen to the podcast above or download it on iTunes. And while you’re there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. Make sure to tune in to next week’s episode, when our guest will be former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), discussing his 2014 run for the Senate.