Sitting in her tiny office in a renovated church, Mayor Charlotte Townsend proudly ticks off the amenities that "our little village" lacks: "We don't have neon signs, we don't have parking meters, we don't have traffic lights, we don't have sidewalks in residential areas, we don't have house numbers or mail delivery."
What Carmel has -- in addition to its stretch of white sand beach, 10,515 trees, 68 art galleries and 4,142 registered voters -- is one of the country's top box-office attractions running for mayor.
Clint Eastwood, whose hit-movie expenses easily dwarf the town's $6 million annual budget, is in a shoot-out with Townsend and two other candidates in next Tuesday's election.
His candidacy for the two-year, $200-a-month post has had what might be called a "Sudden Impact" (Warner Bros., 1983) on this one-mile-square community south of San Francisco where he has lived for 14 years.
Tourists sporting "Clint for Mayor" buttons throng Eastwood's restaurant here, the Hog's Breath Inn, to dine on such dishes as "The Eiger Sandwich" ("a mountain of roast beef," $5.50). They besiege the art gallery-turned-Friends of Clint Eastwood campaign headquarters next door seeking bumper stickers and other paraphernalia. (For residents only, they are politely informed.)
National camera crews and reporters who are refused interviews with Eastwood -- "This is between me and my neighbors," he said -- troop to the offices of the weekly Carmel Pine Cone above a trendy womens' clothing boutique for insights into the race. The free Pine Cone has sold more than 100 of its $10 "Clint Kits" -- 16-page packets of Eastwood clippings -- and fielded inquiries from, among others, Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, the New York Review of Books and "Good Morning America."
Down the street, Laub's Country Store sells "Go Ahead Make My Day, Clint for Mayor" T-shirts faster than "Dirty Harry" (Warner Bros., 1971) Callahan goes through bullets. But store owner Paul Laub, another mayoral contender, requires customers to buy a companion "Go to Bat for Laub" shirt.
"It's my way of invoking the fair-time rule on Clint," Laub said of the $11.95 package deal.
Cartoonist Garry B. Trudeau spoofed the mayoral race in a week of Doonesbury cartoons now hanging in Eastwood's headquarters. ("You shouldn't squint so much, dear. You'll get crow's feet," Rep. Lacey Davenport warns Eastwood in one strip.) A local television station, fearing that it would have to provide other candidates equal time, pulled an Eastwood movie, "Bronco Billy" from its lineup Sunday night.
And voter registration in the town of 4,800 residents surged by 461 after Eastwood announced Jan. 30, spurring the League of Women Voters to knock on doors to ensure that all those who registered live in Carmel.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to the sleepy town of Carmel," said Pine Cone Managing Editor Mac McDonald.
Carmel residents, older (the median age is 50) and wealthier (the median price of a home sold in February was $244,000) than the national average, have taken steps to preserve the town's quaint charm against the year-round onslaught of tourists. City approval is required for everything from cutting down a tree (each is carefully catalogued) to putting up a sign. Frisbee playing is banned in the city park. Although public consumption of ice cream cones is not outlawed, "EATING ON THE STREET IS STRONGLY DISCOURAGED," a Carmel Business Association pamphlet advises.
Some residents and many business owners contend that such regulation has gone too far. Eastwood, who decided to enter Carmel's political ring after a battle with the city last year over his plans to build an office complex next to the Hog's Breath Inn, has pledged to bring a "spirit of cooperation" to town affairs.
The nonpartisan race includes a fourth candidate, environmentalist and singer Timothy Grady, who said he wants "to see deer walking through downtown Carmel." Pine Cone pundits say the real battle -- still too close to call -- is between Eastwood and Townsend.
Eastwood's candidacy has not exactly made Townsend's day.
"The normal campaign in our village is conceived at the kitchen table and involves a few hundred dollars to print up something to be handed out at the post office," said Townsend, a former librarian whose tastes run more to public television than the Eastwood oeuvre. ("I didn't even know who Dirty Harry was," she said. "I had a friend explain it to me.")
Eastwood, Townsend complains, has spent "A Fistful of Dollars" (United Artists, 1967) on the race, investing $24,000 on telephone polls to test Carmel's political waters before deciding to run.
Townsend, seeking her third term, portrays the battle as one of residents against the "developer- and business-oriented government" that she contends Eastwood would bring to City Hall. Her campaign slogan: "If you want progress, don't vote for me."
As the campaign enters its final days, Eastwood is making the normal rounds of a mayoral candidate, discussing such issues as how to solve the parking problem and where to build a library annex.
"He's walking the streets, ringing doorbells, has at least three or four coffees a day in private homes," said Eastwood volunteer Betty Ghent, a Carmel matron wearing a button saying, "Promise Me Anything, but Give Me Clint for Mayor."
Still, a movie star has a slightly different effect on the voters than the ordinary office-seeker.
"It's a real shock to open the door and see Dirty Harry there, but he's doing it, going to block parties, teas," said Bill Brown, co-owner of the Pine Cone.
At a recent Eastwood tea, Carmel resident Karen Wright said, "I noticed some of the gals from the neighborhood who I had never seen in makeup were wearing makeup."
Not everyone is "Beguiled" (Universal City Studios, 1970) by Eastwood's candidacy. "It makes the town a laughingstock," resident Iona Logie said during a stop at the post office to pick up her mail. "I have nothing against Mr. Eastwood as a man or a an actor but he has no experience in government."
For Eastwood, a registered Republican, the mayoral race is his one shot at political stardom. "My political ambitions," he told the local Republican womens' club, "start and stop with Carmel."