Coney Island’s unofficial “mayor” Dick Zigun has reached a settlement with the freaky arts organization he co-founded, which he says allows him to retire with dignity and pursue other interests.
The “permanently unelected mayor,” known for founding the Mermaid Parade and leading the annual procession with a top hat and bass drum, was fired from Coney Island USA at the end of 2021, following a protracted dispute over the terms of his retirement and succession, and the intellectual property rights to stage the parade.
Zigun would not discuss the terms of the settlement — which he said he’s barred from doing “for the rest of my life” — but described it as “amicable” and comprehensive, with the parties never setting foot in a courtroom as previously feared. And following weeks of uncertainty, the settlement allowed him to march in this year’s Mermaid Parade, the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The parade was a good parade. It’s a huge success for the neighborhood just to reestablish the Mermaid Parade,” Zigun told Brooklyn Paper. “Hopefully attendance will grow again if it’s on a regular schedule next year and the year thereafter, the size of the crowd will grow again. It was down a bit, but it was a wonderful parade.”
The 69-year-old carny did not pound his iconic bass drum, which he said he will no longer do owing to arthritis, but he nonetheless was able to take his place marching along the parade of oddballs he founded nearly 40 years ago, and cut the ceremonial ribbon to the parade’s costume pageant.
Zigun is no longer affiliated with Coney Island USA — which he co-founded in 1980 as the People’s Playground was in crisis, and in the years since has revamped the peninsula’s image as a carnival of the bizarre, with the Mermaid Parade running since 1983 and the Coney Island Circus Sideshow since 1985. Over the years he became arguably the most prominent public face of the peninsula, save for the iconic Funny Face.
Zigun has been succeeded as the organization’s artistic director by sword-swallower Adam Rinn, whom he said he’s known and worked with for years, but he has not been to a show at the group’s Surf Avenue building since his canning.
But the mayor has plenty of other projects in the pipeline to keep busy. He is currently working for Luna Park as a consultant, where he is devising performances and entertainment programming in newly-constructed plazas as the park prepares to open two new rides, a rollercoaster called Tony’s Express and a log flume called Leti’s Treasure. “Bring your own poncho,” he said regarding the latter.
He’s also shopping a pitch to television networks for a reality show about the peninsula and its sideshows, in which he would star. He’s also in talks with the Theater for the New City, an avant-garde playhouse in the East Village, to potentially become its playwright-in-residence.
“Even though I’m old, I’m still a weirdo,” he said.
The possibility of Coney’s most prominent denizen in a legal battle over his creations had been an upsetting one to many local residents and fans of the local freakshow, with one clown and sword-swallower even resigning in protest. Coney resident and Zigun supporter Katie O’Donnell said that she is relieved to see the settlement.
“I am so relieved,” O’Donnell told Brooklyn Paper by text message. “Now we can all move on and strengthen our connections and community.”
Zigun also said he has no qualms over another famous Coney Islander who fashions himself the peninsula’s mayor: Gorilla Nems, the homegrown local rapper who coined the viral phrase “bing bong.”
“I’ve seen his TikTok videos, which are awesome,” Zigun said. “And when I started calling myself the Mayor of Coney Island, it upset this local guy who hung out at the Chamber of Commerce, and it was his job to go put posters up everywhere. So, everybody’s free to create their own persona, and good luck to him.”
Coney Island USA executive director James Fitzsimmons did not respond to a request for comment.