Want a Key to the City? Just Ask

Mark Malkoff (l) receives key to the city of Decatur, GA from Mayor Bill Floyd (r).
Mark Malkoff
Mark Malkoff, 33, isn't a hero. He's not a famous athlete, He's not a dignitary. The man is completely undeserving of the honor about to be bestowed upon him.

So why then, did the Mayor of Trenton, New Jersey award him the key to the city? Because Mark asked for it.

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CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports how two months ago, this comedian and filmmaker started cold-calling mayors, curious to see if any of them would even consider giving up a key.

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"My friends were like, 'there's no way mayors will give you keys to cities. You're a regular guy, why would they possibly give you a key,'" Malkoff said.

His friends were wrong.

"Actually, the very first call I made they said yes right away," said Malkoff.

From Highspire, Pa. to Milwaukee, Wis., Mark has collected 95 keys to 95 cities. In exchange, he did community service.

Malkoff said, "I did everything from reading to school children, to planting trees, I did composting in Milwaukee to promote urban gardening."

Still, you're not supposed to get a key to the city for doing public service and being an all around nice guy -- that's what Nobel Peace prizes are for. The key to the city used to be prestigious. And only in recent history have we been giving them to every Saddam, Dick, and Harry.

Saddam Hussein got the key to Detroit in 1980 -- after donating a quarter of a million dollars to a church. In 1994, New York gave one to an obscure Finnish rock band called the Leningrad Cowboys. A few years later New York gave another to a 12-year-old little league phenom -- right before he was kicked out of little league for actually being 14.

Also, the keys themselves seemed to have lost some luster. In Trenton - it's not even a real key. What was once a great honor - is now reduced to a photoshop certificate for anyone who asks. Anyone.

Trenton's Mayor gave Hartman a key. He also gave one to the cameraman on this story, and a guy they met at lunch. He even gave Hartman a blank key, to be given to some random person some day.

The recipient of that blank key? Katie Couric.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.