Retired businessman Greg Harland is positioning himself as a no-nonsense businessman who can turn Oakland's budget around — and it's clear that he's crunched the numbers. His web site contains detailed calculations of city redundancies and an in-depth plan for amending the city budget. And, in person, he'll happily discuss the ins and outs of municipal budget matters with the patience of a schoolteacher and the understanding of an expert.
Harland is one of many candidates in the race casting himself as an antidote to "career politicians" Jean Quan, Rebecca Kaplan, and Don Perata, but he's perhaps the most vitriolic in describing his opponents: He has an entire page on his web site entitled "anybody but Don [Perata] 2010," and declares that "actions of career politicians are proven failures." By contrast, Harland — who has owned various businesses over forty years and says he liquidated his assets in 2006 when he saw the recession coming — touts this as the kind of practical experience Oakland needs. "Honestly, the little bit of business experience the other candidates have is very limited," he said. "Someone with a lot of business experience can bring a lot to the table."
Not surprisingly, Harland — who grew up here but ran a string of Southern California startups before returning — is making the budget his marquee issue. He's believes in reforming police and firefighter pay, which he notes is inflated in relation to comparable cities. This, he says, will allow the city to beef up its police force to 1,050, the optimum size for the city, based on Justice Department calculations. He's also been a vocal supporter for more active use of the city's "Enterprize Zones" to provide tax incentives for small business and stimulate growth. He's against ballot measures V, W, and X because he believes that "more taxes won't solve our problems; they'll just delay them." Though Harland is a Democrat, he's also a believer in the power of the market and wants to use economic levers to address crime by attacking unemployment. "We need long-term change," he said. "And we need someone with the business knowledge to make that change."
For one of the race's lesser-known, less-funded candidates, small-business owner Don Macleay has been working hard to make his presence known. He was among the first to officially declare his candidacy, has set up a web site and blog as active as some of the campaign's front-runners, and his schedule shows him crisscrossing the city for a full slate of public forums, press conferences, and appearances. He also has a developed organizational infrastructure behind him in the form of the Green Party brand name, as well as a dedicated campaign manager, Orlando Johnson, who also entered the race before dropping out. Although at 43, he has never run for office before, he says he's interested in being a career politician and is trying to lead his candidacy in a professional way. "I don't see anything wrong with being a professional politician or being a policy wonk," he said. "I'm trying to be ready to win the election."
In a race crowded with bigger names, this will, of course, be an uphill battle. He has yet to rack up any big-name endorsements, and as of the August filing deadline had only raised $1,607 in the first six months of 2010. (He also drew criticism from some local bloggers early on for what some saw to be positions antithetical to Green Party philosophy, including doubts about Bus Rapid Transit.) Currently the manager and majority owner of a small computer networking company, Macleay touts his administrative and technical skills as a machinist, independent businessperson, and electrician, as well as his experience as a local activist, volunteer, and longtime resident. "I was telling Rebecca Kaplan the other day that I could take one of her fuel cell buses apart and put it back together," he said. "I have a common citizen's view of a lot of this. I have a manager's view and a working-man's view. I have a better mix of skills for making these decisions."
As for his platforms, Macleay said, "the sound bite is 'schools up, crime down.'" What that means practically is that Macleay would like to see schools used more like civic centers, and set up afterschool support systems for truant students, though he's emphatic about not wanting to interfere in schools' operations and has expressed skepticism about charter schools. He also told the Express he'd consider suspending the city's redevelopment agency and putting the money into schools and the general fund.
As for the second half of the sound bite, crime, Macleay is a strong proponent of restorative justice and community policing — a Green Party tenet — and in this regard places himself to the left of Kaplan and Jean Quan. In a statement released last week and coauthored by Kaplan, he advocated for more civilianization of the police department, though he has yet to take a stance on the exact number of police officers the city should have.
Macleay said he believes the city's budget problems are too complicated to be dealt with piecemeal, so, unlike other candidates, he'd like to reform the city's budget and charter by calling a budget convention and implementing a "pay-as-you-go budget." He'd also like to cut a deal with the police to put an end to pensions that aren't funded, and proposes changes to the city's zoning and permitting processes to further attract small business.