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.
Marcie Hodge is a surprising candidate for mayor. Her most recent bid for public office — 2008's city council race — was resoundingly unsuccessful, and her tenure on the board of the Peralta Colleges was marred by a scandal in which she used a college credit card to pay for $4,000 worth of clothing and other expenses. (Hodge said she always planned to pay the money back, which she did.) In person, she's easily rattled and has a hard time completing a full sentence. At the League of Women Voters' debate last month, she stumbled conspicuously. Whether this was nerves or lack of preparation isn't clear, but it didn't help voters get a sense of who Hodge is and what her ideas are. Meanwhile, her web site is blanketed in platitudes like "Our children are our future and they deserve a rich and successful educational experience."
So it's hard to get a handle on Hodge's platforms and priorities, but she intends to promote healthy living, public safety, and life-sustaining jobs. Hodge says she wants to revitalize Oakland's economy by providing tax incentives to businesses, create job-skills training programs for industries like biotechnology and renewable energy, and "really focus on the port as an entity." Much of her crime-prevention strategy centers around job creation and anti-truancy programs, and she has not taken a stance on the number of police officers the city should have.
Hodge maintains that her biggest assets as a candidate are the fact that she's an Oakland native, that she has a willingness to "work full-time for the city of Oakland," and that she has done work on a Ph.D in organizational psychology. Beyond that, she seems a bit confused about what sets her apart from other candidates. Hodge is also casting herself as an alternative to "career politicians" despite the fact that she herself has served on the Peralta board since 2006 without holding another job. "I see it as different," she said when asked about this incongruity in a recent interview. "It's promoting education." She also said that she entered the race because "there was no voice for the apathetic young person, for the single mother," though she herself doesn't identify as a part of either of these groups.
Call Terence Candell's campaign office headquarters and you'll be greeted by a thunderous voice declaring that "it's a brighter day in the City of Oakland: Terence Candell is the next mayor of Oakland." It's aspirational, theatrical, and perfectly fitting for a candidate who hasn't shied away from bold gestures and language. His campaign web site invites voters to "feel the winds of change" and declares him to be the "People's Mayor." And last month, Candell made waves by being the only candidate who didn't attend the biggest and most well-attended public forum on the mayor's race thus far. Initially, organizers stipulated that only front-runners attend, though that was later rescinded. But Candell went ahead and held his own event instead.
The candidate's booming voice mean he's often mistaken for a preacher — indeed, at the August 25 Sierra Club Green Forum, he had to explicitly tell the crowd otherwise. He's actually the executive director of a private school in Oakland, Candell's College Prep, and before then, he worked as a teacher and administrator at various East Bay schools. In a recent interview, he ticked off his qualifications: "Nobody has my track record as an educator; nobody has my background," he said. "I'm the only one who has the oratory skills; I'm the only one who can make peace on our streets."
His plans also veer toward the larger-than-life: One of his biggest platforms is a development that would include a theme park, roller rink, and bowling alley. He'd like to implement a 1-percent commuter tax and construct three toll booths on local freeways as a means of building revenue from folks who work in the city and live in the suburbs. All told, he expects these measures to bring in almost $200 million annually and go a long way in closing the city's budget gap. He's proposing youth centers as an alternative to hiring more police officers, and has placed job creation — including a $100-million mayors' job program — at the top of his list of priorities. Though he acknowledges that some of his ideas may be unorthodox, he said he intends to "make innovative changes and think outside the box."
"We need to elect a representative that's going to be powerful," he said. "That's Terence Candell."
It takes a certain kind of person to run for mayor of Oakland, get 1 percent of the vote — and then decide to run again. Arnie Fields is ceaselessly optimistic about the city of Oakland and, especially, himself, even though he's presented some unorthodox ideas.
Fields' biggest priority as mayor would be to eradicate a litter problem that he believes is a major contributing factor in the city's public-safety and economic woes. "I believe that litter is the biggest problem facing this city," he said in a recent interview, drawing a connection between litter and other, more serious crimes. He says he would like to make littering illegal in the city and use city funds to implement a K-6 litter education program. Fields also strongly believes that former Mayor Jerry Brown "brought in an elitist agenda" by privileging homeowners over renters and gentrifying West Oakland; one of his main platforms would be to eliminate corruption that he believes began with Brown and has now spread to all corners of city government. Beyond that, his ideas for the city include creating drop-in anti-truancy centers around the city and forcing police officers to contribute to their pensions.
Fields, who owns the Revolution Cafe in West Oakland, is the race's only Republican, though he's quick to say that all this means is that he's pro-business and pro-entrepreneurship. "I'd like to get the city out of people's pockets," he said, though he failed to explain how that idea is consistent with the public programs he would like to implement.
"My heart is in the right place," he said. "I am your next mayor." (Despite the rhetoric, Fields is all but invisible online. As of press time, his only apparent campaign media was a short YouTube video that contained links to inactive web sites.) Fields continued, saying "I haven't given up on this town," and then referred to Oakland as "a giant titty that everyone thinks they can milk."
In many ways, Larry Lionel "L.L." Young Jr. is the race's least experienced candidate. At thirty, he's the youngest by several years, and he's never run for office or owned a business before (though he's quick to point out that he's the only candidate in the field with an MBA, from the University of Phoenix's San Jose campus). He has no campaign web site or manager, doesn't affiliate with a party, and said he hasn't raised any money whatsoever. "We're doing this grassroots," he said. "Extremely grassroots."
Nonetheless, Young says he's in the race to win. Though he seems to have made little effort to build the kind of presence one typically needs to win a race like this, Young is charismatic, well-meaning, and undeniably earnest, if politically naive. He said he's been doing copious research about other cities' public policy since he declared his candidacy; thus far, this has led him to advocate that the city beef up its jobs-training programs as a crime-prevention mechanism, renegotiate contracts with all departments, and — his biggest platform — create its own "municipality" (he means municipal utility). However, without a web site or office, many of his positions are still unclear. He is one of two candidates who failed to fill out Make Oakland Better Now's extensive questionnaire, which is posted publicly and designed to help voters get a sense of each candidate's positions. At the largest debate thus far, League of Women Voters' forum last month, he didn't take a position on parcel taxes X, V, and BB, and instead suggested that audience members vote for "L.L."
This statement — as well as his catchphrase, "Vote LL and Oakland will be well," which he repeated several times — drew some of the loudest laughs at that debate, but even Young admits that it's not exactly clear who the joke's on. "I think some people are laughing with me and some people are laughing at me," he said. He maintains, however, that his particular blend of experiences makes him the best candidate for mayor. Currently a real estate agent, Young has also worked as a substitute teacher in Berkeley and Oakland schools, as well as an anger management teacher. He also cited his experience as a student athlete, amateur pianist, and extra in the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness as further assets to his potential mayoralty.