Bryan Parker burst onto Oakland's political scene last spring with a stunt that garnered considerable publicity. The former tech and health-care exec publicly vowed to challenge Jean Quan in the 2014 mayor's race if donors would contribute at least $20,000 to his campaign in ten days. Using the crowdfunding site Crowdtilt, Parker reached his goal in less than 24 hours — and then exceeded it, raising $59,000 by July 1. Since then, he's hauled in more cash than any other Oakland mayoral candidate.
As of December 31, the most recent campaign filing deadline, Parker, who was appointed to the Oakland port commission by Quan, had raked in a total of $184,724, outdistancing the mayor, who had raised $160,834. San Francisco State University professor Joe Tuman hauled in $155,300. Oakland Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who entered the race in late 2013, pulled in $124,210 in a little more than a month of fundraising. The two other major candidates in the race — City Auditor Courtney Ruby and civil rights and labor attorney Dan Siegel — entered the contest after the filing deadline, so their fundraising totals are not yet public.
Parker's position as the frontrunner in the mayoral money race is somewhat surprising considering that he has never held elected office and was largely unheard of prior to his Crowdtilt campaign. Quan, by contrast, has held elected office for nearly two decades, first as an Oakland school board member and then as a member of the Oakland city council, before being elected mayor in 2010. Tuman is also relatively well known. The longtime television news analyst ran for mayor in 2010. Schaaf, meanwhile, was elected to the council that same year and has been active in Oakland politics for more than a decade. And Ruby is the only other candidate in the race besides Quan to win a citywide contest. As for Siegel, he was twice elected to the Oakland school board and has been a prominent East Bay attorney and political activist for decades.
Although Parker's fundraising prowess is noteworthy, it's unclear whether it will translate into electoral success. Several polls have shown him running no better than fourth place. "Fundraising is one thing, getting elected is another," said Barry Barnes a longtime Bay Area political strategist who managed Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates' winning campaign in 2012. Barnes also believes that the $400,000 spending cap in Oakland's mayoral race will prevent Parker from leveraging his campaign treasury effectively against the other candidates. What also may hurt Parker, Barnes said, is the bare-bones nature of his platform and his lack of experience in public office. "A candidate will be judged by their platform and accomplishments more than their fundraising prowess," he said.
Although Parker has held house parties and knocked on doors in each of Oakland's council districts over the past several months, he remains a mystery to many city residents. In an interview, he espoused several different political positions, a few of which seem to contradict each other. For example, he championed the virtues of supply-side economics, sounding like Ronald Reagan or a chamber of commerce CEO. He also said he opposes a plan to raise the minimum wage in Oakland to $12.25 an hour. But he also invoked Martin Luther King Jr., saying he wants to shut down the prison-industrial complex. When speaking, Parker often gets ahead of himself, enthusiastically laying out half of one idea, then interrupting himself to explain half of another before pivoting to make an entirely different point. His enthusiasm and earnestness are apparent.
To date, however, Parker hasn't released any detailed information about his political platform. Other than a few disparate blog posts and a couple of YouTube videos, his ideas about how he would run Oakland and solve its many problems remain unknown. He says he'll kickstart job creation and make the city safe. He also says he's concerned with poverty and inequality, and that he wants to unite the city around progressive values. But he has yet to reveal how he plans to accomplish those goals.
In an effort to understand what Parker would be like as mayor, we decided to look where he does have a record: the private sector. And what emerges is a portrait of a man who enjoyed success as a top executive of a giant health-care company that depends heavily on federal taxpayer subsidies and has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in legal settlements stemming from allegations of fraud, wrongful death, and corruption. What also came to light are his ties to companies that hope to profit from Bitcoin, a highly volatile and controversial cryptocurrency that Parker says may be the secret to helping Oakland residents escape from poverty.
After graduating from NYU law school in 1995, Parker began his career at a business law firm working closely with corporate clients. From there, he jumped to Wall Street, working as an investment banker from 1998 to 2003, first at Merrill Lynch and then at SG Cowen. His first executive job at a tech company was with iPass, Inc., a manufacturer of communications equipment. Parker's LinkedIn page explains that he "played a central role in the process of [iPass] going public." iPass's initial public offering did quite well: Share prices soared 58 percent in its first thirty days of trading, from $17 to $27. But since then, the company has fallen on hard times. Today, iPass's shares trade for a mere $1.53, and last year the company lost $3 million.