Mark O'Hara's campaign for mayor of San Francisco began as a joke. Fed up with local politics, he decided to send a press release announcing his candidacy to local papers. The leader of the 15-piece '70s funk and disco band SuperBooty and small-business owner (he's the sole proprietor of Skiptronics, a software company), O'Hara thought nothing would come of his announcement. But the S.F. Weekly ran a short item on his candidacy, which was read by the local chapter of the Reform Party, which wanted to make O'Hara its candidate. Inspired by the recent success of Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, O'Hara agreed. On April 21 the blond, bespectacled 36-year-old announced his candidacy on the steps of City Hall and the Reform Party began showing up to register voters at SuperBooty performances. O'Hara stopped by Salon's offices last month to discuss his race for mayor.
So, when did you decide to run for mayor of San Francisco?
November of last year, after Jesse Ventura's victory in Minnesota. It proved that an independent candidate could win and could win a high office. At the time I was really frustrated also. I had lived in San Francisco for 10 years. I saw how politics operated in the city and was disgusted with it, but never felt like I could do anything besides vote. Even when I did do something else, it didn't seem like it ever mattered. All the newspapers were saying that Willie Brown didn't have any competition, that he would win hands-down. It made me really mad.
When I get frustrated, I usually do something creative. I decided to send out a press release to all the local papers, and the S.F. Weekly covered it. They ran this tongue-in-cheek article in the section called Riff Raff. The S.F. Reform Party found the article and they called and said, "We are interested in supporting your campaign. We would like to meet with you." I was somewhat nervous about that because it added a whole new level of seriousness.
But this all started as a joke, right?
It was kind of a joke, yes. It was publicity for my band, SuperBooty, and I thought at the very least somebody should stand up and do something. I met with the chair of the San Francisco Reform Party and we had this great hour-long conversation, met totally eye-
Most people think of voting for a third party as throwing away their vote.
I think that is true in some ways. They think that third-party candidates don't have a chance in hell of winning. But I believe that voting for politicians, career politicians, people who are part of a corrupt system, like the Democratic Party seems to be in San Francisco, is throwing away a vote. That is just like saying, we accept mediocrity. We accept corruption and we accept things working out for a very small demographic.
Are people taking you seriously?
A lot of people ask me that -- how can we take you seriously, or why would anyone vote for you? We are taking it very seriously. If you look at the candidates so far and what the polls say, no one is really happy with the main candidates. Jesse Ventura proved that anyone has a chance and he was a straight shooter. He spoke from the heart. He wasn't afraid to make a mistake. He did make mistakes, but he didn't pull any punches. He spoke his mind and he didn't have any political baggage. That is what we are doing and I think that will really resonate with a lot of people.
What are your key issues?
Our platform is reforming the government. Getting all the money out of the campaigns. Getting just regular everyday people into office. All the experience that our elected officials now have hasn't made this city any better, because they are not really listening to the voters. They are not really putting them first. Everyone else is put first -- special interest groups and political insiders, lobbyists and developers.
Another thing that Minnesota had, which really helped Jesse Ventura, is same-day voter registration. If you weren't registered to vote, you could register and vote on the very same day. It is a wonderful idea; a lot of young people who had never registered before understood that, oh my gosh, this is Election Day. I can still go in and vote. Here in San Francisco if you have not registered by Oct. 1, you're out of luck.
Have you met Mayor Willie Brown?
Once when he was actually running across Union Square, shopping with his bodyguard, I waved to him and said hello. This was a couple of years ago. He was at the Gay and Lesbian Parade Concert last year and SuperBooty played at it. My girlfriend took a picture with him and she was trying to find me so I could get a shot with him. It is so unfortunate that I don't have that now. It would have been great. I would put it in the paper like he endorses me or something.
SuperBooty played at this year's Black and White Ball. This guy I know is on the entertainment committee and so is Willie Brown. It is Willie Brown's thing. And they are having this meeting about the different bands that are playing and this guy said, oh yeah, SuperBooty is playing. And Willie Brown was like, what?
He knows about you?
Yes, he knew. He knows. He swore. He said, "Who the fuck is that guy?" I think he was all mad or something.
Have the other SuperBooty members been supportive?
Pretty supportive. Some people in the band aren't politically active at all. Some think that we might get gigs out of it or some notoriety. The Reform Party has been coming to our shows, putting up a banner and registering people to vote. We are also having what we call booty bashes at people's houses to raise money, and the Reform Party is going to all the street fairs this summer to campaign -- going to the parks for barbecues and concerts -- other concerts that SuperBooty is not playing at. The last thing we want to do is do what all the other politicians do, which is have these $1,000-a-plate dinners. We think those are a pretty sad commentary on politics.
I can see where young people are going to say, "Yeah, that's cool; I'll vote for you." But how are you going to convince the old folks on Social Security?
I don't think we are going to try to push any one particular demographic. A lot of politicians will say anything to get someone's vote and they'll change what they say depending on who they are speaking with. We are not going to try to pick people who are old, or the Chinese vote, the Irish vote, the Italian vote, the black vote. Whatever the typical campaign strategies are for the politicians here, we are going to do the exact opposite.
What about once you're mayor? Your platform seems mainly to address campaign issues.
I am going to actually listen to the voters. I mean, that is what the whole thing is supposed to be about. I can look at different things, legislation or different bills that are coming across the table from a very unfettered perspective, a pure perspective. I am not interested in being a career politician so I am not going to have to worry about my future or offending people. I think a lot of people on the Board of Supervisors are very afraid of going against Willie Brown's plans. I don't have any great plans for agenda items that I am going to try to fix. I don't want to make any promises like that.
Would you keep playing for SuperBooty if you were elected?
You can't. In the City Charter it says you are not allowed to work in any other endeavor if you're mayor. As long as I just volunteered my time, I guess they couldn't prevent me from doing it.
I think it is really smart for the Reform Party, the local chapter, to be able to pick someone like me who is an entertainer, who has some personality and possibly some charisma. I think a lot of our problems can be solved if we had more creative people in office. I don't think lawyers and career politicians are very creative people.
What do your parents think of your campaign?
They love it. My mother always said that I had some responsibility to do some civic duty, to volunteer. My father said that it was very courageous and brave of me to do this. He thought that he couldn't do it. He is retired, so he is a quieter type person. But they are very proud.
What do the people you've talked to so far have to say about your campaign?
Every person I have talked to said they would vote for me. Maybe there is some value they see in me because of what I did with SuperBooty -- something that is really organic and just special and funny and sexy and wonderful. Maybe they see that as some sort of a leadership quality. We are going to have fun with this. When is the last time you saw a campaign that was fun? The whole thing is very serious. Very, very cutthroat, and we are just not going to do any of that.
Do you worry about being a target of mudslinging?
The No. 1 thing is that I don't have any experience. That's what they're going to say. I consider that to be a total asset. But what could they possibly say? I mean, it's SuperBooty. I am the lead singer of a 15-piece funk band.