On a recent Saturday night, Don Macleay, one of the seven people running for a District 1 City Council seat, stood in a backyard in North Oakland to speak about the Green Party platform driving his campaign. Wearing a jacket with embroidery representing a machine and manufacturing labor union, a t-shirt labeled “Quebec Solidaire,” and faded jeans, Macleay got up from a red velvet couch and addressed the nearly 100 people who had turned out for Oakland Nights…Live, an outdoor alternative talk show intermittently broadcast on OaklandNightsLive.com. Flanking him were four of his competitors: Amy Lemley, Richard Raya, Dan Kalb and Len Raphael.
Macleay used his few minutes at the microphone to talk about prioritizing the needs of young people and reducing local crime. “The reason I got off my tail and decided to run for office in Oakland is I felt like we’re not doing enough,” he said. “And I really don’t feel like we’re doing enough for young people. When half of them aren’t graduating from high school, that ain’t cool.”
He spoke about ending both the city’s gang injunctions, court orders meant to restrict the movements of people with gang affiliations. “It’s divided our community,” Macleay said. “It’s treating people unfairly, and it’s damaging us.” He talked about supporting Occupy and all peaceful acts of civil disobedience. He talked about how at his business, a computer repair company in North Oakland, he has hired parolees and people in drug rehabilitation programs. And he talked about re-organizing the city’s budget so that more money is spent on housing and programs for young people. The crowd—prompted by an “applause” sign raised by a guy nursing a Sierra Nevada—cheered at his various proposals.
In 2010, Macleay (pronounced Muh-Clay) ran for mayor in Oakland and lost to Jean Quan. He received less that 2 percent of the vote. If the 54-year-old Temescal resident wins this November election, he will be the only Green Party-identified candidate and the first non-Democratic candidate elected to council since Republican Dick Spees in 1998. To distinguish himself from his mostly Democratic competitors—a party he refers to as “the coalition of the spineless”—Macleay has lauded his campaign finance numbers at debates, and has billed himself as the alternative candidate who can’t be bought.
When a caller at Oakland Nights…Live dialed in to ask the candidates what set them apart from one another, Macleay said, “I guess my answer is: ‘It’s the money, stupid. I have 1,500 reasons why I’m different. That’s all my campaign finance funding.”
As of September 30, Macleay’s filings show that he has raised $1,524 for his city council run. One friend donated $600, another $200. The rest of the money came from people who have given $99 or less to his campaign, he said. Promoting his campaign’s platform to a larger audience without much funding has been difficult, he said, but Macleay would rather go the grassroots route than be indebted to his endorsers. “We never take corporate money, ever,” he said of the Oakland Green Party, which he joined more than a decade ago. “I should not be taking any money from any organizations that I feel will be a conflict of interest.”
Macleay has largely advertised his candidacy via “Elect Don Macleay” doorknob hangers that he and a few volunteers have hung on neighborhood houses. On a recent Friday, he weaved around Telegraph Avenue with his friend Torger Johnson, climbing every stairwell and slipping a business card under every car windshield wiper until well after sundown. After dropping more fliers and cards off at local businesses—pagan supply shop Ancient Ways, The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse—he handed out more business cards to passers-by and homeless people whom he spotted along the way to Art Murmur, where he would continue to canvass. In one instance, Macleay tapped on a car window to hand a business card to a man who appeared to be sleeping in his car.
Macleay said he’s more concerned with increasing the number of voters than in persuading more people to vote for him, which is why he attends most candidate forums, no matter the size of the crowd. His indiscriminate mode of campaigning is partly the reason why he considers himself to be this race’s alternative candidate. “I wouldn’t be insulted by being called an old hippie,” said Macleay, who wears a beard, carries a tie-dye Timbuktu backpack, and usually sports a Green Party logo on his t-shirt. Macleay identifies with the Green Party, he said, because it supports racial unity, open sexuality, art, religious freedom and peace. “We believe in learning from the environment, that the environment has gotten where it is for a reason,” Macleay said. “We take our leads from feminism. We’re very much a civil rights organization.”
Vicente Cruz, a Green Party member since 1991 and the treasurer for Macleay’s campaign, said the Oakland Greens and the Alameda County Greens support Macleay because he represents the party’s ten key values, which include keeping money out of politics, not participating in rampant consumerism, and respecting diversity. “He’s an environmentalist and an activist and everything he says he actually does,” Cruz said. “He’s willing to connect with all segments of our community.”
While running for office, Macleay is currently on leave from People United for a Better Life in Oakland, a youth advocacy organization where he serves as a board member. If he wins the election, he’ll have to resign from the nonprofit indefinitely, since it receives money from the city.
Macleay’s political leanings are largely the result of the years he spent living and working abroad, first in Canada, then in Nicaragua, and then in European countries. Born in 1958 in La Jolla, California, Macleay spent his early life moving between countries because his dad was a Marine based at Camp Pendleton. He grew up in Canada, where he went to trade school to study to be a general machinist. “I was a high school dropout,” Macleay said. “That’s why I decided to go back to school and do something that paid better.”
In the 1980s, when he was in his 20s, he moved to Nicaragua, where he lived during the Sandinista Revolution, a ten-year civil war between a US-funded dictatorship and guerilla forces. The violence claimed the lives of 60,000 people, including a few Macleay knew. At a recent candidates’ forum on hunger and poverty hosted by the Alameda County Community Food Bank, Macleay talked about having only rice and beans to eat during his eight years in Nicaragua. “It’s very hard for us here, unless you have experience in the Third World, to understand the type of poverty we have in Nicaragua,” he said. Macleay’s experiences overseas he said, are among the reasons he decided to join the Oakland Greens, as the city’s Green Party group is called.
After leaving Nicaragua, Macleay lived in West Germany, Italy and France. It was in these countries, he said, where he learned that governments could promote the public’s wellbeing by providing entitlement programs such as national healthcare. “In Canada, I never had to worry about any healthcare issues,” he said. Macleay often refers to Canadian and European policies when talking about programs he would like to institute in Oakland. Programs normally managed at the state and national level in the US could be offered by the city, Macleay likes to say. For instance, he proposes that city council help local businesses privde provide healthcare to employees. He’s not exactly sure how the city would do this, but he wants to ask the question if elected to city council. “I think the local government should concern itself with the quality of jobs, with the standard of living of our local employees,” he said.
Macleay’s concern with working conditions is the result of his blue-collar worker status. He spent most of his life as a factory worker—punching a timecard, earning an hourly wage—and usually as a union member. “That informs my view of the world a lot,” he said. By day, he works at East Bay Computer Services, a computer repair business he owns on 40th Street in the Temescal district. Macleay also owns the apartment building he lives in, which is attached to his business. His company provides healthcare for four out of its five employees. (One employee declined the service.)
Providing basic benefits for workers is one way to deter crime in Oakland, Macleay said. He believes that people generally turn to crime because it pays more than working for a company that doesn’t value its employees or provide basic benefits. “Why would you work for $10 an hour somewhere, to earn close to nothing, be treated poorly, have a job that precarious, have no basic benefits?” he said. This is why part of his crime reduction plan involves increasing worker wages through municipal ordinances. “What’s minimum wage now is $8 an hour,” he said, referring to the California rate. (The federal rate is lower, $7.25 per hour.) “I would start somewhere at $15-an-hour minimum.”
Another proposal Macleay would make if elected, he said, is hiring more civilians to work in the police department. “I would like to see civilians doing the fingerprinting,” he said. “I’d like to see civilians dealing with taking the crime reports. I’d like to see civilians being problem-solving officers.” Having civilians in these roles, he said, would be beneficial because communicating with the public is generally not a part of police training. “ Would you want an armed officer working in the library with the teens?” he said. “Or would you want somebody who’s a civilian with a police department business card in the their pocket working with our integrated teens out of juvenile hall and helping shepherd their progress toward being regular school attendees?”
Many of Macleay’s other proposals involve re-appropriating public spaces so that they serve the city’s needs. Macleay proposes expanding libraries, schools, parks, and recreation centers into multi-use civic centers. Oakland owns a lot of real estate, he said, “so there are certain programs that should never not have a home.” At the hunger and poverty forum, candidates were given a list of questions about food access, including one about where students can go when the school lunch program is not running because the school is closed. Macleay interpreted the question as one about closing schools for summer break. “Why is the school closed?” Macleay later asked. “The civic center aspect of the school should stay open.”
Macleay’s interest in school and youth issues stem from his being a public school parent. Every Tuesday, Macleay drives to Manzanita SEED Elementary School in East Oakland, a bilingual school where his 9-year-old son Sam is a student. (Macleay also has a 22-year-old son who attends UC Davis.) At Manzanita, Macleay works in the school’s custodial office, refurbishing computers that are then placed in its classrooms and libraries. Macleay said being in the Green Party helps him tackle the underlying political issues that affect his son’s school, and volunteering is his way of dealing with the school’s more immediate needs. “I have to think about what I can do right now to make my kid’s school run better,” he said. “It’s not particularly altruistic.”
At Oakland Nights…Live, Caitlin Healy, a teacher at Howard Elementary School, asked the candidates why rich people don’t send their kids to public schools. “It’s all underfunded,” Macleay said. “Even the ones with the good PTA. You want to see how poorly funded they are, you go down there and try to fix the computers.”
Macleay hopes his hands-on experience with some of the issues affecting Oakland will swing the vote in his favor. He knows that, if elected, many of his proposals might not receive the second vote needed to make it onto the city council agenda. His plan to hire more civilians for the police department, for example–“I probably won’t get that,” he said. “That might be a fight.”
But Macleay said he’s braced to rouse community support for his proposals. “If I get elected, they will have one of the troublemaking activists who’s usually out there in the gallery—the one where they’re cutting the seats to get rid of us—they will have one of us sitting out on the podium,” he said.
This is one of a series of profiles of all seven candidates running for the Oakland’s District 1 seat on the city council.