Hodge campaign spending raises questions
on November 1, 2010
Marcie Hodge surveys the crowd gathered in front of Booker’s Market at Olive Street and 90th Avenue in East Oakland. A police officer sits in an unmarked squad car in the store’s parking lot. Cigarette butts and broken glass line the edge of the sidewalk. Hodge bends down to talk to two men in a parked SUV. She hands the man in the passenger seat a flyer. “You running for mayor?” he asks. “I’m fittin’ to run for mayor too.”
Marcie Hodge, a youthful African American woman with shoulder-length hair, a beaming smile and a long political history, is canvassing a part of Oakland where few of the other mayoral candidates would venture. As she walks the streets of the neighborhood bordered by MacArthur and International Boulevards, just southeast of the Oakland Coliseum, residents gravitate toward Hodge. “Are you Marcie?” says another man in front of Booker’s, as he takes a campaign flyer from Hodge. “Why didn’t you say nothin’?”
Here in the community where she was born and raised, Marcie Hodge is greeted by encouraging words from residents. Outside East Oakland, her reception as a mayoral candidate has been more complicated. Hodge’s campaign spending and qualifications for office have come under scrutiny from city leaders, fellow candidates and the media. She has launched a media blitz of billboards, TV advertisements, and campaign mailers, but as of Friday she had not filed the required paperwork detailing how her campaign acquired the money to pay for it all, and one local newspaper went so far as to suggest that Hodge might be working with frontrunner Don Perata to attract African American voters away from his nearest competitors. Those rumors, combined with mishaps and mistakes in prior campaigns and her current role as a Peralta College Trustee, make Marcie Hodge one of the most controversial candidates on this year’s ballot for mayor of Oakland.
The Hodge campaign office is sandwiched between her mother’s Pentecostal church and the “Homeboys and Girls Market” on MacArthur Boulevard near the corner of 75th Avenue. The narrow two-room office is sparsely furnished with a wicker sofa, a few plastic tables and chairs and a chalkboard hanging on the wall. A clock radio is tuned to an all-news radio station as Marcie Hodge hands a thin stack of papers to each of her three gathered volunteers. They pull out their cell phones and begin their phone banking of Oakland voters.
Hodge sits at a desk facing the street. The office’s thick metal screen door is locked shut, but it does not prevent the noise of MacArthur Boulevard from pouring in. She takes a bite of pasta from a plastic Tupperware bowl before picking up her cell phone.
“Hi, this message is for Mr. Dawkins. This is Marcie Hodge. I’m running for Oakland Mayor, and I’m asking for your support.” She personally calls each name on a list of what she calls high-propensity voters, or voters who have participated in the last three elections.
The 36 year-old Hodge is already well-versed in campaign strategy. She was born near Sobrante Park in East Oakland and attended Sobrante Park Elementary School before her family moved to a house just behind Oakand’s Lake Chabot golf course. Hodge and her two younger siblings, Jason and Nicole, sold errant golf balls that landed in their backyard for extra spending money. Hodge attended Merritt College and what was then Cal State Hayward, but her interest in politics began much earlier with her brother Jason’s campaigns in their grade school hallways. “Usually my brother was at the helm, creating chaos,” she says. “We’d make a campaign against a teacher, we’d have a march against a teacher. We’d create a petition to get rid of our principal with all of our student body.”
Now Hodge is navigating her third major political campaign. In 2006 she challenged Desley Brooks for her seat on the Oakland City Council and lost. In 2008 she was elected to the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees. And in August she threw her hat into the ten-ring circus that is this year’s Oakland mayoral race.
All ten candidates will be on the ballot on Tuesday, including front-runners Don Perata, Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan. But Hodge is running her latest campaign without the help of her brother Jason Hodge, who was also her political confidante. In December 2009, at the age of 34, Jason passed away from a heart attack. He remains one of Hodge’s inspirations, she says, in her run for mayor.
“People would always ask him, ‘When are you going to run for mayor?’” says Hodge of her brother, a Skyline High graduate who went on to become the youngest-ever Oakland school board member while still attending UC Berkeley at age 21. “We knew he was gearing himself up for that. We both talked a lot about what we thought about Oakland, why it can’t be a more prosperous city for people.”
Hodge fiddles with her fingernails and leans back in her chair. “It’s difficult. I know my brother would say, ‘Just keep pushing, it’s just a finite amount of time.’ It’s something that my brother would have wanted to come to fruition. We were really close.”
Now, on a warm and sunny Tuesday, one week before the election, Hodge has loaded up the trunk of her Jeep 4×4 with “Marcie Hodge for Mayor” signs and leaflets. Two of Hodge’s volunteers ride along while Paul Garcia, her 23 year-old campaign manager, drives separately. The plan is to canvass the six-block area around 80th Avenue and International Boulevard―a neighborhood Hodge says strongly supported her Peralta College campaign.
As Hodge makes a right turn on to 82nd Avenue, a much larger version of herself towers over MacArthur Boulevard. One of her campaign billboards sits above a supermarket, showing Hodge in a purple dress, with her arms folded across her chest and a serious expression on her face. The advertisement stands out from the area’s empty lots and boarded-up storefronts ― just as it does in a political race in which even some of the most well-funded candidates do not have the media saturation of Hodge’s campaign.
Hodge says she has about 15 billboards across Oakland. In addition to producing mailers and radio ads, Hodge broadcasts television ads on local television and even has a Spanish-language version on YouTube. Other mayoral candidates are among the Oaklanders wondering how she can she afford to pay for all of this, and why she appears so determined to make the investment.
“I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it seems like an extraordinary amount of money to spend when you don’t have a chance to win,” said Jean Quan, Oakland City Council member and a candidate for mayor of Oakland. “She has an amazing amount of money for billboards.”
To date, Hodge has not submitted the paperwork required of all candidates in California who spend or raise more than $1,000. Not filing, or filing late, is a violation of the California Political Reform Act and could result in a fine of up to $5,000 per violation, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Joe Tuman, Oakland mayoral candidate and political commentator, estimates that any candidate purchasing similar campaign materials would far exceed the $1,000 filing threshold.
“A one-page mailer, when you factor in the printing costs, mailing costs, and the rest of it (costs) $15,000 to $20,000,” said Tuman. “If you’re doing that, and buying billboards and the rest, then you have some serious money behind you.”
Hodge did not report a source of income on her statement of economic interest, a mandatory form filed by all candidates for public office. But Hodge says she works as a consultant and online teacher, and earns a biweekly salary of $750 as the director of the Saint James Boys Home in Oakland. She declined to provide detailed spending information for her campaign, but estimates that she lent herself about $5,000 in the week prior to the election. When asked why she has not filed the required campaign finance documents, Hodge replied, “I just missed the deadline. The forms from this campaign will be there to review. They are just late.” Hodge’s campaign treasurer and mother, Yvonne Hodge, was not available for comment.
Hodge does not have polling data for her campaign. But if as most experts say, she is not in a position to win, why spend what appears to be a large sum of money on her run for mayor? For Hodge, the answer lies in the streets of East Oakland.
“People around here want jobs―they need a second chance,” says Hodge as she walks up 90th Avenue with a stack of flyers in her hand and a wide-brim visor shading her eyes. “I talk a lot about a job skills training plan and for pushing for Oaklanders to be hired first.”
Hodge says she wanted to run because she was not satisfied with the platforms of the other nine candidates. In addition to job training, Hodge wants to establish a citywide health initiative, create small neighborhood police precincts, and offer tax incentives to attract more large businesses to Oakland.
She strides confidently down the cracked sidewalk as she and her volunteers split up to canvass one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of the city. She walks briskly from house to house, leaving rolled-up flyers in fences and jiggling iron gates to warn potential guard dogs before entering a property.
At one house she encounters a Spanish-speaking family, quickly switches to rudimentary Spanish, and hands over a flyer. Outside a fenced-in apartment building, a new Oakland resident marvels at seeing a mayoral candidate “doing the footwork.”
Hodge’s eyes are fixed in a permanent half-squint. Her gait slows as the morning turns into afternoon. She says that until two weeks ago she would canvass seven hours each day and would often work at her campaign office until 2am. She says she has lost ten pounds, sometimes forgetting to eat. Nevertheless, while canvassing, Hodge is in her element.
“This is my favorite part,” she says, as she waves to a resident through a screen door. “The forums are the same 50 people. You never get to meet the real people who actually vote for you.”
Hodge and her brother canvassed this same area for their past campaigns – Jason, for school board and Marcie, for city council and the Peralta board. “I walked a lot with my brother,” she says. “Over 16 years we’ve watched kids grow up until they graduated.” Hodge sees two mechanics in an auto body shop on International Boulevard and hands them leaflets through the iron fence. “That’s why I’m pushing for police officers to walk the neighborhoods,” she says. “It’s not as bad as people think, once you get to know the neighborhood.”
After a day of canvassing, Hodge now switches out of campaign mode to fulfill her duty as a Trustee on the Peralta Community College District Board. She and the six other Peralta Trustees participate in a workshop in the board’s public meeting room. Hodge sits on the far right, facing a public audience of four. She leans on her elbow and rests her chin on her hand as the other trustees engage in a heated conversation. Hodge begins to pack up her bag before the meeting adjourns.
Hodge, now in her second term as a trustee, serves the most southeasterly portion of Oakland. But her stint has been marred by a credit card controversy and a reputation for spotty attendance and a lack of engagement.
According to a July 2009 investigation by the Oakland Tribune, Hodge used her Peralta College District credit card to make personal purchases that included clothing at boutique stores in Las Vegas and New York. There was no policy in place at the time specifically prohibiting personal use of the district cards, and Hodge says she paid all the money back. “I, Marcie Hodge, absorbed every penny that was spent on my card as a personal expense,” she says. “It didn’t affect my ability to be financially responsible.”
In addition, Peralta faculty and staff say Hodge appears disengaged and often misses meetings. “I would say that she is sort of a cipher on the board,” said Mathew Goldstein, spokesperson for the Peralta Federation of Teachers. “She is difficult to read. She doesn’t speak up at meetings. She misses quite a few.”
“Marcie was not always paying attention, it appeared,” Debby Weintraub, President of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, said of Hodge’s performance at the bi-monthly trustee meetings. “It appeared that she was looking through newspapers or sorting through mail. There appears to be more energy and interchange among the other board members at board meetings.”
According to Peralta records, Hodge was consistently absent from her assigned informational committee meetings dating back to 2009. Of the four committees on which she is listed as a member, including the policy review and student services committees, Hodge was absent for 12 of the 17 meetings. Under Peralta bylaws, attendance is not mandatory.
Hodge’s record also includes disciplinary action. In November 2005, the Peralta board censured her after a contentious debate surrounding the district’s international education program.
But on the campaign trail, Hodge appears unfazed by her checkered past and more focused on the future. On October 5, Hodge’s sister, Nicole Hodge, filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court against the East Bay Express and Robert Gammon, the author of the articles linking Hodge to Don Perata. The suit calls statements in the articles “false and libelous” and requests punitive damages in the amount of $20 million.
According to Hodge, she met Perata for the first time at this year’s mayoral forums and has no connection to his campaign. “It was false reporting, and it’s as far as I’m concerned, sexist, classist, and racist,” says Hodge when asked about the series of columns written by Gammon about Hodge’s run for mayor. “To me, that’s saying African Americans don’t have the ability to support a formidable campaign. I’ve been involved in politics for many years. I don’t have to sit down and get permission to run for an office so I can pull away support for someone else.”
Perata spokesperson Rhys Williams denied any connection between Perata and Hodge, and called “absurd” the suggestions in the columns, which quoted other city political figures speculating that the Perata campaign might be helping finance Hodge in order to “siphon votes,” as Gammon wrote, from mayoral competitors Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan.
“There is no evidence supporting what he’s saying, none at all,” said Williams. “I can’t see how (the article) comes to the conclusion that if you support Marcie Hodge, somehow you’re going to knock someone else off the ballot.”
A black SUV with chrome rims drives slowly past Hodge as she finishes her canvassing in East Oakland with Jeania Hearne, one of Hodge’s youngest volunteers. “Vote for Marcie!” yells the man in the passenger seat. Now, as two young men approach from behind, Hearne quickens her pace to catch up with Hodge. Hearne was robbed recently near San Francisco and she stays close to Hodge as she glances over her shoulder. The men walk around the corner and out of sight.
“This is about the safest place you’ll ever be,” Hodge says.
Now back behind the wheel of her grey Jeep, Hodge drives up 90th avenue toward campaign headquarters. She memorizes the households along the route that requested campaign signs. Hodge handed out all her signs for the day and will have to return with more.
“It feels good,” she says. “We want to see exactly how our hard work has paid off. The pressure will soon be alleviated, and I can rest.”
Clarification: This story was updated on Nov. 1 to clarify that Robert Gammon’s reporting did not directly accuse Marcie Hodge of taking Perata campaign funding to run her mayoral bid. The columns instead discussed speculations to that effect by other politicians and Oakland political observers.
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