Noe Valley Voice July-August 1999

'SuperBooty' Runs for Mayor:
Mark O'Hara Is S.F.'s Answer to Jesse 'The Body' Ventura

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

Last November, when he heard that pro wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura had won an upset victory in the Minnesota governor's race, Noe Valley resident Mark O'Hara got a rush.

"I realized that all bets were off," says the 36-year-old musician, "and that voters were very interested in candidates with new ideas."

He also realized that a person of Ventura's caliber could shake up the mayor's race in San Francisco. And who better to do it than the lead singer for the funk-disco band SuperBooty?

O'Hara, a computer animator by day and the "Duke of Retro Disco" by night, threw his hat in the ring later that month.

He bombarded the local media, as well as CNN and Rolling Stone magazine, with press releases announcing his candidacy for mayor. He informed them that he was founding the Booty Party and that he wanted to put a giant disco ball on top of City Hall. His bottom line: He was going to "funk this town up." He was even thinking of running under his stage name, Skippy Tornado.

The reaction was predictable. "The S.F. Weekly picked up the story and wrote this great article about my campaign. It was exactly what I needed to show people in San Francisco that someone was willing to stand up and run against Willie Brown."

But what happened next came as a surprise. Local members of the Reform Party, the political party of Ventura as well as of billionaire Ross Perot, called and asked to meet with O'Hara to discuss supporting his mayoral bid.

"I was quite nervous because that really would make this a serious thing," he recalls. "[But] I knew that running my own party wouldn't have a lot of momentum because I didn't have many resources at my disposal."

He talked over the idea with his parents, who live in Palo Alto, and decided it couldn't hurt to meet with the Reform group. "Four of us met for an hour and a half, and saw totally eye to eye on what the problems are in San Francisco, statewide, and nationally. We just had this wonderful time together," O'Hara says.

Reform Party Makes It 'Real'

Two weeks later, the Reformers visited again, bringing along Jim Mangia, the national secretary of the party (as well as a 1990 candidate for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a Reform candidate for California lieutenant governor in 1998). At the end of the session, they asked O'Hara if he wanted to receive their help and make his campaign "real."

"I said, 'Absolutely.' I saw this as a beautiful thing, that they saw something in me that would spark voters in San Francisco to go out and vote."

On April 21, O'Hara officially announced his candidacy on the steps of City Hall. Although the Reform Party numbers only a hundred or so members in San Francisco and is just two years old, O'Hara is pleased to be the party's candidate for mayor.

"I like the idea of being part of something in its early stages," he says. "We can cut through so much bureaucracy. We decide what we want to do and we do it. It's not like there are a lot of meetings to go to and a lot of politics getting in the way."

Since his announcement, O'Hara has been spending 20-plus hours a week on his candidacy -- attending coffee klatches in members' homes, building a campaign web site, giving interviews, and rallying voters at his SuperBooty shows.

"We will go anywhere the people want to discuss how San Franciscans can work together to create a different and more democratic way of governing our city," he says. "If you aren't registered to vote, we'll ask you to register. If you aren't registered independent, we'll ask you to register Reform. And no matter how you're registered, we're going to ask you to endorse election reform."

Inspired by Perot, Bock, and Ventura

Although O'Hara says his parents were politically minded when he was growing up -- marching with Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. -- O'Hara shied away from politics until recently.

"I voted for Ross Perot for president in 1992," he says. "That's when I really started thinking about politics. I was just so happy to see him involved, pointing out major flaws in our government and political system and the election process.

"Some people say to me, 'You don't have any experience. How can you possibly be mayor?' But that's exactly the approach we believe is necessary to make things better -- having normal, everyday people in office who aren't interested in becoming career politicians, who can see things from a fresh perspective based on common sense and practicality rather than on cronyism and favoritism. We think the more experience you have, the more beholden you become to special-interest groups, especially if they're funding your campaign."

In addition to Perot, O'Hara admires Audie Bock, the Green Party candidate who recently beat out former Oakland mayor Elihu Harris for a State Assembly seat. But he's thoroughly disgusted with the two major political parties.

"I don't know of any politicians in the Democratic or Republican parties that I respect," he says. "I can't imagine anyone even being in one of those parties after the impeachment trial. I'm surprised that people haven't left those parties in droves."

The top priority of his campaign, says O'Hara, is "opening the political process in San Francisco." He wants citizens to sign a Reform Party petition, which calls for same-day voter registration and for campaign debates that allow all qualified candidates to participate.

"Jesse Ventura was able to shock the world and win election because Minnesota had an open campaign system," says O'Hara. "When people who haven't voted for years take active interest again, it energizes everyone."

O'Hara is also appealing for Ventura's support. He'll attend the Reform Party's state and national conventions this summer and hopes to meet Ventura. "I don't want to promise he'll endorse," O'Hara says, "but it would sure be nice."

Like his role model, O'Hara has his own special moniker. "I'm Mark 'SuperBooty' O'Hara. You're allowed to have a nickname on the ballot, and a lot of people know SuperBooty," he says. "We want to take advantage of that, so people know who I am and where I come from."

Playing Funky Music Is Main Gig

O'Hara was born in 1962 in Newark, New Jersey. In 1965, his family moved to California. After spending his youth in Palo Alto, O'Hara attended Chico State University, graduating with a degree in communications in 1987.

Two years later, O'Hara moved to San Francisco to take a job with Macromedia, a multimedia software company. He worked there and as a producer for CK Media before he formed his own independent multimedia design studio -- Skiptronics -- in 1993. His specialty is creating CD-ROM interfaces and custom web sites, browsers, and animations.

For the past six years, O'Hara has resided along with two cats in a boxy two-bedroom apartment on 29th Street. "I love Noe Valley," he says. He discovered the neighborhood when he came up from Chico once to record an album at Mobius Music on Sanchez Street.

Since 1995, when he formed SuperBooty, O'Hara's multimedia business has taken a back seat to his music career.

"SuperBooty has become my life," he says. "It's definitely a full-time job, managing a 15-piece band and being the booking agent and the webmaster and promotions person. I do it all."

SuperBooty plays at clubs like Bimbo's and Slim's, as well as at corporate parties, several times a month. Last New Year's Eve, the group played the ritzy Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Created to "honor the memory of America's wildest decade," SuperBooty is to disco what Spinal Tap was to British rock, says O'Hara, who sings lead vocals while wearing a red shoulder-length wig. Band members don loud chiana or spangled shirts and dresses, tacky platform shoes, and heavy gold chains to play a set list pulled straight from 1975, including such numbers as "Disco Inferno," "You Sexy Thing," and "Super Freak."

O'Hara gets a kick out of using the band's celebrity in his campaign. "It's a starting point that people can relate to that's exciting and entertaining," he says. "[But] I want to transcend it and take it to another level, a serious level. I don't want SuperBooty to be my whole platform."

Only a $50,000 Campaign Chest

Although O'Hara is no fan of Willie Brown, he also doesn't blame Brown for all that ails San Francisco.

"I don't think a lot of the problems we have here in San Francisco are Willie Brown's fault," he explains. "I think it has to do with the system we're governed by and an election process that seems to exclude independent voices.

"The Democratic Party has had a hold on San Francisco for 20 or 30 years now. There's a tremendous amount of money going into campaigns -- independent candidates can be outspent by so much. Willie Brown is probably going to spend over a million dollars. Clint Reilly the same thing. To have that much money at their disposal really can send their messages far and wide, even though their messages are pretty tired and outdated."

O'Hara says his campaign will not accept special-interest money. "We feel it's immoral. It pollutes the entire process. Officials are worried about who they owe a favor to rather than listening to the voters. We think we can run a really great campaign with $50,000."

If he is elected mayor, O'Hara says he's not worried about working with the career politicians who inhabit many elected offices in San Francisco. He also thinks that some city supervisors will be relieved to have him at the helm. "A lot of them are afraid of crossing Willie Brown and speaking their minds," he says. "Willie Brown, I think, penalizes people who don't agree with him and rewards people who do, and a lot of that would be gone.

"What I'm going to tell them if I become mayor is that the only time I'm going to be angry with them is if they start making decisions based on something besides common sense and practicality. I don't want people in office who are robots."

Muni Should Run on Time

O'Hara has yet to come up with a platform on many issues affecting the city, such as traffic and parking congestion and the lack of affordable housing. He did, however, talk with the Voice about his thoughts on Muni and the homeless.

On Muni: "It gets down to some pretty basic things. Trains don't run on time, and people want the trains on time. They want Muni employees to have the same type of work requirements as regular people. They shouldn't be allowed to just not show up for work and not be penalized....

"With Muni, as well as with other city agencies, it seems like we reward mediocrity. Seniority is what gets employees raises, not performance. I don't think that'll fly anymore. The unions have gotten a sweetheart deal, and they're trying to hold on to that for dear life. When I read some of the things Muni employees are allowed to do, I just can't believe that a contract like that would be signed."

Homeless Should Be Drug-Tested

On homelessness: "My personal views are kind of unique in that area. I was talking to the percussionist in our band, a city employee of South San Francisco, and that city actually random drug-tests him and other people. Random drug-testing is required for many state, national, and local employees.

"Then I thought about homeless people. I can understand that they're down on their luck and a lot of them need help, and I think I'd be perfectly happy to help them 150 percent if they could prove they were sober and willing to turn their life around. If they're drinking or doing drugs and they're so screwed up by them that they can't seek work and don't want to help themselves, I don't think it's up to the city to support them. But if they are willing to be responsible, we should give them everything we possibly can....

"Some people will scream at the idea of random drug-testing people -- like it's criminalizing the homeless -- but I really don't think it is criminalizing if federal, state, and city employees are required to do it. I think it's a valid thing.

"If the homeless can prove they're willing to turn their life around, then we should definitely help them out."

Put Everyday People First

But O'Hara still believes that little will be accomplished if a system favoring incumbents and big spenders doesn't change.

"I could have a solution that's a hundred percent successful for Muni, for example. I could have a way of fixing it, and even if I was certain that it was going to work, considering the system we have, what difference would it make?

"The problem is that lots of candidates make promises they can't keep. All those issues really don't make any difference if the political system is polluted. If decisions are being made, not based on what's good for the voters and on common sense and practicality, but on who owes who a favor or what contract should be awarded to this or that group, these issues are never going to be solved, because the voters are not being put first. Everybody else is: City Hall, political consultants, lobbyists, big business, developers, and special-interest groups.

"My campaign is completely about everyday people getting involved in the process. That's what's missing. A lot of people at City Hall have no idea what normal people in San Francisco want or need. They're completely out of touch, and I want to change that."