It was 10 a.m. Matt Mackeyâ€™s classes were over for the day so he went home to change into the pants of his dark-gray suit and to brush his teeth. The 20-year-old was wearing part of the same suit and blue shirt pictured on his campaign leaflets and web site.
Without the tie and jacket, he seemed to be attempting to strike a balance for his first campaign stop at Cal Poly â€” respectable, but not too straight. This was Politics 101 and it was clear Mackey got it; dress for your audience with a clean, polished smile.
Mackey was starting one of his more hectic campaign days since he announced his candidacy in August, but he didnâ€™t seem fazed. His schedule for the day: the Student Union at Cal Poly, a Kiwanis luncheon, a guest spot on the Dave Congalton radio show, and his old electioneering standby, the Farmersâ€™ Market. It would be all in a dayâ€™s work for the third-year political science major who aims to take over the mayorâ€™s office in January and graduate in June.
Mackey on campus
Because Mackey had so many places to go, he avoided the bus. He drove his car, a red Chevy emblazoned with a â€œMackey For Mayorâ€? sticker on its rear window, up to campus.
While we were jockeying for a place to park, Mackey explained to his press pool of one that Cal Poly was planning on expanding buildings onto some of the parking lots with no plans for creating new ones. This, along with high parking rates, was not wise, said Mackey.
After finding a space, Mackey headed over to the Student Union. With a bag of blue campaign buttons, a stack of leaflets, and one yard sign all advertising his web site Mackeyformayor.com, he was ready to lobby his fellow students. I asked Mackey about the race so far and whether he feels the press has ignored him.
â€œYeah,â€? he said. One magazine â€œtold me, â€˜We donâ€™t consider you that real of a candidate so weâ€™re going to give you a paragraph in the story and thatâ€™s about all youâ€™re going to get,â€™ and thatâ€™s basically what the Tribune has done, too.â€?
Although Mackey has been interviewed a couple times by local media, he said the coverage overall has been pretty weak.
â€œThey may think itâ€™s a good story; itâ€™s funny and interesting, but [they say], â€˜Youâ€™re not a real candidate so weâ€™re not going to give you the same amount of attention as [Booker or Romero].â€™â€?
Matt Mackeyâ€™s quest for the head desk in town is anything but a joke. While he talked to students, his Sigma Nu brothers agreed that a lot of people didnâ€™t think he was serious.
â€œEveryone says heâ€™s running just â€™cause,â€? one said.
Since Mackey moved in this summer heâ€™s pretty much been set on running for mayor, said his roommate, Brad Hersom, who mentioned heâ€™s on Mackeyâ€™s staff. Apparently all of Mackeyâ€™s friends have given themselves official-sounding titles.
But Mackey has had his campaign in the works for some time. He tried to run for mayor as a freshman but because he was living in the dorms, which are technically on unincorporated land, he was not eligible.
â€œIt was basically something I had thought about in high school when I figured out I was going to go here,â€? he said. â€œMy goal is one day to run for the state assembly or congress. Basically youâ€™ve got to start local. So I figured if thereâ€™s any place where I had a chance at winning a local election it would be in a college town.â€?
A big part of Mackeyâ€™s campaign has been registering voters. Mackey is probably the only candidate who has had to register his base vote. This was also the tactic he used when he filed for the mayoral race. Mackey registered 20 people to vote while collecting their signatures for his bid (20 registered voter signatures and county residency are all thatâ€™s required to submit a bid) â€” the county clerk had never seen this done before.
Some have painted Mackey as the spoiler candidate, but he didnâ€™t think that held up.
â€œThis guy e-mailed me and basically suggested that I drop out of the race because Iâ€™m going to be a spoiler for David Booker,â€? said Mackey. â€œAnd he says, â€˜Do you really want Dave Romero to win, or David Booker? Youâ€™re going to make it so Romero wins, and you donâ€™t want him to win at all.â€™ And then he equated me to Ralph Nader.â€?
Mackey was genuinely surprised.
â€œTo me, that argument is ridiculous because I feel like every vote I get is a vote I earned, not something Iâ€™ve stolen away from another candidate,â€? he said. â€œAnd the other thing is Iâ€™m probably going after a base that wouldnâ€™t otherwise vote had I not been running. So I just didnâ€™t even bother responding to him. It was just ridiculous.â€?
Mackey said if he can mobilize a quarter of the Cal Poly student body to cast a ballot, then heâ€™s got a good chance of winning.
Perhaps Mackeyâ€™s most major setback has been the misconception that heâ€™s a one-issue candidate. And that concern, the cityâ€™s handling of the Mardi Gras riots, is not exactly a popular stance around which to rally. Although Mardi Gras may have been the catalyst for Mackeyâ€™s quest, it appeared obvious that he was not just campaigning on a â€œfight for your right to partyâ€? platform.
â€œWhat ultimately did it was the way the city handled Mardi Gras,â€? he said. â€œIt was a huge mess because the city didnâ€™t take into consideration what the students wanted, and they didnâ€™t ask students for solutions. And they ended up having a riot. Now theyâ€™re planning for a riot this year, and I think itâ€™s basically going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.â€?
Speaking at the Kiwanis Club
After politicking with his fraternity brothers at the Cal Poly Student Union, Mackey headed over to the Kiwanis luncheon at SLOâ€™s Monday Club, where he was featured as the weekâ€™s speaker. But before he met Kiwanis members he stopped back at his house to put on his tie and the rest of his suit. Mackey grabbed the black leather folder with his speech and was ready to go.
If the Student Union was Mackeyâ€™s backyard, the Monday Club may as well have been in another country. The Kiwanis members were very hospitable to Mackey, but he didnâ€™t receive quite the same reception as he did on campus.
Despite being repeatedly introduced as â€œMatt Maskey,â€? he took to the podium in relaxed manner. He told the group that heâ€™s a â€œpolitical novice running for office â€¦ and thatâ€™s the beauty of democracy.â€?
In his speech he hit on some issues that the group probably didnâ€™t expect from the â€œMardis Gras candidate,â€? such as housing problems; telling the group thereâ€™s a â€œfundamental problemâ€? when teachers, police officers, and firefighters canâ€™t afford to live in the town where they work. So Mackey proposed courting commercial developers who would be willing to build homes. Similarly, he talked about rezoning parts of the city. His plan was to build pre-fab houses, but not the stigmatized ones; newer, aesthetically pleasing, well-built, cheaper homes. This would help younger families build equity, he said to the group.
He also announced heâ€™d like to see city vehicles run on natural gas or electricity. Even though SLO has fantastic air quality, itâ€™s our duty as Californians to help the environment, he said.
And Mackey said he wanted to bridge the gap between the youth and older citizens of SLO County, a task he says he is uniquely capable of performing.
After his speech Mackey took a couple of questions from the crowd, and then departed for his next appointment â€¦ radio.
On the air with Congalton
Before he headed to KVEC for â€œThe Dave Congalton Talk Show,â€? Mackey went back to campaign headquarters â€” his home. Mackey lives with four roommates in a surprisingly clean house in SLO. Itâ€™s decorated with standard college fare â€”bottles like trophies on the top of the kitchen cabinets, an Xbox video game system on the living room floor, and an empty fish tank.
It was time for a wardrobe change. Mackey took off his suit and put on radio attire: shorts.
Mackey didnâ€™t seem nervous about sitting down with Dave Congalton. During commercials, the two talked about council meetings and gossiped about local politics. They agreed about who they thought was going to win the city council elections and both acknowledged similar political favorites as well. At the end of the show Congalton told Mackey to give him a call if the mayoral race didnâ€™t work out; he was looking for a political commentator.
Although Mackey may have impressed Congalton, his opponents donâ€™t seem to feel too threatened by his challenge.
â€œI think heâ€™s a very bright young man, but he has no experience in city government,â€? said Mayor Dave Romero. â€œI think heâ€™s primarily a one-issue candidate.â€?
â€œI find him to be a very intelligent, articulate young man,â€? said David Booker, who is also running for mayor.
If Matt Mackey doesnâ€™t win this time around, it probably wonâ€™t be the last youâ€™ll hear from him. His contingency plan is law school. After that, back into politics.
â€œThe kidâ€™s got his game together,â€? added Booker. â€œIf he wants to be in politics, he can do it.â€? Â³
Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at