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The contender

Mayoral candidate Matt Mackey invites New Times for a ride along his campaign trail.

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It was 10 a.m. Matt Mackey’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 — 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 didn’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 Farmers’ Market. It would be all in a day’s work for the third-year political science major who aims to take over the mayor’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 “Mackey For Mayor� 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.

“Yeah,� he said. One magazine “told me, ‘We don’t consider you that real of a candidate so we’re going to give you a paragraph in the story and that’s about all you’re going to get,’ and that’s basically what the Tribune has done, too.�

Although Mackey has been interviewed a couple times by local media, he said the coverage overall has been pretty weak.

“They may think it’s a good story; it’s funny and interesting, but [they say], ‘You’re not a real candidate so we’re not going to give you the same amount of attention as [Booker or Romero].’�

Matt Mackey’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 didn’t think he was serious.

“Everyone says he’s running just ’cause,� one said.

Since Mackey moved in this summer he’s pretty much been set on running for mayor, said his roommate, Brad Hersom, who mentioned he’s on Mackey’s staff. Apparently all of Mackey’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.

“It was basically something I had thought about in high school when I figured out I was going to go here,� he said. “My goal is one day to run for the state assembly or congress. Basically you’ve got to start local. So I figured if there’s any place where I had a chance at winning a local election it would be in a college town.�

A big part of Mackey’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 that’s required to submit a bid) — the county clerk had never seen this done before.

Some have painted Mackey as the spoiler candidate, but he didn’t think that held up.

“This guy e-mailed me and basically suggested that I drop out of the race because I’m going to be a spoiler for David Booker,� said Mackey. “And he says, ‘Do you really want Dave Romero to win, or David Booker? You’re going to make it so Romero wins, and you don’t want him to win at all.’ And then he equated me to Ralph Nader.�

Mackey was genuinely surprised.

“To me, that argument is ridiculous because I feel like every vote I get is a vote I earned, not something I’ve stolen away from another candidate,� he said. “And the other thing is I’m probably going after a base that wouldn’t otherwise vote had I not been running. So I just didn’t even bother responding to him. It was just ridiculous.�

Mackey said if he can mobilize a quarter of the Cal Poly student body to cast a ballot, then he’s got a good chance of winning.

Perhaps Mackey’s most major setback has been the misconception that he’s a one-issue candidate. And that concern, the city’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 Mackey’s quest, it appeared obvious that he was not just campaigning on a “fight for your right to party� platform.

“What ultimately did it was the way the city handled Mardi Gras,� he said. “It was a huge mess because the city didn’t take into consideration what the students wanted, and they didn’t ask students for solutions. And they ended up having a riot. Now they’re planning for a riot this year, and I think it’s basically going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.�

 

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 SLO’s Monday Club, where he was featured as the week’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 Mackey’s backyard, the Monday Club may as well have been in another country. The Kiwanis members were very hospitable to Mackey, but he didn’t receive quite the same reception as he did on campus.

Despite being repeatedly introduced as “Matt Maskey,� he took to the podium in relaxed manner. He told the group that he’s a “political novice running for office … and that’s the beauty of democracy.�

In his speech he hit on some issues that the group probably didn’t expect from the “Mardis Gras candidate,� such as housing problems; telling the group there’s a “fundamental problem� when teachers, police officers, and firefighters can’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 he’d like to see city vehicles run on natural gas or electricity. Even though SLO has fantastic air quality, it’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 … radio.

 

On the air with Congalton

Before he headed to KVEC for “The Dave Congalton Talk Show,� Mackey went back to campaign headquarters — his home. Mackey lives with four roommates in a surprisingly clean house in SLO. It’s decorated with standard college fare —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 didn’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 didn’t work out; he was looking for a political commentator.

Although Mackey may have impressed Congalton, his opponents don’t seem to feel too threatened by his challenge.

“I think he’s a very bright young man, but he has no experience in city government,� said Mayor Dave Romero. “I think he’s primarily a one-issue candidate.�

“I find him to be a very intelligent, articulate young man,� said David Booker, who is also running for mayor.

If Matt Mackey doesn’t win this time around, it probably won’t be the last you’ll hear from him. His contingency plan is law school. After that, back into politics.

“The kid’s got his game together,� added Booker. “If he wants to be in politics, he can do it.� ³

 

Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at

jpeabody@newtimesslo.com.

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