For Steve Hadley, is boss Donna Frye a help or a hindrance? Photo by David Rolland.
Wearing a soft blue tie framed by a gray suit and white dress shirt, Steve Hadley looked the part of a guy running for City Council: nondescript but respectable. Sitting in front of a crowd that had gathered in the Mission Valley library a few weeks back, his neat, graying hair and wire-frame glasses completed the picture.
Hadley introduced himself: He's a former pastor who cut his political teeth in the blood-sport events that are church board meetings. That drew a few laughs from the crowd, but, later, in an interview with CityBeat, he acknowledged that not everyone gets the joke. Usually, those are the same people who've never had the experience of picking out new sanctuary carpet by committee, Hadley said.
Then, he took a turn most wouldn't see coming from a man who counts time as a minister as a defining part of his life.
“I'm also pro-choice, and I believe in marriage equality,” he told the Mission Valley crowd.
Hadley, the soft-spoken chief of staff for termed-out City Councilmember Donna Frye, whose seat he seeks, is a low-key guy who lacks name recognition beyond City Hall. Despite being Frye's anointed successor—or, perhaps because of that—Hadley's fundraising trails the other candidates. Democratic former Assemblymember Howard Wayne is at the top with more than $100,000 in contributions, according to the most recent campaign-finance reports, and Republican Lorie Zapf is a distant second with about $35,000. Both also have a good amount of cash on hand. Hadley's campaign, though, which he's largely self-financed, has about $7,000 in outstanding bills and less than $2,000 in cash. In total, not counting money he's lent himself, his campaign has raised about $15,000.
Given the number of former City Council chiefs of staff who've easily followed in their bosses' footsteps—Toni Atkins, Jim Madaffer, Ralph Inzunza, Charles Lewis and Tony Young, for instance—it's odd that Hadley's not doing better.
Chris Crotty, a Democratic political consultant, said Frye's hard-line stance against developers and lobbyists with interests in District 6 might be hurting Hadley's fundraising efforts: “Look at the district: Mission Valley, Serra Mesa, Kearny Mesa, Clairemont, Linda Vista and Mission Bay. Other than a few developers, car dealerships, hotel owners, and the Chargers, all of whom Donna pissed off, there are no donors with an interest in what the city does.”
Hadley said he expects to make it out of the primary in June (unless one of the five candidates gets a majority of votes, the top two will compete in a run-off in November), but it's not going to be an easy few months. And, he pointed out, contributions are generally down across the board, even at the national level. So, though he admits money is important, he made the decision early on to refocus his campaign on grassroots efforts and knocking on doors.
So, how does a progressive pastor negotiate the campaign trail?
As much as he makes it a point to tell voters he's a pastor, he also makes it a point to tell them that his beliefs about many social issues might not match what most churchgoers hear from the pulpit Sunday mornings. “It's who I am, and I don't apologize for that,” Hadley said. “I don't want people thinking that I throw that out there to just get votes, because I've seen so many people do that.”
Even if that were his strategy, it probably wouldn't work, anyway. Religious conservatives who'd normally flock to a candidate who's been to seminary are often turned off by Hadley's positions on social issues. Likewise, liberals hear the label “pastor” and immediately worry that his social-justice, everyone-is-equal mantra is little more than lip service.
Most people, though, are at least willing to hear him out.
“I think we're at a point right now where people are actually willing to listen to who they're voting for,” he said.
Listen, maybe, but not always agree. Hadley said it depends on which crowd he's with. Voters in Hillcrest love that he supports marriage equality (but they do “like to see it's more than just rhetoric” first) and will look past the aversion many of them have to organized religion and anyone associated with it. More conservative voters, like a group of older Republicans he spoke to just before his interview with CityBeat, will also hear him out, though they tend to come with a “How can you believe such things?” attitude and end up walking away unsatisfied with his answers.
Hadley says his beliefs were shaped by his father, who was a pastor his entire adult life and spent his career looking out for the little guy. “He forever favored the laity against the hierarchy, the underdog-against-the-establishment kind of thing,” Hadley said. Watching his dad, he grew up thinking that advocating for the rights of those who couldn't always advocate for themselves was just something you were supposed to do.
He tells the story of a time in Colorado when members of his church wanted to gather signatures for a ballot initiative that would've repealed legal protections against discrimination of gays and lesbians. He said no and got in “quite a verbal knock-down drag-out in a Sunday-school room.” His decision was appealed to the church governing board, but the board saw it his way.
“I was able to persuade my board that that was just not a position we could take, and I had quite a few people who were upset with me until the day I left because of that,” he said.
Hadley said his priorities in office would range from protecting the environment to the city's budget crisis, though he believes the latter will take most of his time. That's one of the things he hears about most from voters, and he's got a plan that starts with reviewing the city's consultant contracts and cutting those costs by $60 million. Reducing the number of managers at City Hall is a smart way to save more money, he said, and he wants to support the managed competition for city contracts that voters have approved. He has a five-pronged plan for reforming the city's troubled pension system.
All that, of course, depends on getting elected.
Crotty said Hadley's grassroots effort might save him. “Hadley's been out there walking for months. That's going to generate a fairly substantial number of voters,” he said.
But, it still might not be enough to compete with Wayne's money, especially in a midterm primary election, where voter turnout is expected to be low. Crotty predicts that Wayne will win the seat. He has the resources, Crotty said, to reach absentee voters at a critical time and bankroll a radio and television campaign.
“It's about money, money and more money,” he said.
But though Hadley's competitors are winning the fund-raising race, he has something they don't: the coveted endorsement of his boss. (Frye's termed out this year and can't run.)
Frye endorsed Hadley after making sure that running for council was something he really wanted to do. “I trust Steve,” she said. “I trust Steve to stay true to his core beliefs and values. I trust him to understand what the job is. I like the fact that he's very grounded and stands up for what he believes in. He's not the kind of person who'll tell you one thing, then do another.”
Asked about Hadley's chances in the race, Frye said that “to win, Steve has to keep doing what he is doing: tell the truth and walk, walk, walk.”
Hadley says there's not much daylight between his views and Frye's, to the point that the most accurate way to describe Hadley might be as Donna Frye 2.0.
“We pretty much agree,” he said. “That's why I went out and worked for her. I mean, obviously, I don't have blonde hair, and I'm not gonna wear the flashy tennis shoes, you know, so there's some differences.”
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