Booty Call

Wherein a handful of politicos, a party that's trying not to be a laughingstock, and the singer in a '70s disco cover band unite to rewrite San Francisco politics or try to, anyway

All SuperBooty fans share one thing; they can all vote.
-- "The California Reformer," Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1999

May 21, Great American Music Hall
For Mark O'Hara, lead singer of SuperBooty, there are two kinds of songs. There are originals, which are useless: "People walk off the dance floor." And then there are cover songs: "Play a hit, and they're right back on."

O'Hara is lounging on a couch backstage at the Great American Music Hall, where other members of the band are milling about, changing into leather pants and polyester shirts, tinkering with their instruments. It's been exactly a month since O'Hara stood on the Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place steps of City Hall and announced that he's running for mayor of San Francisco -- the strangest entry in an already-absurd field of candidates. He's running as a Reform Party candidate -- Ross Perot's party, Jesse Ventura's party.

SuperBooty, a 15-member collective that plays covers of '70s disco and funk songs -- "Brick House," "Mr. Big Stuff," "Jungle Boogie," and so forth -- is pretty mediocre musically. Not all of the singers, including O'Hara, who performs under the stage name Skippy Tornado, have great voices, and sometimes the musicians seem a bit out of step with one another. O'Hara says the band practices about once a month.

But there's room for one -- just one -- '70s cover band in the Bay Area, and SuperBooty is it. And what they lack in raw talent, they make up in enthusiasm, color, and a journeyman's approach to doing nothing more and nothing less than making sure people dance at parties. "I didn't want experts," O'Hara says. "Personality is more important than skill." Founded in 1995, the band gets gigs performing for private corporate functions, opening for George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars and Morris Day, and generally showing up whenever a professional gala requires some not-so-serious background music, like this year's Black & White Ball. On New Year's Eve, they played at Las Vegas' Bellagio resort and casino.

There are occupational hazards to playing in SuperBooty, O'Hara points out. It's not easy lugging a 25-pound disco ball around your neck, and sweating onstage wearing a purple wig and upward of five chains can leave rust stains on your neck.

O'Hara tried his hand at singing in a band that played original songs. While he was a student at California State University at Chico -- he graduated in 1987 as a communications major with a minor in music theory -- he sang "pure comedy" tunes like "Tuna Taco" and "Frat Boy Drug Bust" with a group called Brutillicus Maximus. Moving to San Francisco in 1989, he worked at Macromedia and eventually founded his own Web animation firm, Skiptronic Studios, in 1993 -- he currently runs the company out of his Noe Valley home. Around the same time, his interest in playing music was revived, but on two conditions: He didn't want to play weekday nights, and he didn't want to be an opening band. Starting a cover band did the trick; the band took in $1,500 from its first gig in 1995, and at this point "it's a valid source of income," says O'Hara. "It pays about two-thirds of my bills."

O'Hara has recently finished a draft of his stump speech, a brief biography with statements about why he wants to be mayor of San Francisco. Disclosure: As that speech points out, I have a role in the fact that O'Hara is a candidate. When O'Hara announced his interest in starting a "Booty Party" in November, a column item I wrote caught the attention of Cynthia Nesler, chair of the Reform Party's San Francisco chapter. She and Joyce Dattner, now the campaign manager, contacted O'Hara and asked him to consider running as a Reform candidate. Scared and nervous -- no more Skippy Tornado, no more Booty Party -- he stalled and went on a ski trip. After returning, O'Hara discussed the idea with the two; figuring he "couldn't do any worse," he signed on to run.

O'Hara's plan for Muni? He doesn't have one. Homelessness? No policy there either. Gentrification? Live-work lofts? Departmental cost overruns? Nothing again. Actually, O'Hara has precisely one idea: that having plans is useless, and that what's important is creating dialogue with citizens about the best ways to approach these issues, and looking into how the system currently runs and, well, reforming it.

O'Hara's one specific plan, actually, is that he wants to lobby to renew the check-off box on California tax forms where filers can earmark $5 for the political party of their choice. But this is more of a state issue, anyway. The rest of his platform comes off mainly as little more than well-meaning rhetoric against the two-party system, especially in comparison to the policy sheets and statements most political candidates make. And compared, for instance, with the seven-figure war chest Clint Reilly has and O'Hara doesn't, O'Hara also lacks the financial wherewithal to win a San Francisco election.

Show time nears, and O'Hara eyes his outfit for the evening. It takes all of 15 seconds to change from Mark O'Hara to Skippy Tornado, he says.

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