It's tough to miss Hector Reyna's place. The aging Lincoln stretch limo parked in front of his rented brownshingle stands out even without its "Viva Bush" and National Rifle Association stickers, not to mention the prominent emblems exhorting passers-by to elect Reyna mayor of Oakland on June 6. Then again, it's possible the signs are to remind the man himself of the upcoming election the 71-year-old candidate's memory is a bit dodgy. Details are hard to nail down chez Reyna, and straightforward questions involving dates, political rivals, employment history lead to confusing, tangential responses.
Hector Reno Reyna makes most perennial candidates seem like lightweights. This race, he says, marks his twelfth bid for Oakland mayor, and although this has to be an exaggeration Reyna estimates he has run for elected office fifty times without success since he arrived here in 1955 from Corpus Christi, Texas. His front door is ajar, revealing a cluttered living room that reeks of cigarette smoke. Answering it, Reyna apologizes. His daughter, he explains, is inside doing this and that, and he instead offers up the rear of his limo for an interview.
"Oh, you're gonna have a good time," Reyna's next-door neighbor, Abigail Rudner, had warned sarcastically upon learning the reason for a reporter's visit. Sure enough, the Korean War vet, who says he never saw combat (but has trouble explaining what, exactly, he did do while in the Air Force), is a kettle of contradictions and conspiracies.
Reyna regularly brings up "they," meaning the socialists, the powerful, "the Berkeley people," the 1960s Oakland city officials who ordered him to clean up his property, thus compelling him to turn Republican and run for local office after thirty years as a faithful Democrat who once even volunteered for Ron Dellums back in the '70s. "The Berkeley people, they send their people to get a house here, you know, and West Oakland and all that, running for office," he asserts at one point. "They took over. The Berkeley people are running Oakland."
To the chagrin of his former wife, and those who have had to clean up the campaign stickers Reyna plasters all over the East Bay, the candidate began his relentless quest in 1960 with an Oakland council bid and has since vied for board seats at AC Transit, BART, and East Bay Regional Parks. He ran for state Senate in 1998, winning 16 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary against incumbent Nick Petris, and took a crack at Barbara Lee's Congressional seat in 2002, garnering an eyebrow-raising 38 percent in the Republican primary against rival Jerald Udinsky. Were these showings the result of a Latino surname, or merely protests against the frontrunner?
"They voted for me," Reyna insists. "The thing is, they've been stealing my votes all along for years. ... They put a gay guy to run our thing in there."
Uh, to run what?
"To run the election," he says. "I finally figured it out that, I said, look, I gotta win something, you know? The thing is that I'm better known than anybody else, and I go to the city council every Tuesday and raise hell with those people."
The only way Reyna could have lost all those elections, in other words, is if someone conspired against him. By contrast, his late brother Oscar Reyna, nearly fifteen years Hector's senior, became an influential Democratic operative and labor leader back in Corpus Christi. Hector dismisses entirely the suggestion that his electoral bids might be driven by some sort of misguided sibling rivalry.
Why, then, would a person keep running after so many losses?
"This is America," he says. "This is not a socialist country."
Reyna, in fact, has a prediction as to who will prevail in Oakland's current mayor's race: him. When reminded that history would argue otherwise, he just laughs. Even if he weren't running, Reyna insists he'd choose none of the above. Behold his nutshell takes on the frontrunners:
Ron Dellums: "He took all the bases away from us and told the people the taxes is too high. But we lost the economy. A lot of people lost their businesses because we were getting billions of dollars [from military bases]."
Ignacio De La Fuente: "De La Fuente was not even a US citizen when he [first] got elected. If I'd have been running against him, I would have checked his background."
Nancy Nadel: "Nancy ..." he pauses a beat, "Pelosi. She took a drug dealer out of jail. And then two days later, this drug dealer, he thought, 'Well, if I've got Nancy, the cops ain't gonna mess with me.' So he's out there, had all kinds of dope in there. We caught him again."
Bush bumper stickers aside, Reyna's political views lean libertarian. He's small-government, pro-cop, antitax. One minute he's railing against city encroachment on private property rights; the next about greedy landlords who want to exercise those rights by cashing in on soaring home prices. "It goes to show you why I'm running for mayor," he says. "I rent this place. Now all the landlords want you to move out so they can get the big money."
Reyna says he was among the people rallying in front of Oakland City Hall recently, calling for more police. City officials, he claims, are antipolice. "We have the city attorney giving money to the drug dealers $11 million we gave to the drug dealers," Reyna says, referring to the 2003 Riders settlement.
And what would Mayor Reyna do about rising crime? "I would go to Washington and get money from Bush so I could put enough police officers to clean up this shit," he says.
Maybe all those new cops could help catch the bastards who stole his votes.
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