For the past year and a half, incumbent BART Director Zakhary Mallett has subsidized the part-time salary he gets for serving on BART’s Board of Directors by driving for Uber on the weekends.
But the voters have spoken, choosing Lateefah Simon for his seat, so he’s looking for a full-time job as a transportation consultant.
"I was hoping for another four years to work on navigating my predicament before throwing in the towel. But the voters have made that decision that now is the time for me,” he said Friday.
The election "relieves me of shackles that I have been in as a young transportation professional serving on a transit agency's board of directors," he wrote to his supporters in an email Thursday.
While he was serving in the part-time elected position, no Bay Area consulting firms would hire him because of concerns about conflict of interest.
Mallett had no idea that serving in elected office would effectively put his consulting career on hold.
He was elected to the board in 2012, soon after graduating with a master’s degree in city planning from the University of California, Berkeley. At the time, the El Sobrante resident was only 25, the youngest BART Director to ever serve.
He admits to being a transportation nerd since childhood, fascinated by puzzles, logistics and the many ways people get around. He regularly attended VTA meetings for fun as a teenager, and wrote a proposal to extend BART to San Jose at age 14.
Mallett grew up in foster care at various homes around the South Bay, and was accepted to Stanford. His plan was to serve on the BART board part-time while building his career; directors make only about $17,000 per year.
After a few job interviews, a couple hiring managers leveled with him. They explained that he was highly-qualified, but their firms didn’t want to appear to curry favor with the board to win contracts.
"Business are going to be conservative. They’re not going to risk having employee on payroll who would prevent them from getting contracts," said Joel Keller, BART Director from district 2 in Contra Costa County. "Being employed and getting elected is easier than getting elected and then seeking employment."
Finding himself in the same position as many millennials unable to find jobs in the field they trained for, Mallett started his own independent consulting firm. But he didn’t find much success there either.
"No matter how much research the planners do, politicians make the decisions," he said. "Good ideas aren’t always politically correct. Finding a way to apply them requires political leadership."
Now, with all the votes were counted, Mallett is turning his attention to finding a new job.
"I’ve had a 360-degree exposure to the planning process," he said. "I made some tough decisions as a BART director, because I wanted to serve the public, even though I knew it would be alienating to certain interest groups."
During his term, Mallett was the only board member to vote against a 2013 labor deal. He was outspoken, and questioned BART’s employee benefits, work rules and labor contracts. Unions, environmental groups and progressive organizations contributed about $200,000 to Lateefah Simon’s campaign.
"My opponent was was a union-sponsored candidate," he said. Mallett raised about $50,000, mostly from construction companies, contractors and real estate developers.
"It can be harder to run as an incumbent," he said. "The public is impatient, not understanding about bureaucracy."
His dream job would allow him to "objectively research and analyze transportation data and applying it to real world situations," he said. "That job doesn’t exist in real life," because consultants are subject to influence from the entity that hires them.
Keller said Mallett would be a great hire.
"You look at his resume right now. There aren’t many people in the country who can match that," Keller said.
Even his experience driving an Uber is an asset, Mallett said, because he chatted with his passengers, observed patterns, and learned about how people make decisions about transportation choices.
"Growing up in foster care taught me to think very little of myself. That motivated me to reach high and not allow things to hold me back. I believe the sky’s the limit. Just find a way," he said, which is how he plans to approach his post-election job search.