My Limited Time Voter Recommendations for Oakland, 2012

Pamela Drake’s Limited Time Recommendations for Oakland city offices:

I’m calling my recommendations “limited time” because they may expire as more information emerges. Many of the races in Oakland are for open seats, and many candidates who are running have little or no experience in public office, and it is close to impossible to predict how they will react under the pressures and perils of office. Whether a person has the temperament to be a good public servant is a difficult thing to gauge.

And, some candidates who seem personally attuned to neighborhood activism, nevertheless, do not seem to be moored to any kind of overall analysis that might hint at what they will do in a given political battle. Additionally, since I am writing this piece to persuade a Democratic Party audience, I will not be considering the candidacy of Greens, some of whom may offer a viable alternative.

District 1

Dan Kalb is my number 1 pick for this seat. Dan was recently the California Policy Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists and has been a policy wonk and environmental advocate his entire life. He is a steady, rational guy who deliberates before making decisions. He may seem a little stiff in person but seems to have a solid political perspective that is dependably progressive. Dan had good detailed answers for most of our questionnaire but slid around answering the questions about gang injunctions or curfews which are hot topics in Oakland right now.

Don Link is a local hero to many in District 1 and my number 2 pick for this office. He helped organize the very first Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council in Oakland for his district and has been very active in everything from crime prevention to planting trees in the flatlands neighborhood where he lives.

Don also promoted the establishment of a Police Commission for the City of Oakland which might have given us a way to bring transparency and public engagement to policing practices in Oakland. However, much as I personally like Don (it is said that the more you get to know him, the more you like and respect him), his platform is not as progressive as I would like. I do not personally believe that gang injunctions are constitutional whether or not the current court allows them. Moreover, their effectiveness is only proven in that they may move the problem from one neighborhood to the next. Don supports the injunctions and a youth curfew.

Youth curfews seem to be selling an idea that has nothing to do with the problem it seeks to cure. Youth under eighteen are much less likely to be involved in criminal activities than young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. It does nothing to protect or prevent that group from criminal activities.

Youth under 18 are more likely to suffer from or commit assaults between the after school hours, that is 3 to 6 PM. These are the hours that they are most unsupervised. Of course, children should not be out on the streets at all hours of the night, but arresting them may only put them on a course to a long record. Besides that, where would we find the extra police to pick them up if we did institute this policy; and given OPD’s history around our youth, this concept seems fraught with danger.

Amy Lemley is a more recent entry into the Oakland political scene but she comes with powerful politicians’ support and has raised the most money. She is the director of the John Burton Foundation for Children without Homes and was reportedly recruited to run by Libby Schaaf and Council Member Pat Kernighan. She is married to Justin Horner who was formerly Jane Brunner’s policy director.

Amy has lots of good policy development experience and is on the Measure Y board but otherwise we know little of her local involvement. Check out her questionnaire for more info. She would be an able council member, but whether she would enable CM Schaaf to form a somewhat conservative block of votes on the council is a concern to me (Both Libby and Pat voted to approve the payment of rogue cops punitive damages).

Richard Raya is the policy director of California Forward. He has had lots of top notch budget crafting experience and is a very approachable guy-well liked in his flatlands neighborhood. He is also connected, through his job at California Forward to Prop 31, a distinctly California backward approach to solving our state budget woes. It would strengthen the miserable 2/3’s vote requirement and allow any governor to slash programs while also allowing local authorities to circumvent hard-won regulations in our state such as CEQA. (http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Against-Prop-31-Reform-is-a-Trojan-horse-3770566.php)

Raya also skirts the questions of policing policies including number 14 which asks if these candidates would have voted to have the taxpayers cover the costs of punitive damages for cops who have done some really bad stuff for which the judge assigned them the blame. Five council members voted to hold us responsible rather than the bad cops.

Please check all Oakland CC candidates for their answers or non-answers to this question. The City paid out over $800 k for resulting lawsuits but the judge apparently thought the officers themselves should shoulder some of the responsibility. (http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_20895350/oakland-council-votes-pay-police-officers-fine)

Craig Brandt, who I believe is an Oakland attorney, has also filed papers and filled out a questionnaire with Wellstone but I can find no sign of a credible campaign.

District 3

Nancy Nadel is retiring from the council so this is another open seat with a multitude of candidates all of whom have some sort of experience relevant to this position but none of whom has any experience in public office.

First off, I will give you Nancy’s recommendations since she is a public official in whom the Wellstone Club has always put their trust. CM Nadel has ranked Alex Miller-Cole number 1, Nyeisha DeWitt, number 2, and Damon Eaves who seems to have dropped out as of this writing, number 3.

Sean Sullivan

CM Nadel did not rank Sean Sullivan who should be the frontrunner in this race as he has been running for four years. He ran against Nadel the last time around with the Chamber of Commerce’s blessing. Sean is the former director of Covenant House, a sanctuary for homeless youth in Oakland and has served on so many boards in Oakland, it would take too long to list them. He has also promoted a cause close to my heart which spawned a huge controversy over a little park where people and their dogs could hang out together near Lake Merritt.

Many consider him to be pro-development which is probably the issue which has garnered him the most support and the most opposition. He has been endorsed by CM Pat Kernighan and has the most campaign funding.

Nyeisha de Witt

Nyeisha has an interesting story in that she did not graduate from high school, was in show business, then returned to school, ultimately getting her Phd in Education at the University of San Francisco. She is also a mother of three and according to her website, she is “the Program Director of Citywide Dropout Prevention at Oakland’s Promise Alliance.  Nyeisha was recently featured on the California Forward website as a “Forward Thinker ”.  In 2010, she was recognized as a Hometown Hero in Oakland, by Comcast and ANG Newsgroup.”

Nyeisha was ranked Nancy Nadel’s number 2 choice and is well-liked by many with strong and deep ties to Oakland. However, perusing her questionnaire I was shocked to find that she opposes any changes to Prop 13 including charging more for commercial properties than this proposition currently calls for.

Alex Miller-Cole

Alex is an active West Oaklander who is the chair of the San Pablo Corridor working on cleaning and beautifying neighborhoods and public safety issues. He also has an interesting story that resonates for Oaklanders. He came here illegally from Mexico, recently gaining his citizenship. He was an interior decorator in the 90’s and became a small developer and landlord in the last few years. He rehabs home in his own neighborhood in West Oakland.

Alex is a real neighborhood activist who works closely with some former Occupy Oakland folks to clean areas and parks all over West Oakland. While he is known as a can-do kind of guy, he is weak in policy development and may not have an overall grasp on some of the issues facing Oakland. However, he is CM Nadel’s number 1 choice.

Lynette McElhaney

Lynette has been the Executive Director of the East Bay Neighborhood Housing Services in Richmond for almost a decade. She has been quoted in local journals on ways to prevent the foreclosure crisis and is a real presence at D3 debates and forums. People are impressed with her knowledge and delivery but are concerned that she is better grounded in Richmond than Oakland.

Whether she wins or not, she has proven herself as an able candidate for the future.

Derrick Muhammed

Derrick is an attorney and a longshoreman with the ILWU at the Port of Oakland. He was raised in Oakland and lost a brother to violence here. He is a rising political activist, but this run may be a bit premature for him as he has not honed his positions and his campaign apparatus is weak. However, he would be a strong voice for unions.

DISTRICT 5

Ignacio de la Fuente is not running for the seat he has held for 20 years in order to run for the At-Large seat against Rebecca Kaplan.

Noel Gallo has been on the school board for 20 years. He was on the board during the devastating budget crisis that plunged us into state receivership and out again. He has listened to constituents and board members but shown little leadership during that time, and he shocked many of us when he endorsed Don Perata for mayor. He is a very nice and approachable person but we have seen no new initiatives from him while in office.

Mario Juarez is a successful local realtor in the Fruitvale. He has also been a Democratic Party activist on the local county committee leading volunteers to register new citizens as new voters in the Party. I have endorsed his candidacy for new leadership in District 5.

DISTRICT 7

Sheryl Walton is running a credible campaign against another long time council member Larry Reid. CM Reid is rarely seen in his district and has had no new ideas on public safety other than the same tired refrain of giving the police more power. He has become increasingly difficult to work with, denouncing other council members and the mayor publicly. As council president he has done little to bring the council together to solve their pressing problems.

Sheryl Walton is a public health specialist who has worked as an organizer to improve the well-being of neighborhoods throughout the Bay Area over the last 30 years. She is a public health specialist. From 2004 to 2009 Sheryl was the lead organizer for Oakland’s City-County Neighborhood Initiative, which according to her website, “established both violence prevention programs and a mechanism for Sobrante Park community members, organizations, and schools to make positive and long-standing changes in their neighborhood.”

She is an active member of her flatlands community and is running a real grassroots campaign against the good ole boy network which is attempting to close ranks against her. I wholeheartedly endorse her.

AT LARGE

Rebecca Kaplan has been a breath of fresh air in this seat and was expected to run unopposed as she is bright and progressive. Now she has two opponents, one who is well-financed and well known. Ignacio de la Fuente, with over a $100k war chest, is looking to defeat her and then go after Mayor Quan in her next term.

Kaplan has some weaknesses in that she is seen as someone who will not stand and fight but rather duck out of uncomfortable situations and is not a big fundraiser. She told me that she will be taking on citywide issues this time around, such as reducing crime around problem liquor stores and more jobs through transportation funding. She has been working hard to bring in campaign funds. She has my strong endorsement.

Carol Lee Tolbert

Carol was a former school board member and runs a non-profit involving youth in civic engagement in North Oakland. She’s an active citizen in her neighborhood but is a recent entrant to this race.

Ignacio de la Fuente

He was thought to be a progressive reformer when he first ran for District 5 twenty years ago. He was the president of the city council for many years and tried to reform the police department in some ways; but there are persistent rumors of political corruption which swirl around him and his district. Now he is trying to develop a reputation as a born-again law and order politician who did little for public safety as his own district sank into a danger zone.

CITY ATTORNEY

We have had only one elected city attorney and many public officials think it was a mistake to make this an elected position, because they will say that politics should not play such a large part in making legal decisions when protecting the city’s interest.

My conclusion plays that argument down the middle. Politics does influence everything in government decisions; but if you are looking for a non-partisan player for this important job, no one will handle it more professionally than Barbara Parker who was appointed to the job last fall. In fairness she has been doing the job for years but not getting credit for it. She is a Harvard educated attorney who has shown that she can run a very large, diverse department of attorneys and clerical staff. She is independent but not in an “in your face” manner.

Jane has been a reliable council member, sometimes progressive, sometimes not so much. She is a good policy/big picture thinker but has never run a large office like the city attorney’s. Although she might be able to do that job well, we already have someone who has shown that she can.

Jane did vote to cover the costs of the two rogue cops who publicly strip searched two young men and whom the judge meant to slap on the wrist with punitive damages. Given the difficulty we are in with the community and the Feds because some members of our police department do not want to abide by the law, it strikes the wrong note with both for the city to assume the consequences for these officers.

We have had one council member turned city attorney already. That council member had difficulty restraining his policy-making tendencies in the office. I have endorsed Barbara Parker for the job she is already ably doing.

School Board Candidates

D1

Jody London, the incumbent, is running against Thearse Pecot who is a Santa Fe parent. Santa Fe Elementary School is one of the 5 schools being closed, an issue which may presently be in the courts. Santa Fe is problematic because there is no other elementary school within walking distance for the neighborhood kids who attend it, and many of the parents do not have cars.

Jody has also been criticized by the parents of the Kaiser Elementary for not meeting with them when their school was in danger of being closed. However, she still has a good overall reputation on the board and in that neighborhood.

D3

Richard Fuentes is the policy analyst for CM Ignacio de la Fuente and is running for school board in the district where he lives. He seems to be running a credible campaign.

D5

Two of the candidates for Noel Gallo’s position have turned in questionnaires to Wellstone. Rosie Torres is fairly well-known in the Fruitvale. She is a criminal defense lawyer who has her own practice. He daughter attends public school, but I’m not sure she has had much experience with education issues other than that. She is likable and credible.

Michael Hutchinson on the other hand, has a lifetime of public school experience just growing up with his mom, a long time Oakland school teacher and OEA activist. He has worked for after school programs and struggled with those communities to keep those schools open.

While I like Rosie, I think that Mike Hutchinson has the potential to be a real leader on the school board so I am endorsing him. Our board has gone along with the superintendent’s program with nary a peep of protest.

This board has never gone out to the Oakland community and offered leadership or alternatives to austerity. They have not challenged the administration’s assumptions, promises, or budget numbers. They have watched while the administration demonized the teachers’ union and imposed a contract. The district is also not meeting the requirements of state law to use 55% of their funding in the classroom. It’s time for a real change on the school board.

Abel Guillen for Assembly

The Wellstone Club is already a strong supporter of Abel. He is our progressive Oakland candidate with experience on budgeting, finance, and a real passion for education. Don’t forget to get out and campaign for him.