Towards a New City Council in Turbulent Times

As I wrote in The Oakland We Knew and the Mayor’s Race, if your vision of Oakland is not one that mimics the hollowing out of our city a la San Francisco…if your vision is one of a thriving town that includes working families, immigrants and the sons and daughters of those Black and Brown folks who have been marginalized while struggling to live and work in the city they were raised in, then you may have to delve deep into city politics before you vote in the fall city council races. I have done some of that work for you so here goes:

City Council District 2-Nikki Fortunato Bas

I will admit that I’m one of a small group that urged our current council member to run last time around. So I consider Abel a friend albeit not as close a one as then. He is a nice moderate man who likes being able to obtain improvements like better lighting for a park. I think he would be a good assistant city manager but he is not a leader and certainly not one we can look to to bring us through turbulent times. His approach is to bolster the mayor whoever he or she may be and follow their lead.

Here are some of the areas in which he let us down:

  • During negotiations with the council to put Measure JJ on the ballot, which offers better and clearer protections for renters, at a time when more and more are living in the streets or leaving, Abel would not consider supporting it until the mayor had agreed and after it was watered down. He was brought along, seemingly kicking and screaming.
  • During the budget struggle of 2016 a number of community groups built a coalition to propose  a people’s budget. They had hoped to use more of the general fund for the needs of undeserved neighborhoods beyond policing (which is of course necessary but claims the lion’s share of the budget at this time, largely because of  unrestrained overtime, settlements for police abuse cases and the continuing expense of the monitor, because OPD has not adequately dealt with the racial profiling issue-just watch the dog chase its tail, sigh.)
  • Ultimately, Abel joined with the group supporting the mayor’s budget and as chair of that meeting, using a parliamentary slight-of-hand, passed the budget by dropping a firefighter academy, an illegal dumping pick-up crew, and a street paving crew.
  • After the minimum wage law was passed, labor groups [the same labor and community groups who worked to get Abel elected] asked for a small fund to help spread the word about the law so that local businesses would fairly follow it and the city could enforce it but our council member was loathe to vote for it until, once again, the mayor agreed to support it.
  • There are other instances where CM Guillen let down the working people who got him on the council-not supporting settling with the unions until after an unnecessary strike was held, not supporting the Chinatown Coalition when it negotiated with developers for community benefits and initially trying to block placing Measure LL, the police commission on the ballot, instead proposing a toothless alternative along with Annie Campbell Washington.
  • Finally, I would be expected to bring up the sad community process over the 12th Street parcel but I don’t think it is fair to put all the blame on Abel in this instance.

Nikki’s Track Record

Nikki headed up the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy before taking the job as Executive Director of the partnership for Working Families. As EBASE’s CEO she successfully fought for Oakland’s Minimum Wage campaign, to reduce diesel emissions at the Port of Oakland while working up a plan to provide more of the jobs from the Port for Oaklanders all while she was active in her daughter’s girl scout troop.  download (5)

When she was just starting out, she received the Mario Savio Young Activist Award for her work organizing garment workers and in 2012, the San Francisco Chronicle recognized her as a social justice Changemaker. More recently she was honored by Oakland Rising, a local umbrella organization that pulls together many non-profits to fight for our working families. She has the track record to stand up to powerful interests and to lead in changing times.

As Jessamyn Sabbag of Oakland Rising and a former Guillen supporter says, “Nikki has a proven track record – in fact, she’s accomplished more as a civilian in the last four years than Guillen has as an elected official.  We hope you’ll seriously consider supporting Nikki Fortunato Bas for D2 city council.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=7K2rxlGjFPk

http://www.nikki4oakland.com/

City Council District 4 Ranking-Nayeli Maxson, Sheng Thao, Pamela Harris

Pamela-Harris-Shang-Thao-Nayelli-Maxon

For those of us concerned about the direction Oakland has taken to force its historic residents out of the city and to usher in all the new wonderful businesses without protecting those who strove without the means to establish them, Annie Campbell Washington was a disappointment.

Ms. Washington seemed to routinely vote for developers’ demands and the police union’s positions but could not support the other unions who get the city’s work done when they asked to be made right after givebacks during the Recession. So when she announced her retirement from politics, we saw this as an opportunity to support a council member who would fight for working families, defying special interests and even sometimes opposing the mayor.

Many interesting candidates have signed up to take on the challenge and three smart powerful women have emerged in the lead. Here’s my ranking: Nayeli Maxson, Sheng Thao, Pamela Harris

Nayeli is known to D4 residents as a former staffer for Annie Campbell Washington. I got to know her when she led the effort to find someone to run against Sheriff Ahern, this guy, https://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/Video-reveals-Alameda-County-sheriff-s-office-13170239.php. Unfortunately we were unable to get someone who met the requirements to take a chance on challenging this well-heeled and powerful elected official, but Nayeli proved her progressive bona fides to me then and since. You may have noticed that the mayor and CM Washington are supporting a businessman from Montclair, someone who admits it will take a while for him to get up to speed on the issues confronting the town. I can only glean from that that the mayor does not share the vision of Oakland that Nayeli wants for her young family.

Nayeli has the policy chops to put together legislation that can offer relief to working families and is strongly in favor of affordable housing having suffered through eviction  as a child in SF. And, at the Block by Block Organizing Network, BBBON, she was the only candidate who vowed not to take contributions from the police union. As the current director of the Alliance for Community Development, she knows how to encourage entrepreneurship in our undeserved communities. Jobs are important but the days of the gold watch after decades of employment are over and many of us will at some point, try entrepreneurship. Her organization helps provide the tools and she can show Oakland how to make it work.   https://nayeliforoakland.com/

Sheng Thao runs a very close second for me. As Rebecca Kaplan’s chief-of-staff, she has strengthened the focus of the sometimes mercurial council member’s office and assisted her in passing progressive legislation. Sheng has worked with electeds and constituents from around the city and other government agencies. She has developed budget expertise, no small thing when this administration pleads poverty whenever community members demand services.   https://www.shengforoakland.com/

As a daughter of Vietnam War refugees, a single mom who put herself through college after fleeing an abusive partner, she is one tough cookie. Sheng has the sole endorsement of the Alameda Labor Council and Assembly Member Bonta. So long as these two women are in your top two, you can’t go wrong.

Pamela Harris is a Democratic Party activist who has been a documentary filmmaker, a non-profit director, and earned a Mildred Parish Massey Legacy Award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. In addition to being a delegate to the local Democratic Party, she was a board member of the Stonewall Democratic Club. Her platform is as progressive as Nayeli”s and Sheng’s but in a recent forum, she also spoke of statewide issues, over which she has more experience. Although she has less knowledge of city issues and the machinations of the city council, she would also be a tough force for progressive change if elected.  https://www.pamharris4oakland.com/

District 6-No Endorsement

First, please read this blog from an observer and regular speaker to the Oakland City Council. Not only does he make a point about CM Guillen’s original inclination to vote against the proposal for the E. 12th parcel, but he does a good job documenting the bias against Ms. Brooks in the press.

https://hyphenatedrepublic.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/the-united-front-against-desley-brooks/

Here’s the thing with our Miss Brooks, as one wag told me, “she’s been a thorn in the side of every mayor.” If you haven’t spent time in East Oakland, you might not know the depth of distrust that folks there have with government. No, it’s not of the my-street-didn’t-get-adequately-cleaned-last-week type. It’s of the we have no grocery stores, we have crime but the police treat us all like criminals and our streets never get cleaned, in fact our streets are full of everyone else’s trash and our kids aren’t safe in the park–kind of distrust. Most folks in East Oakland don’t complain (until the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods, the East Oakland Collective, etc, came along) because they don’t believe it will get them what they need since no one in city hall seems to care.

So along comes a council member who says, I’ll get you a new teen center and I won’t care whose toes I step on, I’ll make sure you can use your parks by offering free concerts there every summer, and I’ll fight for your share of the city’s funds, that’s what Desley means to some residents of District 6 and she has delivered.

No, it’s still not paradise but that is not for want of her passion and hard work. And more from CM BRooks-I’ll fight to fund jobs programs with the public funds from projects in which the jobless were left out. This fight, which did not get the necessary votes to go forward, was billed by the media as some sort of misuse of funds. Really, using public funding of city projects to prepare city workers to get some of the jobs provided by those funds, is misuse? Depends on the level of unemployment in your neighborhood, I guess.

But to others, she’s the Council Member who snaps at them if they disagree with her or can’t get their call returned (BTW, some of our “best” CMs have difficulty returning those calls) or she’s the council member whose attitude and actions embarrass them.

But please do not talk to me about her corruption since you haven’t proved your case. I have never seen Desley do something for her own enrichment rather for the benefit of her community. I know she lost a lawsuit and I may be wrong but I believe it was an ugly argument that got out of hand. I will never see the smart and tough Elaine Brown as a frail elder and probably neither does she, which might have been part of the problem.

Ms. Brooks does not always take the progressive position (which rankles even more when she condescends to others) but when she does she wields a powerful argument, not just in its vehemence but in its logic and knowledge of city processes. CM Brooks, CM Kaplan and CM Gallo often form a united front on tough issues. Maybe some folks want to see that front crumble, because given the array of candidates running against her, I believe it would; and we would be left to the good graces of a mayor who doesn’t know much about East Oakland.

I think Loren Taylor is a fine man from a good family, rooted in Oakland. His office would be welcoming to all. Natasha Middleton is a policy wonk with some interesting ideas who has put in the work, and Marlo Rodriguez also seems to be a good person, willing to learn. (Loren is heavily supported by the mayor and Natasha seems to have garnered some level of endorsement also as she once worked for her.) But, sorry, folks, it won’t do to replace the tough and often obnoxious Ms. Brooks with any of them. An acquiescent council under any mayor is not a pretty sight.

So why don’t I just endorse her? I’d like to, but I can’t condone the way she treats others or her forays into demagoguery. But those who endorse her purely for her policy positions or because East Oakland needs a strong defender, have to admit that her need to go for the jugular when she’s crossed just the slightest bit, is a painful thing to watch and often renders her ineffective. It’s a shame too, because she’s smart as a whip, brave as a charging bull, and in possession of the institutional memory we need at a time when we seem to be losing our way. So the good voters of Central East Oakland will have to sort it out but I hope they will evaluate the choices thoroughly before they decide.

School Board

I have been less involved with the politics of OUSD than I once was, I think I just found it too sad. But I do endorse Shanthi Gonzales who I believe has the chops and the trust of her community to propose a plan to help us get out of the latest budget disaster that once again threatens our schools.

Aimee Eng is running unopposed in D2 and was a disappointment initially but she seems to have stepped up so here’s to more of that.

Clarissa Doutherd

The incumbent Nina Senn is not running for reelection. Gary Yee, former board member and former superintendent, was on the board during the state takeover and did not prove to be a dynamic force for local control. He is seen as the charter school supporter in this race but that may not be completely fair However, I could not recommend him as a returning board member at this critical time.

But Clarissa Doutherd for District 4 is a revelation. The first time I heard her was at the BBBON endorsement meeting and she got a huge round of applause after she finished speaking  http://www.oaklandpost.org/2018/06/15/parent-leader-clarissa-doutherd-campaigns-school-board-district-4/  . I hope that after she’s done cleaning up OUSD, she runs for higher office. As Executive Director of Parent Voices Oakland, she’s got the smarts, the compassion and the vision to bring everyone together to fight for our kids.  I’m glad to end this blog of tough choices with a hearty endorsement and a video or two.

 

 

 

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