As catastrophes pile up around us, we must remember how important local elections still are. We passed the strongest anti-eviction ordinance in California including our local businesses, and though we desperately need more help from the state and the feds, what we do here and now makes a difference for folks living on the edge. This is the first of my voter guides for the fall elections with more to come-
We all know by now that we live in a failed state. Our federal government has abandoned us and California can’t catch a break! And the death rate never seems to slow from the lack of response to Covid-19 in our beleaguered country. As a result of this failure, the Republican Party stands to lose support all over the country, including the presidency.
But let’s not kid ourselves, Bay area folks are not immune to the anger and alienation as a result of the institutional failures in these multiple crises and they are motivating voters to seek change. It seems-almost any change will do.
And while the GOP may suffer, rightly so, as a result of this terrible time, progressives running city, county, and state governments are also likely to feel the voters’ wrath. A cursory reading of Nextdoor yields a level of vitriol coupled with an ignorance of how government works, that is truly stunning. We must prepare ourselves for the backlash that our weakened institutions have created.
Aspirational Change in Oakland
Almost two years ago, Oaklanders elected new progressive leaders to repair relations in the Black and other Communities of Color, fight for reforms in housing affordability, police reactions, and the need for support of our small local businesses. But those problems have proven much deeper and more difficult to solve than even our bright new councilmembers could quickly fix.
Although we have been able to increase tenant protections, homeless encampments continue to grow and spread. “Defund the Police” has become a rallying cry but recent city council budget decisions seem to belie that. Instead the city has set up a task force to “Reimagine Public Safety” that could seriously reduce the funding or necessity for sending armed police to every situation. This is potentially revolutionary stuff. https://oaklandside.org/2020/07/29/task-force-established-to-reimagine-public-safety-in-oakland/
Since 2018, the mayor’s administration and the old boys business establishment have found themselves fighting a rearguard battle against the growing calls for affordable housing, police reform and job protections and they are fighting back electorally. The reason I’m noting all this is that two of the councilmembers who have made the most progress solving many of these problems, are under attack by well-financed opponents. Angry voters tend to pay pay more attention to the lack of progress than what has been accomplished.
Below are my recommendations for Oakland City Council:
District 1-Dan Kalb
Dan Kalb has been on the frontlines of change since before he became an Oakland Councilmember. He was an environmental lobbyist-which may explain his legislative skills-and has continued that work, especially leading the effort to keep coal off of Oakland’s streets. He has led the mostly successful efforts to protect Oakland’s tenants from greedy and unscrupulous landlords (recently getting powerful reinforcement with the election of Nikki Fortunato Bas and Sheng Thao) and in his 8 year tenure, worked so hard on affordable housing issues that this year he was honored by the East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) as an Affordable Housing Champion.
In 2016 He worked with the Coalition for Police Accountability to author Measure LL which established a civilian police review board with the unheard-of-power to impose discipline. When the current administration sought to limit the Police Commission’s powers despite Measure LL, he helped write a new measure to close those loopholes (on the ballot this fall).
He faces a serious challenge from a well-heeled and well-financed candidate who seems to have the seal of the Obama folks who, as one wag put it, “are parachuting into town to impose a neo liberal agenda” on our desire for real change. She seems to be a very nice person and says many of the right things but her funders tell an anti-tenant story. As I told one friend, I own many hats. I’ll eat one of them, your choice, if she is more progressive than Dan.
If you value good government, renters as a class of Oaklanders-still close to 60% of the Town-and environmental protections, you must support the reelection of Dan Kalb.
District 3-Carroll Fife
Carroll’s campaign may be the bright light at the end of the tunnel for those hanging onto the memory of Oakland as hometown to a diverse and once, largely Black, justice-minded populace. She is the mastermind behind Moms4Housing which elevated the #HousingisaHumanRight cause to national politics and is a gifted orator as well as an organizer. https://draketalkoakland.com/2020/01/25/thanking-the-heroines-and-heroes-of-2019/
She has amassed an army of volunteer labor which she brings to her campaign and will bring to solving the needs of Oaklanders. If the City administration continues to falter or obstruct those needs, even where the City Council has legislated solutions, they will attend to those needs themselves as they have done before.
The incumbent Lynette McElhaney has been a voice for landlords and a friend to many developers and other big business interests. She also has a sliver tongue and uses it well to defend the so-called “equity caucus” the conservative arm of Mayor Schaaf’s status quo administration. We must add, however, Ms McElhany has been a vote for police accountability and speaks often about serious reform.
District 5-Ranked Choice-1) Noel Gallo, 2) Richard S Raya, 3) Zoe Lopez-Meraz
This is a tough one. We have known Noel for many years and believe him to have a heart of gold. He has changed–more than most of the other incumbents. He came in as a champion of law and order, including curfews and gang injunctions, but was the first council member to support a powerful police commission and worked to get the first measure, LL, on the ballot. He supports the most recent measure too.
He has continued to boost tenant and worker protections. But he’s reverting to the law’n order ways of his old days. He supported the last police chief and protested her firing. He voted with the conservative “equity caucus” on the budget and turned down the concept of city-sanctioned homeless encampments with facilities and services in his district, even knowing it will take years to house all our unsheltered folks, at the rate we’re going, if at all.
Richard S Raya is a native of Oakland’s Fruitvale who returned after law school, rolled up his sleeves and got to work on social justice issues. His parents are well-known politicos in the city and his heart is definitely in the right place. Once he becomes grounded in the issues this city has tackled in the last few years, and how to make our unwieldy semi-strong mayor system work, he could be a real fighter for change. [BTW, he has also been a stand-up comic in his short life, good prep for a spot on the city council.]
Zoe Lopez-Meraz like Richard supports the Black New Deal which refers to FDR’s New Deal, the original of which, excluded Black folks- https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2020/06/08/black-america-wealth-racial-equity/ -especially as regards to the more deadly effects of the corona virus on Black communities. Impressively, she earned degrees with honors in biochemistry and molecular biology.
She and Richard have already demonstrated dedication to the communities most impacted by the deep inequality plaguing our city as well as our country. Given ranked choice voting, it wouldn’t be a stretch to give one of these young activists a chance. Noel’s weakness isn’t his dedication or work ethic to his city. No one can doubt them. On the one hand, both Zoe and Richard have strong ideologically-based analyses but little understanding of how to get things done like building the necessary numbers of affordable housing units.
However, Noel, despite his dedication and good heart, seems to have almost no ideological analysis of what can be done, voting by the seat of his pants on any given day. Our advice to candidates running against well-liked incumbents, start your campaigns much earlier so that voters will have the opportunity to know a bit about you by election day. Anyway, this will be a fun one to watch.
D7- Treva Reid
She is the only candidate known to most of the district, largely because her father has been its representative since 1996, add to that her own volunteer efforts and political work (notably, she once worked for Senator Nancy Skinner who has endorsed her). Mr. Reid has not been a favorite of progressives, putting it very mildly, but he easily won over the residents of Deep East that he once called “the killing fields.” He has regularly demanded more resources for his district while opposing some measures that would have brought more resources to the city as a whole, especially as part of the conservative “equity caucus.”
Treva didn’t grow up around her father and asserts that she is her own person. Her supporters want you to know they believe it to be unfair to tar her with the brush of Larry’s sometimes off-putting antics, threatening to arrest speakers at the city council, interrupting the council president, casting aspersions publicly on those members he disagrees with. He’s an old-fashioned law’n order guy and makes no bones about it.
Treva is a charming and personable politician with a smooth and assuring style. No one who has actually talked to her thinks she’ll be much like her father, but that she’ll be a welcoming representative with an open mind. However, it is difficult to accurately guess what her politics will be in regards to the issues of the day- it seems likely she’ll be an improvement to the old ways of her father and open to the younger more progressive voices in the district.
At-Large- Rebecca Kaplan
Rebecca came into office as an idealist and not a little naïve a number of years ago. Since then, she has learned the lessons of the rough and tumble politics here-and then had to learn them again recently-as in the one budget vote she took with the conservative “equity caucus”. But despite the often nasty response from the mayor towards her initiatives, she has sought to keep council meetings non-confrontational and friendly to all.
Rebecca has initiated or co-sponsored legislation to protect tenants, workers, and small business folk. Shehas worked hard with community groups to respond to the interference of the administration and its attacks on police oversight, budget implementation and the many other ways that the bureaucracy has fought the policy makers in order to follow the mayor’s or their own desires. As we’ve mentioned before, the previous Landreth administration, actively fought with the city council and denouncing their efforts to legislate, deciding that some of the managers knew better, then refusing to implement the council’s policies.
Like Dan Kalb, Kaplan is being opposed by a well-funded candidate, business owner, Derreck Johnson, who is endorsed by the mayor and is also cousin to Senator Kamala Harris. He has amassed a large campaign war chest. He is Black and gay which presumably ticked off some boxes for the mayor in her effort to remove the first out city council person in the Town.
For more info on Johnson’s fundraising, see https://www.patreon.com/posts/40894063
But unlike Kalb’s opponent, the smooth-talking Walton, Johnson is a little rough around the edges regarding his campaign responses. Perhaps it was just that when we interviewed him for the Block by Block Organizing Network, we were the first group to do so.
My jaw actually dropped at some of his responses, for instance, he repeated the tired trope, that we should run government like a business, shades of Trump. As to tenant needs in a fast gentrifying city, he said, “Let business regulate themselves” and objected to the newest legislation to protect tenants from harassment–Snidely Whiplash of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame sprang to mind.
And on police oversight, “The police review commission needs people with law enforcement background or experience. (that’s a violation of Measure LL) … I don’t believe in tinkering with the police department.” Before the Republican party became Trump’s and fully embraced fascism, Mr. Johnson would have fit in well with the laissez-faire capitalism of the Grand Old Party.
So let this be a warning for you, dear voter, if you are not a libertarian, if you want tenants to have basic protections, or if you believe that affordable housing won’t built by giving out building permits like good & plenties, take these local campaigns seriously. Even if Carroll Fife wins, we could lose two votes to protect the most vulnerable among us.
A Quick and Dirty Guide to the Oakland School Board
We have a chance to return our schools to their true place, leveling the playing field of our huge inequalities. Oakland has been the experimental lab of those who seek to promote charters and other ways to make schools into private institutions. The corporations and their non-profits have pumped millions into school board elections since the state takeover that wreaked havoc on our funding, our unions and our children.
This year four school board seats are up for grabs and some extraordinary leaders have stepped forward to wrangle the budget and bureaucracy that have restricted our students and offered them so much less than they need.
I wholeheartedly endorse Sam Davis and Mike Hutchinson:
Sam Davis and Michael Hutchinson, two candidates who couldn’t be more different in style, but who together may provide just the balance the board needs. Between them they possess founts of knowledge and wisdom on education in general and Oakland in particular.
Sam has been a teacher and an activist with Faith in Action, Kehilla Synagogue and other community groups for youth, immigrants, and parental rights and needs. He is calm and deliberative with an unfailing good nature.
Mike has been an education activist since forever and knows the ins and outs of education codes and budgets as well as our kids, teachers and parents. He has a style some may call abrasive but others see as passionate and will fight for our schools to receive its due funding, using it well, to his last breath. Both of these candidates have been endorsed by OEA, the Oakland Education Association and many others in our community.
I also agree with the other recommendations that the Wellstone Education Committe spent the last year studying while candidates came and went. Here they are: