Why we interviewed 3 out of many candidates
This is a special election, in fact a special election primary on June 29th, to be exact, because our former Assemblyman Rob Bonta was elevated to State Attorney General and now that seat, which is predominately in Oakland, is vacant. Given the election window, any successful candidate had to be ready as soon as the chute opened. That meant, not just a desire to run and a website-but money on hand, endorsements ready to declare and most staffing poised to organize a short but intensive campaign. Whoever had not already done that, stands almost no chance of winning or even getting into a runoff for an August General Special Election.
With that in mind, we also considered those candidates who actively asked for our endorsement and we ended up interviewing Malia Vella, Mia Bonta and Janani Ramachandran.
Malia Vella- An Alameda councilmember in her 2nd term. She works for a union and has lots of union support as she helped achieve a higher minimum wage in that city. She immediately championed renters’ rights, immigrants’ rights, and rights and services to homeless folks, including homeless prevention funding. Police reform and climate change mitigation are on her platform too so that she has become a bit of a lightning rod for progressive politics in her more conservative city.
Mia Bonta-She is currently the president of the Alameda School Board and Director of Oakland Promise. Whatever you feel about Oakland Promise, its goals are positive and Mia obviously has a passion for education and California families of school children. She has the obvious advantage of name recognition and a healthy fund raising head start. She also promised that housing and criminal justice reform are priorities as she grew up with parents who struggled to survive housing insecurity and over-policing in New York City, where her parents were members of the Young Lords after immigrating from Puerto Rico .
Janani Ramachandran- She is an attorney and activist for marginalized women. She recently worked for the Family Violence Apellate Project and served on the Oakland Public Ethics Commission. She has a very progressive platform to run on, including a proposal for a $22 minimum wage and declares herself a fighter saying, “the time for timid solutions is over.” She had been planning on running for the 18th AD in a regular election and so has raised a good starting campaign fund with lots of progressive orgs’ endorsements.
However, she has no experience in any elective office and no experience working with or on legislation. We liked her platform and her spirit but did not think she was as ready or to take on these challenges as her two female counterparts who tied for our first place choices, making Janani our 2nd place (or 3rd depending on how you count them.)
Overall we are thrilled that we have the option of three very smart WOC who have similarly progressive platforms and have shown the inclination to fight for those positions. We are proud to endorse both Mia Bonta and Malia Vella with Janani Ramachandran running close behind.
My OwnPersonal Recommendations and Concerns
I want to be clear that while I concur with a dual endorsement at this point, my rank order assessment would lean toward 1) Malia Vella, 2) Mia Bonta and 3) Janani Ramachandran. I also like the 2 candidates in San Leandro. But first I will admit I looked for and encouraged Oakland candidates to run as it has been awhile since an Oaklander repped this district which is majority-the Town.
Oaklanders & Black Representation
I had to be reminded who was the most recent incumbent to this district from Oakland by asking my facebook friends. Our former mayor Elihu Harris repped the district, then the 16th AD for years until he ran for mayor after which Congresswoman Barbara Lee was our rep on the Assembly and then State Senate before taking over for Ron Dellums. After that the seat passed to Don Perata from Alameda, Audie Bock of Piedmont (1 term), then Wilma Chan of Oakland, followed by Sandre Swanson before Rob Bonta beat out Abel Guillen. Sandre has lived in Alameda for a long time but was raised and still has deep roots in Oakland so I consider him our last Oakland assemblyman. This district’s history was not only Oakland-led but Black-led until immigration and gentrification significantly altered its demographics.
At this point Oakland is almost equally split among Black, white, Latinx, and Asian populations although the Black population continues to shrink at an alarming rate or perhaps so many of our Black residents have been pushed into homelessness that they are no longer counted. In any case, there have been no Black legislators in Northern California since Tony Thurmond became State Schools’ Superintendent and that’s sad. Black folks are being pushed out throughout our state for obvious reasons, including overpriced housing (yes redlining still exist-if you look at the number of Black families who lost their homes due to predatory loans in the last recession, particularly in East Oakland}, underfunded schools, laws opposing affirmative action in higher ed, and a host of other factors.
But no Black legislators, that shouldn’t stand! This campaign includes members of many ethnic groups: Filipinos, South Asians, Latinx from immigrant backgrounds, a Black candidate, Eugene Canson, that while his background is excellent, does not appear to be in any way viable and an Afro-Latina candidate Mia Bonta. Mia has been endorsed by most of the leading Black legislators including California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber, the California Black Caucus and former Assemblymember Sandre Swanson. I took this into account when analyzing my personal ranked endorsement.
San Leandro Candidates
I have also looked at the campaigns of the two San Leandro men running for this seat. Victor Aguilar jr seems to have a strong following in San Leandro and some valuable experience. As the son of immigrants from Mexico, he has wracked up some real progressive accomplishments on the San Leandro City Council in his first term. But there was an incident with him and his followers on the Alameda County Central Committee that made me very uncomforatable as I believe it did some others. Ellen Corbett who has held many elective offices had offered to chair our 18th AD caucus which met with approval from many of us. But Victor and his supporters disparaged her for offering and made her feel very unwecome while nominating Victor instead. Of course, politics can be a rough business but it should be a little less so amongst allies…but maybe that’s just me.
However, Victor clearly has a future and much to offer. Sadly, he lost his mother to Covid recently and his campaign has, not surprisingly, suffered-we extend our condolences-it’s a very tough loss at any age. Our Democratic Committee will be working with him and led by him in the near future so there will be opportunities to watch him grow in leadership.
James Aguilar, a San Leandro school board member, is an interesting young guy and also qualifies, in my mind, as the only candidate from Oakland. He grew up in the Dimond district, Noel Gallo’s district, but attended high school in San Leandro where he ran for the school board before he was barely out of class. His platform is another progressive wish list which includes strong climate change planks. However, I did not see criminal justice reform there so that’s a disappointment. I will be watching for more from him. He’s an exciting addition to the East Bay’s political environment.
Malia ranks slightly ahead of Mia because she has worked for Sacramento legislators and has a voting record on the things that matter most to progressives-housing and homeless support, criminal justice reform and immigrant rights plus union/worker advocacy. Mia has more money in the bank and undeniable name recognition but she also poses the negative of side of that coin. Should political dynasties be encouraged? The answer is mostly no but it may provide the first step for many a woman who would otherwise not even approach the political staircase.
Mia has an understanding of Oakland schools and their budget problems that no other candidate has demonstrated. She has pledged to fight to eliminate OUSD’s state-induced debt that threatens to close even more schools in Black neighborhoods. But her platform is lighter on details than Malia’s which may reflect the former’s greater experience in legislating.
Then there’s Janani’s wonderful platform and fighting spirit. She’s young and passionate and believes she can make a difference. When I asked her why she chose to start at the state level rather than local office, she told me, the Local Politics Coordinator, that she thought of running for school board or AC transit but wanted to run for something that could really effect change. Of course, that rubbed me the wrong way as I think that school board members make a big difference in their communities; and for working folks who use public transportation (btw, James A has a transportation plank) AC Transit is very important. It’s not that you can’t jump the line, after all, white guys do it all the time. But I prefer not to vote for folks with no public record if I have the option of some who do. And, there’s the little fact that the Assembly is where housing rights and police reform bills go to die so there’s a bit of naivete there too. Perhaps though optimism is a good thing in candidates for public office.
Bottom line-it’s a pretty good field with lots of choices and you all probably know some of these candidates already. If you don’t, please try and get to know them before June 29th!