Friday, April 4, 2014

A night at the mayors debate

A day at the races. 

That is the mayor's race.  2014 run.  Oakland City.  

After having done this myself in 2010 and then having run for council in 2012 it sure felt different to sit in the balcony and be part of the crowd.  It was fun.  I waived at a few people I knew, noticed others further away and watched the show.  Only the popcorn was missing. 

The day belonged to Libby Schaaf.  She spoke well.  She answered the questions well and basically carried herself as if she could credibly be the next mayor.  That she has to credit herself for.  The day belonged to her too because of the way the good questions kept coming to her.  Credit the press panel for that.  I had the feeling that the panel was treating her as the front runner. 

The candidates as speakers 

Worst of them all was our current mayor, Jean Quan. Every time she spoke she was running out her breath and running down the clock.  It was hard to understand her points.  She also had some real trouble hearing some pointed questions which the audience repeated to her.  Jean has always sounded like that and got elected mayor sounding like that.  Maybe speaking skills are not so important for getting elected in Oakland.  

My friend Joe Tuman, who taught me a lot of the public speaking skills I have, did not follow his own advice.  It took him a while to answer the questions to the audience instead of to the journalist on the panal.  This is the man who hammered home into my head at San Francisco State that AUDIENCE DRIVES THE MESSAGE.  He also broke the rule about shape.  His speaking sounded a bit like Quan's with breath and diction, but still a single buzz until the clock ran out.  Worst of all, at one point he was speaking about management measuring tools in a jargon so academic that I was glad that I also speak French.  

My friend Shake Anderson, along with Parker, Ruby, Schaaf and Sidebotham all did good jobs of answering the questions directly without waffling, and speaking with breath and pause to make clear when they were passing from one idea to another.  Nancy Sidebotham was particularly well spoken, even when the questions were pointed and personal.  At one point Shake was asked if he would use Occupy consensus decision making as mayor to which he toned a clear NO that got the laugh from the crowd.  Nancy was hounded for not supporting much of any taxes and she came back clear on why she does not trust those who spend those tax dollars.  Anderson, Parker, Ruby and Schaaf knew the skill of answering head on before heading in the direction that they wanted. 

Patrick McCullough and Dan Siegel fell somewhere in between.  Both have good clear voices.  Siegel tended to sound good even when he was speaking without much structure or any clear answer.  At other times he was really clear on message, albeit without much memorable punch.  McCullough speaks very clearly, but let the journalists decide what he was going to talk about.  

The audience 

There was a lot of it.  Temple Sinai was PACKED, all seats taken on both levels with people sitting on floors, stairs and standing.  The audience was also much more mixed in age, race, and gender that many of the forums I have seen.  It was pleasing to see such a great turn out.  We need more people in Oakland to take the time to see, hear, understand and give a damn in our elections.  

The place 

Shone brightly.  The Temple Sinai sanctuary is a splendid building.  Early 1900's stone and an ironwork supported dome does it for me.  So did the very 21st century sound system and Wi-Fi.  We should all thank Temple for hosting us so well in such a classy venue.  (full disclosure, I know the building well and have something to do with that Wi-Fi)  

The panel 

It was a well-chosen group.  We had the notorious Chip Johnson, who was gracious and fair.  Matt Artz of the Tribune was as well informed as always, which he used to put a sharp edge on a lot of his questions.  Bob Gammon showed in his questions that he is probably the most informed and longest serving member of the local press since the death of Sanjiv Handa.  His tone was very respectful and his questions, although hard, were put fairly.  I was very impressed by Bianca Brooks of Youth Radio who really zoomed in on some hot issues and pushed those buttons when needed.  

The show 

I am not a fan of this format.  It runs long, the answers are too short and the discussion ends up being superficial.  I also thought that some of the questions were unfair.  McCullough was first cast in the light of his past self-defense use of a firearm to wound a miscreant, years ago.  Then the weapons issue was harped upon again in discussion of armed private security patrols.  Then he was asked flat out what qualifications he might have to be mayor.  No such questions were asked of the others.  They were asked about relevant events, issues or character of governance.  

Chip Johnson asked Shake Anderson how he would get along with the police after having gone head to head with them when he was an Occupy protestor.  I found that question fair and Shake started his answer with a clear message that he wants a different chief of police.  
The mayor was put on the defensive comparing crime stats during her first 3 years to the last year of the Dellums administration.  She did not answer clearly (see description of her mumbling above) but she was right to say that short term numbers like that mean little.  I agree.  I say the same thing when her supporters in Block by Block talk about how crime is way down this year compared to last year, especially murders.  That is true, but both last year and this year fall within the normal fluctuations, but who wants to listen to analytical statistics when you can score sound bite points? 

Not all that much was said in 90 second sound bites; you can't even string them as you would on Twitter.  There was some meaningless talk of police staffing numbers.  In this Joe Tuman clearly stated that he was willing to pay what it takes to have 900 police.  Libby ducked some clear questions on police costs overall and avoided answering if she would like to get union seniority out of how police brass make assignments.  

There were some good small points made by all, many a good statement made, but in 90 seconds how much can anyone say?  A couple people, especially Shake, Ruby and Libby, made it clear that they would expect a police chief to do their job, not have the mayor do it for them.  WHO those three would like as mayor may not be a point of consensus. If there was a consensus it was that they all wanted more beat cops who actually live in the city.  There was some talk about how young men of color are supposed to act or what they are supposed to want... There was some more snippets about chronic poverty and chronic crime... Some words on economic development ... 

Every candidate got some time, but certain candidates got a lot more time.  As I said, Libby was sitting in the middle of the stage standing out in a bright red dress.  All the other candidates were dressed more conservatively, including Shake.  And she got the center of attention if not the numeric majority of the questions.  The Mayor got fewer questions than one would guess.  She got the most questions when it was the turn of the candidates to ask another candidate a question.  It was pretty easy to see that the focus and attention was on the candidates considered most likely to win.  

Some questions were not asked.  "Do you have the support of the Oakland Police Officers Association or are you seeking their support?" would have been a question.  "Who do you think you can work with on City Council to support your agenda?" would be another.  I could add to this "Should we have a police commission?" and "What happened to civilian intake of complaints against police officers?"  (Now back in the hands of Internal Affairs despite direct votes of council and the city budget) I would have liked some questions about failed policies and rapidly changing policies instead of hounding the mayor for how many people quit on her.  Of course even if they had asked better questions, with 90 second answers, what would we have really learned? 

I was a little disappointed with some of the numbers thrown around. We had the normal questions about pensions as if it were a single without mentioning cash flow and rate of payout.  We also had some unexplained numbers on cost per cop.  The candidates were sticking to $180,000 per cop, per year.  There was no numbered distinction made about overtime, yet we were asking if police salaries should be lower.  I was half expecting Dan Siegel to clarify, and he sort of did on another question.  Basic police salary is a lot less than 180K, overtime is a real lot and total cost per cop is between 200 and 250K unless you want them out there on foot in their underwear.  (Source, former City Administrator Lindheim) 

By and large the whole thing was good natured and there were even a few laughs.  One when the Mayor thanked Chip for a column and he gave a good hearted you're welcome.  Shake got a good laugh for his flat NO and another when he said that he could end up good friends with the police.  McCullough got a couple good laughs and there were a few light moments.  If there was any serious value in the evening, it was to get a good look at all the candidates mannerisms.  

By and large, the feeling of the whole evening was friendly.  

The politics

For our 2014 election, we have a few of those likely winners. The measure of such things in our nation is dollars and press.  So who has the dollars and the connections?  Tuman, who is a TV personality and has been running for a year already, Ruby, our city auditor, who is well liked at the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, Libby Schaaf, sitting council member and lifelong Oakland insider, and the incumbent, Jean Quan, who has a strong core base after 20 years as an elected official, working hard to get her reelected.  

The politics of what is at stake is mostly personalities.  Only Green candidate Anderson and independent McCullough would be any real break from the status quo.  Even ultra-radical Dan Siegel has been part of the inside crowd in Oakland for a long time.  At one point he reminded us that he wrote a part of our current community policing laws. How Dan is different from Jean is not as clear as it needs to be and he did not make it any more clear tonight.  

As this is a blog, not some kind of journalism, I can now pass to the candidate that I support: 

Jason Kane "Shake" Anderson.  I think he did well, especially for his first round of this circus.  He obviously was well prepared and obviously has the relevant experience to do the public speaking, public debate part of running for office.  As the standard bearer for the Green Party he made the points that needed to be made within the limits of this sound bite boxing match.  

I liked how he explained the new relationship he proposes with the police along the lines of needing South African style Truth and Reconciliation.  He followed that later with a clear message to the nonprofits who do not get the services out to the residents.  In case anyone was wondering, Anderson, like all Greens, does not take big money and owes big money no quid-pro-quo.  I liked how he spoke of his grandparents moving to Oakland during the great migration.  

I think he should hone his message on his opposition to the war on drugs because he will be asked that again and again.  He got the words PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX out there and followed with Nonprofit Industrial Complex later. That is a damn good start considering that they did not call on him much.  He talked about his leadership style when answering the Occupy-Consensus question and included what he had personally learned from Occupy.  What I like about his style is that he speaks as a whole person from the heart, personal and political.  Yet he did not sell himself as the others did.  Overall he gave clear ideas for a real transition in our relationships around public safety and crime based on who we are here and now.  As the campaign moves on his reform agenda will make itself heard.

This election is not even started.  The petition period is in JUNE.  Others could file and some could drop out.  In July we sign ballot petitions and only once those are turned in, we will know who will actually be on the ballot in November.   Right now nothing is fixed.  

There is much more to be said about public safety in Oakland than was said tonight.  

We have until November to say it.  

See the debate for yourself:

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