Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How do you say anything intelligent in two minutes?  

Even after 24 years as a father of boys I have no idea how to do that.  

Now try this question:  What inspires you to run for Mayor and how will you better coordinate the city government with the school systems in order to provide a better educational and economic situation in Oakland?  (I am paraphrasing) 

Two minutes.  GO.  Give it a try?  Try to even understand that question in two minutes.  

Welcome to the third major candidate debate, this one hosted by Laney College.

If you are looking for something you can read in two minutes, this is not your blog.

This blog is on the whole event, the candidates, one by one, and add in some considerations about where Oakland is going and what I think is at stake.  This is not the 2 minute sound bite version.

I had not been in that Laney theatre since I was a student at Laney the second time in 2006.   On my way from class I saw a crowd and some press and invited myself in.  I was asked if I was with the Press.  That is what all the other white males carrying laptop bags were doing in the audience section.  There were a couple other non-African Americans on stage next to Ron Dellums.  He was accepting being drafted into a run for mayor.  

In many ways I see that moment when we drafted Ron Dellums for mayor as the beginning of the slow motion disaster for progressive politics in Oakland that continues to this day.  So I found it ironic to be back in that same theatre for another mayor's debate eight years later. Richmond continues to move forward, Oakland less so.

Each candidate got their two minutes of fame.  All went over; I timed it.  A Siegel supporter glared at me every time the 2 min buzzer went off. He was sort of like a second timer.

The theatre at Laney is not very big. Seats 200 or so? It was not full. I was hardly one of the few whites in attendance this time. There were a lot of the familiar faces one sees at these events and a lot of individual candidate supporters, self-included.  

The event at Temple Sinai was an exception for its quality and high attendance. The event at Laney had gone back to the rule. It is amazing how few people these events reach. One group that was not in attendance in great numbers was Laney College students. There were no great numbers. I usually hope that these things be webcasted. Not this time.

After the 3 minute each of our two minute introductions we got questions in a basket.  Each candidate got to draw a question and have another two minutes of brilliance.

WHO wrote those questions? I had to lean forward in my chair and could not take notes fast enough to write some of them down. They all sounded something like: 

Given the work that Peralta College has done to promote racial and economic background diversity in employment focused education, how would the city coordinate in a manner to see that these programs are sufficiently and equitably funded?  

That is not an actual question, but they were all long and complex and sounded like that to me. I started to imagine multiple choice questions where I am supposed to fill in the bubble next to the funding policy that the school wants you to support.

two minutes.....  

My fellow Green Party seat mate was wishing that 8 PM could come soon.  

Then we were off to round three with questions from the audience.

My question was: Do you support a Police Commission with hire, fire and discipline powers? THAT was never read.

Mr Burris was our MC / moderator and he did something that could have been great during this part of the debate. He called on different candidates on different subjects, sort of talk show style. It would have been great, but it was not because it became a discussion between him, Siegel and Tuman.

The result was far from great. At one point Burris called on my candidate, Jason Anderson, asking him about taxing the port. Anderson said that there are billions of dollars flowing through our port but the port is effectively exempt of the business taxes all the businesses of Oakland pay.

To counter he called on Parker, who is a Port Commissioner, and let him ramble on in an answer that started with bait and switch and ended with a total plug for an un related PR ploy. The worst of it was that Parker said that Anderson was wrong because there are only 600 million in port fees collected. Of course Anderson was saying that there were billions of dollars of business flowing through the port, not billions of dollars of port fees. If there were not billions of dollars in those containers, there would be no money for hundreds of millions of dollars of port fees. Then Parker went on to say that the Port pays a lot of debts, the airport part is sort of its own money and totally left Anderson's point begging. None of those things get my little business or any other, out of paying Oakland Business Taxes, which are based on GROSS REVENUES. Finally Parker started to talk about how some of the jobs at the (yet to be realized) Oakland Army Base project will go to Oakland Residents.

Then Burris did not give Jason a chance to respond. My advice to Jason Anderson later was that it was a good time to stand up and demand a chance to answer. The word BULLSHIT would not have been out of place at that point.

Much of the talk show back and forth was aimed at Joe Tuman. I got to say Joe did not handle it very well, but he also was being defined by the questions, not his own policies. He did get a chance to point out that police misconduct cases were a good business for both Burris, our MC and Siegel, the candidate that Burris kept counter pointing him against.

In all of it there was a basic upgrade of how the candidates presented themselves. Sort of a lost opportunity since they had not done a very good job at the much better attended, organized and moderated debate at Temple Sinai.

Dan Siegel did the best job putting his own views out there. In an event moderated by a fellow civil rights attorney, it would have been sad if he had not. But much to Dan's credit he spoke clearly and put a few major points out there. He got a couple good laughs, a couple applauses and did a good job of making fun of a question that was so long he did not want it to count against his allotted two minute answer.

Mayor Quan and Council Member Schaaf were both clear and concise for the short amount of time they were on stage. This event had been moved from a mid-day event for only a few candidates (the ones with money) to an evening event with many candidates right when Council Committee work was scheduled. Schaaf did a good job of describing her background of service and was the first to take the mike, stand up and speak clearly to the audience. Quan spoke this time with the skills that got her elected mayor and before that supervisor and before that school board member.

Points have to be marked for Anderson, Ruby, Parker and Sidebotham for clear speaking and making good points. Parker should get the nod for most improved public speaker and finally sounding like someone who is seriously running for mayor with a reason to do so. Anderson did well, even when his nickname "Shake" came out as "the Snake" from Burris. He did well talking about not only his roots in Oakland, but also the history of being a black person in Oakland. Anderson also got a couple of good crowd responses especially when he said that in his home his mother did not "allow them to be stupid" in a good context. Ruby and Sidebotham both held their own as public speakers one should consider for Mayor with good descriptive opening lines and direct addressing of the issues.

Tuman is still disappointing me. I know Joe and I know he has a lot behind is ideas. He is an intellectual, yet he comes off as the guy who ignores the studies. At one point he was telling Burris that after the show he could send him links to important studies. Burris answered that he needs to tell it to us, his audience. My point entirely. It was really not Tuman's crowd, and when he asked a rhetorical question of the audience some attendees shouted out YES when he expected a NO. (There were a lot of Greens and Siegel supporters there.) Overall his word choices and comments were too intellectually based in an argument that was not an intellectual challenge.

Then we had Liu, Washington and Williams. I do not know what to say. As a supporter of a candidate without big money backing (a job that I held myself) and an advocate for a better democracy than we have, I think it is important that all voices be heard.  

Not all voices deserve to be voted for.


Burris failed as a moderator, yet I think he really had something to offer. With some reflection on fairness and bringing people's own voices out, he could apply his skills and knowledge of the city to other public debates. Calling Shake "the snake", messing up Washington's and William's names and constantly not knowing Liu's name was really not cool. Reminded me of Amy Allison.  

His back and forth, talk show style, shows promise in a public forum practice drastically in need of some new methods. Maybe forum with only one question, and then a back and forth with all the participants with Burris drawing people out on their views would be very useful. I have to thank him for making himself available for this 2 min sound bite joust.

Let's just remember that this is still early days. Ballot qualification is months away after the June Primaries. (don't forget to look for the Green Voter Guide for those primaries)

So let's also remember that I am writing an opinion piece here as I take the candidates in alphabetical order with what I think they had to say and my reactions and comments:

Anderson: Our Green Party candidate made a very clear point when he closed. He said something along the lines of not being a wealthy man and not aspiring to be one. That was in stark contrast to everyone else on stage, a few of whom were boasting about their business success as a qualifier for office. From Parker to Siegel most of the candidates are well off indeed. Shake put his campaign into the context of wanting to be "Town Mayor" which for him means a mayor that is part of the whole town being mayor; the whole town should have a say. He had more to offer, but did not get a chance to speak much of it. He did convey that there is a need for the resources to be pointed to the public and that he had no time for projects that did not have a clear public benefit. Good point. I know too much of his programs and ideas to know how well it was conveyed that night. I really liked his closing statement where he framed the "town mayor" idea.

Liu: His ideas were mostly about using a game that he has invented to teach people to become successful capitalists, like him. It was in his answer to most questions. Speaking to him at the tables before the show, I asked to be on his mailing list. No such thing. His website? Oakland Wiki. He did have a handout, mostly about his game. Other views? I am not really sure. Party affiliation?

Have you ever heard of someone called Tymiński? He was a Canadian-Pol who ran for president of Poland when Walesa was first elected. His campaign was based on having made a mint in Canada and being willing to show Pols how to make it under capitalism. Walesa came in first, Tymiński second and Poland's very competent prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, came in thrid.

Watching Liu speak I was reminded of Tymiński. If we were in Europe, I would have called him a Tymiński and people would know what I meant, maybe. and

Unrelated to Liu or the Oakland Mayor's race Walesa went on to be an ineffective, right wing catholic president of a corrupt administration that caused Poland to backslide a bit economically and lead the post-Soviet world in taking away women's rights, such as abortion rights. Mazowiecki was probably the best candidate, but he found himself supporting Walesa in the run-off in order to keep a crazy like Tymiński out of office. There is a very big difference between Walesa the union leader and Walesa the president. One of Poland's main growth industries under Walesa was the sex trade. They did what they could to tear down the social state and take away free education and health care. Eventually Poland joined W in the invasion of Iraq when even German and France would not.

Parker: As a center right businessman and Port Commissioner he is a very typical candidate for Mayor in any US city. He came out and made a good clear stand for a position somewhere between Siegel and Tuman on Police staffing levels. He made the very obvious point that a viable police force and community policing go hand in hand. What we did not get in 2 mins was exactly what he would do in community policing or how he would keep that police force accountable. No one else did either. When talking education and technology he was talking about the next Mark Zuckerberg coming from Oakland. He was much clearer on what it means to be a young black person trying to make it while facing discrimination and other barriers. He talked of the contrast between Travon Martin in a hoodie and Mark Zuckerberg, also a young guy in a hoodie, and how young black people are not on the track to success. He talked about including program coding and advance computer-sci at Laney as stepping stones to success.

We have already had a center right competent liberal mayor, his name was Jerry Brown. I am not sure how, or if, Parker would stand up for the 99%, not sure at all. I also found that talking about the next Mark Zuckerberg is a distraction when talking about thousands of Oakland youth not getting the education they need to take the jobs given to Indians on special visas by companies that get sweetheart tax deals while our schools starve for funds. The very schools that he is asking to produce the next Mark Zuckerberg. Currently they don’t fully help us get the next IT tech.

Quan: The Mayor came back to her personal commitment to education. She has that claim and it would be unfair not appreciate her commitment there. She made two good points in her introduction and one question.  That is 4 scheduled minutes that she stretched to seven.

1 we have 5,000 recently released inmates to work with. 

2 the State of California left our Oakland schools more in debt than they were when they took them over because of our supposed financial miss-management. That is several dozen millions of dollars more by the way. Quan said that she wants the state to pay that money back.

For a forum on education, these were important points.

Quan has been in office for 20 years now. The woman whose supporters claimed was "new on the job" during the Occupy fiasco and as a defense against a recall is part of the status quo. 8 years on the school board, another 8 on the council, including as budget chair, and now 4 more as Mayor. Her points are good, but what is her record and why do her supporters think she is still credible? When I was at her campaign table I met friends of mine who still support her.  The Block By Block group behind Jean is something of a local political party and may well get her reelected. I wish it were more out in the open. We never think if Jean as being part of Block By Block or talk about her in the context of this movement she leads. Are they the progressive leadership of Oakland? Are the progressives currently in office?

The Block by Block Organizing Network has a web address with no pages http://bbbon.net/ and much of what I saw on Jean’s literature table was reports from the city of Oakland. To contact them I suggest info@bbbon.net.

In the end I think the argument with Quan from the Greens is how to be a successful, effective progressive and what does being a progressive mean?  

This is a discussion we need to have among residents of Oakland in a more global way. Have we all forgotten the Dellums administration?

Ruby: She made very clear that her top priority is crime and that she supports more police staffing. She also put forward some of her work as the city's "watchdog" and included her better administration of the Auditor's office as her reference points. She made an unpopular, but important stand against spending on ball parks, or anything else, that does not "pencil out" in the city's favor. I wonder how she feels about the Army Base and Upper Broadway redevelopment plans. She did a much better job in this debate showing herself as a centrist, competent government advocate and something of a reform Mayor if elected.  

One has to ask then about her friends at the Chamber of Commerce among the developers? Why is she different from Schaaf and Tuman? If she has opinions on restorative justice, taxation, job training, etc, there was no time in her 2 mins for it.

Schaaf: Libby got the least time of anyone. She had to leave for committee work. So she only her 2 min intro. In that short time she rejected the idea that crime is "an urban tax that we need to pay." She talked about investing in the police and working on root causes and said that every child needs to graduate from High School. She also supports the same min wage petition that Siegel has made a cornerstone of his campaign.

Those are all good points, but who is against them? Moderators of future debates might have a question or two for Ms. Schaaf on these issues. Does she think Oakland can lower its crime rate more than the national trend? HOW? Of course that is a question that all the would-be mayors should find time to answer.

Sidebotham: Nancy is a clear speaker. A couple of times she stated the obvious, but not mentioned. When she put aside the questions of educational number and crime number and boiled it down to "what is our quality of life" I felt she was going somewhere. She framed her answers in the context of our national problems and how our economy is suffering from globalization. Her attitude seems to be one of social solidarity, albeit from a pro-business perspective, and good government as a way for Oakland to weather the storm. That has been the view of the French Republicans (what we call Gaullists) for about forever, but we are not in France, and she did not say how we should deal with the social economic sociopathic market fanaticism that holds so much of our national politics hostage. Is she supportive of some national movement?

These again are discussion points for all the candidates, not just her, and in a better discussion I would like to see her explain what dealing with globalization means for the actions of an Oakland Mayor.

Siegel: Dan made two things really clear that night. First is that he is belligerent on the minimum wage, and second that he has an actual staffing plan for the Oakland Police. Inside two minutes, he did not get a chance to describe either with any detail. Who could? As far as I can tell it is the only staffing plan on the table other than the mayor's plan, which is policy.

Dan’s plan gets a mention on the safe streets page of his highly produced, very developed website http://siegelforoakland.org/public_safety.php but it is not the detailed, numbered, plan he sketched out in the debate where he had a layout for the staffing levels building up from the local detachment. It is probably the best proposal Dan has made so far, the most concrete and I hope he will put move of it into print.

The current administration, Quan, and the current police leadership have, to their credit also put out a concrete plan, which is our city’s current official policy as far as I can tell. I think candidates proposals need to be compared to that plan as they are running against that incumbent mayor.

Most recent report to the public safety committee

1. View Report.pdf, 2. View Supplemental Report.pdf (both important)

For the whole meeting, go here:

Siegel made mention of his well-deserved reputation as an activist and civil rights lawyer. He did not make mention of his long standing links with about all of the status quo Oakland pols in the orbit of Jean Quan. He was also not challenged on his involvement in the KPFA civil war.

For another candidate long involvement in local government would be listed as one of his qualifications considering his experience on the school board and in housing. Yet that was not mentioned. It IS on his website in detail. The status quo is pretty unpopular and he is selling himself as a change from the status quo. So when did he stop being part of local leadership? What is he going to do different? He talks about how he wrote the community policing ordinance that is not yet implemented. Well, how would he implement it after two mayors he supported did not?

Dan talked about having been a Freedom Rider back in the day. I wish he had used those words, but he described it. That was an impressive thing to have done and a major action to his credit. Siegel spoke openly and well about poverty and racism at the forum. He cheapened it in my view by talking about Sterling and the Basketball scandal but on the whole put forward the ideas we on the left tend to have consensus around.

He made some other concrete proposals. He wants to the culinary academy in Oakland to become "world class" sounding a bit akin to Dellum’s "model city." He also wants world class broadband. He cited work done in city provided broadband in other countries, but not in San Leandro. That makes me think Dan does not have an advisor who actually works in the IT sector.

In 2006 I was a Dan for Mayor Supporter. That campaign was short circuited by the Dellums campaign. Thus I saw Dellums speak at Dan's home. At that time Dan put forward some ideas on community use of school sites as civic centers that I found very intelligent and I stole them for my own campaigns. Those ideas did not become policy under Dellums or Quan. Mixed use of schools was on his laundry list of things at the debate, but not core. Dan got a lot more than 2 mins to talk with Burris calling him back multiple times.

I have some Dan inspired questions, which are again questions for any candidate. What is WRONG with local government? Is it just the policies? Is it the social class and racial focus of the services? Is there something wrong with our practice of government? Are we dividing everything up into bureaucratic turf? Is there something wrong with our democracy? What would Dan do differently? When I hear Dan say these great things and talk this great talk, I ask how is this going to be any different than the mayoral terms of his good friends Dellums and Quan.


Tuman: Joe has made a couple of things clear. First and foremost is that he will fund the Oakland Police to pre-recession staffing levels and put law enforcement as the sine qua non (without which nothing, or the absolute pre requirement) of any city plans. He has an argument there and many people in Oakland feel the same way. With current crime rates how do we work on the schools? How do we get people to move/stay here? How do we get businesses to invest here? Those are Joe's questions that all deserve an answer. Unlike other center right candidates he came forward as a qualified yes on a minimum wage hike. He wants a study and a plan.

The rest of the Tuman message needs some messaging. What exactly is the Tuman view on police misconduct? What would he do ab out it? What would he do with the thousands arrested every year? What to do with those released? If there is to be a Tumanist message, what is it?

Tuman and Schaaf are member of Make Oakland Better Now. Tuman is keeping the faith of that group by sticking to his police staffing levels. Seems that Schaaf is too. Not far from them politically are Ruby and Parker. http://makeoaklandbetternow.org/

So why the hell are these four running for office against each other? If Schaaf stayed on council, Ruby at Auditor, Parker on Port and they ran Tuman for Mayor they would have a powerful team. They could form a local Oakland, municipal level political party.

That is a political party that I am glad that they do not have because I do not agree with the policies. We cannot arrest our way to social peace and the Measure Y non-profit request for proposal method has not given us workable alternatives. What we need is activist government that makes solving these problems the way local government works, not just another liberal program. But I am a Green, so....

Washington: I know nothing of this guy and I learned nothing about him at the debate. He did not say anything others did not say. He did show some insider knowledge, and if I were an insider, I would probably know more about him. He said that we could go to his website to know about who he is, and thus did not use is two minutes to tell us. Washington said some of the basic things almost every business sector person says about government waste. There is some real truth to that, but I found it limited. He also spoke against the disunity of government, leadership vacuum in council and laid some of the blame at the feet of instant runoff voting.  His main thing is that he has worked in a lot of private and public agencies and feels he could offer better leadership to the city. If he has a good case for being mayor, he did not make it.

I am still not very decided on IRV myself, but I find most of the critics seem to think that someone else would have won otherwise. I am not so sure. Had Perata gone to the second round with Quan, I think Quan would still have ended up Mayor because Don Perata had big negatives.

(at some point ask me about Proportional Representation, the voting method used all around the world that our two party monopoly is doing everything to avoid)

Williams: I went to Mr. Williams’ table to meet him before the debate. He seemed friendly, but somehow expecting people to respond to him in a certain way I did not catch. He really reminded me of a church deacon who was an important person among those who knew him. He made a lot of comments about getting tough on crime and constantly said that changing the zoning would bring in the money and the jobs. He may be right about that. Currently zoning amendments are up in front of council all the time and in my view zoning amendments is one of the practices of the council that should be audited. That does not make a mayoral campaign. He seems a great guy, conservative, and wears some kind of star thing on his lapel that reminded me of the Masons. Some of what he said made me think he was a Vietnam era vet, but I am not sure. I am very sure he is a Vet, as is Jason "Shake" Anderson. Any others? His speaking style went into a ramble and he did not get much through with his two minutes. Not knowing how to bullshit in 2 mins is no bad mark on anyone. In my view he was making economic improvement via zoning changes and cracking down on crime all too simple and I do not believe in simple solutions for complex problems in Oakland. And I am not a conservative. In a more democratic Oakland, we would probably have such a person on council.

In all the talk I felt that some things were missing the mark.  

School was spoken of as vocational (often treated as correctional or remedial by education bureaucrats), entrepreneurial or just plain academic degree success driven. (How many graduate high school, how many go to college, etc, more degree, more better) Siegel talked about having our culinary academy being "world class" which is fine, but where does one learn to be a health inspector or comply with a health certification? To its credit, Laney pays more attention to the next IT geek and health inspector than our candidates did.

What left me begging was certification and qualification all hands around. When someone get skills training the path to a job is often dependent on those skill certifications such as the Microsoft Certified Professional programs, low voltage certified electrician's license, contractor's license, etc. This forum was on education and not one question or answer was about certifications. As a working class graduate of a machinist program I do not see opportunities for today’s youth that I had 35 years ago.

There was also a silence on diversion programs for those arrested, and integration programs for those released. Only Mayor Quan made any mention on this. Yet we were talking about crime, education and jobs?

When it was over the place cleared out faster the financial district on a Friday with snow in the Sierras. I chatted a bit with folk and then went to fetch my bike for the ride home. I would have more than two minutes to pedal through the hot summer evening air and reflect on what I had just watched.

Passing under what is now the 12th street overpass back to Lake Merit I came upon the same homeless folk I saw when I got there. They had added to their numbers, and even had a motorbike of some kind parked among their bicycles and shopping carts. Some pads were down with people sleeping on them. I found a sense of perspective leaving an event attended mostly by middle class, college educated, secure followers of Oakland politics.  Who represented the folk under that overpass? Who witnessed among that population? There are reasons that I am a Green.

We did not mention homelessness during the event at all. Yet it is one of the core difficulties affecting the jobless and many of our students.

I decided to go the long way around the lake and enjoy the lights and then made a commitment to myself to write this very long blog.



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