Part 1 – candidates (Yeah, I know, I already published Part 2.)
November 2020 is a Presidential election. That in itself makes it special. This is a particularly crucial presidential election. We are just finishing four year that have almost literally turned the country on its head. We’ve gone from a president who insisted that the U.S. be a world leader in turning back climate change to one who doubts its very existence. We’ve gone from a president who endorsed diplomacy as the way countries solve their disputes (even though he engaged in undeclared wars and extrajudicial assassinations) to one who insists that the U.S. pull back from international involvement (while he continues to engage U.S. troops in a variety of overseas military operations – mostly begun by his predecessors – and threatens military and economic warfare on almost a weekly basis.
In short, we’ve gone from an administration that talked the talk of international cooperation while not always walking the walk, to one that doesn’t even make a pretense in believing in it, and wants to bring the U.S. domestic economic policies back to those of the laissez-faire 19th century.
I can hardly call myself an enthusiastic supporter of Joe Biden and his brand of Democratic (large D) government. As Obama’s vice president, he went along with numerous questionable choices that administration made. Nor, since becoming a presidential candidate, has he shown that he was artificially held back from taking stronger steps to address the many problems facing this country and the world. In short, he’s the kind of milquetoast, corporatist Democrat that I’ve voted against for many years.
However, this year is different, and I have to reluctantly endorse Joe Biden. I’d love to be able to think that either Green Party or Peace and Freedom Party candidate could win, but we know that’s not possible. Sadly, the voters of this country aren’t ready for any kind of radical change. Maybe in four years? I’m not optimistic.
Yes, it’s once again a choice for the a lesser of two evils; but Biden is so much less evil than his opponent that he looks almost angelic by comparison with Mr. Trump.
So much for the federal level. Being in Barbara Lee’s congressional district, there’s hardly any contest. Her Republican opponent has a platform of Puerto Rican statehood (It’s not even popular in Puerto Rico. Why is a Californian candidate making it his top priority), lower taxes (for whom? And if we lower taxes even further, how will anything get paid for?), and establishing a space force (with what money, when he wants to cut taxes? A space force is even more of a boondoggle that the High-Speed Rail Authority!)
At the state level, there’s not much choice either. To be blunt, I am notably unenthusiastic about either our state senator, Nancy Skinner, or our assembly member, Buffy Wicks. However, the only opposition to Skinner is a Libertarian whose ideas are little short of nonsense, and the only opponent to Wicks is Sara Brink – a film maker who has mounted virtually no campaign at all. I may vote for Sara Brink, if only as a protest vote. I will leave my ballot blank on state senate.
At the local level, things are more competitive and interesting. There is one uncontested office – BART Director – where the incumbent is running unopposed. However, there a two contested AC Transit Board seats, an Oakland Unified School District board seat, two Oakland City Council seats, one county superior court judge position, and the Oakland City Attorney seat.
Let’s start with City Council. For the at-large seat (city-wide), there are three candidates: Rebecca Kaplan – a three-term incumbent; Derreck B. Johnson, a “small business owner;” and Nancy Sidebotham; a tax preparer and perennial city council candidate. Johnson is running with backing from much of the East Bay political establishment, including Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, Board of Equalization member (and long-time San Francisco politician) Malia Cohen, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, assembly member Buffy Wicks, former state senator Don Perata, and a number of former Oakland city council members. Rebecca Kaplan has the endorsement of the Alameda County Democratic Party, Our Revolution East Bay, and many of the local labor unions, as well as the Sierra club and Oakland Rising – i.e., much of the progressive wing of the local Democratic Party. Sidebotham has no organizational endorsement and 24 individual endorsers.
As for platforms, Sidebotham’s platform focuses on a few specific narrow issues – like being a watchdog a the newly-established city redistricting commission and getting audits done of city departments. Not what I’d call an ambitious platform. Johnson’s platform reeks of generalities – fighting COVID and supporting the City’s economic recovery, addressing housing & homelessness, and “racial justice and equality” – really – that’s what he put up on the LWV Voters Edge website! Kaplan lists a number of initiatives, ranging from ending disparities in the city’s treatment of its citizens in hiring, contracting, and policing to addressing homelessness and public health issues to promoting civilianization of the the police department. In short, a pretty wide-ranging progressive-oriented platform. Her three terms in office reflect that progressive stance. (It’s no wonder the Mayor would like to replace her.)
If you can’t tell, my choice is Kaplan. This is a battle between the old guard and the progressives. I’m siding with the progressives.
Oakland City Council – District 1.
This is also a three-way race, and again it’s an incumbent against two challengers. Let’s start with the challengers:
Steph Dominguez Walton calls herself a businesswoman and mother. She doesn’t say what her business is, though. (She’s been in TV in various positions, but not any more.) Her husband, by the way, is described as “an environmental attorney.” He’s a partner in SSL, LLP – a law firm that represents – according to their website – developers, property owners, investors, contractors, and financial institutions in a wide variety of development and construction projects. That doesn’t say that Ms. Walton is automatically pro-developer, but when you look at her biggest campaign contributors, they’re mostly construction unions.
One of her primary platform planks is to eliminate single-family zoning throughout Oakland. She claims it’s the result of racism – exclusionary zoning. In some parts of Oakland, particularly the Oakland Hills, there’s some truth to that. Housing tracts in Upper Rockridge, for example, developed around the time of World War I, included restrictive covenants prohibiting the sale of properties to blacks, asians, or Jews. On the other hand, given that most houses were built on steep, narrow streets because of the hillsides, single family homes were probably the only thing practical, and with the steep hillsides, streetcars weren’t practical, unlike lower parts of Oakland where they, along with small multi-unit buildings, were prevalent. In other words, yes, there was racism in Oakland, but no, it’s not what caused single-family housing.
Ms. Walton also says that requiring all housing to be multi-unit will make solve Oakland’s affordability problems. I don’t think so. Look at San Francisco. The eastern half of San Francisco is almost entirely multi-unit buildings, and it’s got some of the highest housing costs in the country. Housing pricing is not a nut that’s easily cracked, and simple-minded thinking won’t crack it. Perhaps because she’s opposed to single-family zoning, she’s been endorsed by California YIMBY. I’m afraid that endorsement doesn’t impress me positively.
A second major plank in her platform is “reforming” the police dept. What that means is unclear. She’s for prohibiting the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, or flash-bank grenades. Fine, but all three candidates say that. She wants accountability – but what does that mean? She said police should “protect the community from violent crime.” OK, but how? She says Oakland should fund departments “better suited to address mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness, among other critical services.” OK, but where’s the money going to come from when roughly half the City’s budget goes to policing? Sorry, but I don’t see ideas that give me confidence here.
She says she wants to see more money spent on education – then why isn’t she running for school board, not City Council?
In short, I’m not impressed. (Update October 9th – I heard all three candidates on an Oakland League of Women Voters Candidates’ Forum for District 1 Council and School Board races. The candidates answered audience-supplied questions posed by the moderator. The recorded program should be up on the league’s website. As of today, it’s not up yet. check back next week. Bottom line, while she’s a very slick talker, I didn’t here a lot of substance. I’m still not impressed.)
Well, it’s a few days later, and the vote by mail ballots have dropped – and this year they’ve dropped on everyone, so I need to hurry up and finish my recommendations before they become useless!
Short take on Mr. Ngo, he’s got a few good ideas – like allowing people in District 1 vote on issues before the Council so he’s got direct input from the community. However, there’s a lot of kinks that would need to be worked out to prevent fraudulent voting. Overall, he impresses me as idealistic, but very inexperienced. I’d worry about turning a council seat over to him at this point.
Bottom line, my recommendation is to stick with Dan Kalb. While I don’t always agree with him – I often feel he’s too timid and too worried about getting people made with him. (You’d think he’d have realized by now that if you want to make and omelet, you’ve got to break some eggs.) Nevertheless, his instincts and heart are in the right place, and on important things, he usually comes down on the right side – or at least on on the wrong side. I realize that’s not an enthusiastic endorsement, but, as with Biden, he’s still head and shoulders above his opponents.
For District 1 school board, it’s again a 3-way race. My thumbnail evaluations: Stacy Thomas – she’s basically mad because OUSD has been closing down some of the smaller schools as uneconomical. I understand her concern, but OUSD is in serious financial trouble, so something had to give. She’s running on a “progressive” slate (Action2020Oakland). The slated opposes school closures and charter schools. I certainly agree with the latter. I’d say she’s my second choice.
Austin Dannhaus – he’s pretty slick, and uses lots of jargon. He claims he’s been a third grade teacher, but doesn’t say where or for how long. He’s supported financially by Michael Bloomberg -who’s big on charter schools, but Austin says nothing about his position on that issue. To be blunk, I trust him about as far as I can throw him. NO WAY.
Sam Davis – like Austin, he’s been a teacher, but he seems much more down to earth. He’s also been a local school volunteer and has lots of support – including most progressive organizations. I’m picking him as my first choice.
City Attorney – this is a battle between the current city attorney – Barbaqra Parker , and a deputy city attorney, Elias Ferran. I have been very unimpressed with Ms. Parker. I think she blew it on the Oakland Coal Ordinance, and I don’t see her addressing the problems of OPD at all. I feel she’s been ineffective. I am voting for Mr. Ferran as a vote for change.
AC Transit – we get to vote for the At-Large seat and the Ward 2 seat. I know both the incumbents, and while they don’t always agree, they both have good heads on their shoulders and put their hearts into the job. I recommend Chris Peeples for at-large and Greg Harper for our district director.
Alameda County Superior Court – this is an open seat, and there are two candidates: Mark Fickes and Elena Condes. This is a run-off after neither got a majority in the primary. While they’re both decent candidates, I like Fickes’ views on the issues better, so that’s who I’m going for.
Finally there are the local measures. There are two county measures, one school district bond, and three city measures. Here they are:
Measure V – Utility tax for unincorporated areas – this will help the County have money to address needed county services. YES
Measure W – a countywide sales tax measure, also to help pay for county services, especially social services that have been stretched by the pandemic – YES
Measure Y – Oakland Unified School District bond for classroom repairs and school safety improvements – YES
Measure QQ – would allow the City to pass an ordinance allowing residents aged 16-18 to vote for OUSD school board members. – NO (I don’t think high school juniors have the maturity to understand what they’d be voting for. I know I didn’t when I was in high school, and I was probably more mature than most.)
Measure S1 – provides more oversight for Oakland Police Dept. by civilian review board. – YES
So there you have it!!