November 13 , 2014

Some more thoughts on the 2014 Oakland mayoral election before we move into the Mayor Libby Schaaf era:
Congratulations to Ms. Schaaf, not only for her victory, but also for running a campaign that did not bend the rules or outright cheat to win, at least as far as I can see. I’ll probably have more to say about that campaign at a later time, but for now that’s enough and—in my thinking—a lot.
Congratulations, as well, to Mayor Jean Quan for the graciousness she showed in defeat. Unlike former State Senator Don Perata, who continues to publicly pout about the results of the 2010 mayoral election, Ms. Quan did not make excuses for her defeat or put the blame on ranked choice voting. That, along with the mayor’s decision to join Ms. Schaaf in a joint post-election press conference, will go along way towards assuaging the bitterness among her followers that inevitably results from a hard-fought election contest.

Ms. Quan’s public pledge of cooperation in the transition from the Quan Administration to the Schaaf Administration will be good for Oakland government and, therefore, good for Oakland as a whole. We have seen how the refusal of Republicans and conservatives to accept the presidency of Barak Obama has paralyzed the national government and, in turn, prevented it from passing needed legislation that in previous years would have gotten bi-bartisan support. We should fight like hell for our principles and policies, without a doubt but we should also be wise enough to work out compromises where such compromises do not violate those principles, and can do the most good for the many.

Contrast Ms. Quan’s post-election attitude and actions with Governor Jerry Brown, who took the public records of the Oakland mayoral office with him when he left City Hall in 2007, forcing then-Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums have to start virtually from scratch at the start of his term and setting him back months in getting a handle on the governing of the city.

As much as anything else, Ms. Quan’s actions immediately following her defeat show both her character and how much she cares for Oakland and its future. Let’s hope that—after a suitable period of rest—she can find suitable activities to benefit both herself and the city.

In stark contrast, for me, the biggest disappointment of the mayoral election was Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan—not in her defeat or the way she reacted to her defeat, but in the way she handled—or failed to handle—the allegations raised against her of campaign finance improprieties.

In case you missed it, Matt Artz of the Bay Area News Group (Tribune and Contra Costa Times) reported in late June allegations that Ms. Kaplan illegally siphoned funds from a ballot measure committee under her control to help finance her runs for mayor in 2010 and 2014 (“Kaplan Kills Scrutinized Independent Campaign FundContra Costa Times June 21, 2014).

While I stress that these remain unproven allegations only, both the sources and the reporting on them appear credible, at the very least. Credible enough to merit independent investigation. Such investigation is pending.

Meanwhile, after both mayoral candidates Dan Siegel and Joe Tuman raised the issue at an early October debate at the Montclair Presbyterian Church, Ms. Kaplan denied the allegations, saying that she had already addressed them “many times before.”

If the Councilmember did, it was news to me, as I had been attending most of the mayoral debates and monitoring the news accounts of the campaign, and hadn’t heard her speak to the issue personally until the Montclair debate. Ms. Kaplan did send out her campaign manager, Jason Overman, to speak for her and answer the allegations when they were first raised by Mr. Artz in June, but this was serious enough to warrant the Councilmember’s reply herself, not that of an aide.

The heart of the allegations were that campaign consultants hired for the ballot measure committee actually worked, instead, on Ms. Kaplan’s two mayoral campaigns. There was, therefore, an easy way to refute the allegations and put them to rest for all time. Ms. Kaplan could have produced the relevant time sheets that showed exactly what the consultants in question worked on at the time they were being paid to work on the ballot measures.

One can come up with no reason why she would not produce such employee records if they would have exonerated her, as that would have immediately put the allegations to rest. Ms. Kaplan’s failure to produce such records either shows that the allegations were, in fact, true, or else her campaign and the ballot measure committee were guilty of such shoddy bookkeeping in keeping track of its employees that they could not prove who was working on what. Either way, the failure to produce the employee records didn’t look good for someone aspiring to be the mayor of Oakland, and that may have played some part in dropping Ms. Kaplan from a leader in the polls to defeat at the ballot box.

Ms. Kaplan’s actions—and inactions—in this matter are particularly disappointing because early in her political career, she campaigned as a “clean government” advocate who looked like she might work to end Oakland’s long-standing practices of political corruption. That seems a lost part of her portfolio and resumé now, no matter what happens in the future. In fact, the unanswered allegations alone were what allowed Councilmember Schaaf to sieze the “clean government” issue from Ms. Kaplan, and what probably led directly to the East Bay Express endorsement of Ms. Schaaf over Ms. Kaplan, an action which certainly contributed to Ms. Kaplan’s defeat.

Two election oversight organizations—the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the Oakland Public Ethics Commission—are currently investigating the Kaplan campaign allegations. Unless both of them clear Ms. Kaplan unequivocally, look for the issue to come up again when she is up for re-election in two years as Oakland’s At-Large City Councilmember. This is not going to go away quietly.

Finally, the story of the 2014 Oakland mayoral race was not just about the major players who came in one-two-and-three, but also about the “other” candidates who had no discernable chance of winning, but had other reasons for running.

The biggest and most pleasant surprise in the race was former Occupy Oakland media person Jason “Shake” Anderson. In an unintended ironic take on his nickname, Mr. Anderson was decidedly shakey in his first debate appearances, nervous and fumbling in his presentations and often inarticulate in his arguments. But he learned and grew during the campaign, so much so that by October, he was confident enough to suggest at more than one forum that he respected the achievements of Libby Schaaf and other opponents so much that he would gladly hire them in his administration after he won the election. I still don’t know enough about Mr. Anderson’s politics or qualifications to make an adequate judgment, but he’s certainly shown the promise to make major contributions to Oakland, should he choose to do so in the future.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some people who thought the oddest candidate in the Oakland mayoral race was Peter Liu. I’m not one of them. There are folks who say outrageous things just to get your attention in order to say what they really have on their minds. Mr. Liu seemed to say outrageous things just so he could get our attention in order to say even more outrageous things. I won’t repeat any of them, since that only seems to encourage him. Mr. Liu gained notriety only because we chose to take note of him. Maybe if we ignore him, he’ll simply go away. Meantime, if that’s all it takes to keep Oakland amused, I’m going to start to sell tickets to watch the fellow who turns whirling-dirvish circles in his tracks while begging for money in the median at International and 82nd.

Meantime, fortunately, the public already seemed to generally ignore the other folks from Occupy Oakland to “run” a dog for mayor in the 2014 race. Like many things about Occupy, I fail to see the point they were trying to make. If it was to make a joke out of Oakland’s selection of our next city leader, it didn’t succeed. But maybe the Occupy Oakland folks were trying to do something entirely different. Perhaps it takes someone younger than me or smarter—or both—to understand.

One of the odder campaigns run was by Oakland business executive Ken Houston, and that has carried over into the off-season. This week Heather Ehmke, Houston’s campaign manager, wrote a Facebook post blasting the fund-raising activities of Mr. Houston’s opponents.

 “Here are the campaign funds raised by the so-called top 2014 mayoral candidates per East Bay Express,” Ms. Ehmke wrote. “Libby Schaaf, $442,248. Jean Quan, $419,285. Bryan Parker, $392,902. Joe Tuman, $266,615. Dan Siegel, $206,784. Ruby Courtney [sic] $150,555. And 14th place ‘lower-tier’ candidate Saied Karamooz, $401,000. Ken Houston raised $0. Why are Oaklanders beholden to the ones who spend the most money? We must stop voting like sheep!”

Ms. Ehmke knows all of these campaign finance figures from the opposing camps because the East Bay Express was able to get them from the individual candidate campaign finance reports filed with the Oakland City Clerk’s office.

But would you care to guess which of the eight candidates Ms. Ehmke listed did not file a single campaign finance report with the Clerk’s office? That’s right. Her candidate, Ken Houston.

We’re left having to take Ms. Ehmke’s word that Mr. Houston raised no money for his mayoral campaign. But how is that possible?

We know Mr. Houston spent money on his campaign, as he did such things as operate a website, drive around to campaign events, and hand out cases of bottled water to Oakland residents. Even if all of this activity was made possible by from non-monetary contributions, it still was supposed to be listed on the finance report. So if Mr. Houston raised $0, as Ms. Ehmke contends, what was spent on his campaign, and how was it paid for?

Finally, in answer to one of Ms. Ehmke’s charges—and this is really finally for the time being—Mr. Karamooz loaned his campaign $400,000, spent $2,600, total, on his campaign, and paid the remainder back to himself after the election was over. He ended up contributing some of the smartest, and most memorable, observations of the debate, including the one where he accused his opponents of being “coin-operated politicians.” Ms. Ehmke and Mr. Houston could learn a lot from Mr. Karamooz about how to make your point in a campaign without making a yourself into an object of ridicule.

Anyways, that’s enough for now. More, later.