How to beat Gilmore for Mayor

It looks like Mayor Marie Gilmore may be running for re-election unopposed.

That’s not surprising.  After all, Ms. Gilmore is the incumbent.  She looks good riding on top of a stagecoach in the Fourth of July parade.  And, most importantly, she can count on the firefighters’ union to spend as much as necessary to ensure she remains in office so she can hand out new public safety union contracts in 2017.

Just for kicks, let’s suppose someone is foolish – and wealthy — enough to run against Ms. Gilmore.  What would it take to win?

Our credentials as a political strategist admittedly are suspect, but we do know this:  A successful challenge to an incumbent depends on appealing to the disaffected.  You need not blame the current officeholder for creating the problem (although it helps); you just need to convince the voters you can do better to solve it.

So whose votes would our hypothetical challenger go after?

Let’s start with the people concerned about the traffic and other impacts of the new developments proposed for the northern waterfront.

Counting all the projects – from Park Street west: Boatworks, Marina Cove II (nee Chipman), Del Monte Warehouse, Encinal Terminals, Alameda Landing – planned for the area, more than 1,500 new housing units will be built.  (And that doesn’t include the 1,425 units at Alameda Point).

You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to realize that the sheer number of new residents commuting to their jobs from these developments may clog the approaches to the tube and bridges even further.

And traffic congestion isn’t the only concern.  For example, the plans for the Del Monte project call for only one onsite parking space per residential unit.  People living nearby already have objected that this limitation may force Del Monte dwellers to roam neighborhood streets searching for a place to park.

Another group whom our hypothetical opponent might target consists of people living in apartments who are anxious about their rent.

Last Tuesday, Renewed Hope, the housing advocacy group, presented Council with results of an “informal survey” of 200 tenants, more than 45% of whom had experienced rent increases in the last year.  “Long-time lower- and moderate-income residents are being forced out of the community,” the spokesperson said.

Individual tenants, notably a school custodian and a self-described “Ivy League-educated professional,” stuck around till midnight to relate their personal stories about the impact of rising rents.

So far, the Mayor’s response to those who have expressed concern about the traffic and other impacts of new development or about rent increases has been predictably bureaucratic.  A “robust” Transportation Demand Management program will take care of the traffic.  Staff will put together a plan for a task force to study the rental market. Otherwise, well, Ms. Gilmore feels your pain.

This is where the Mayor’s vulnerability lies:  Ms. Gilmore is not a problem solver.  To the extent she even admits a problem exists, it’s someone else’s fault.  To the extent a solution needs to be found, it’s someone else’s responsibility.

A competing mayoral candidate could woo the aggrieved simply by vowing to meet problems head on rather than brushing them aside (or kicking them down the road).

How about a “rent stabilization” ordinance?  (Economists may hate rent control, but tenants would love it).  Or an ordinance increasing the percentage of “affordable” housing required to qualify for a density bonus?  (Developers will make less money, but so what?)  Or even a moratorium on new residential development until there are enough job opportunities on the island for current residents?  (If techies crave upscale housing, let ‘em buy their condos in San Francisco, not Alameda).

Proposals like these might enable a Gilmore opponent to build a core constituency.  Around 10,000 registered voters live in the precincts along the northern waterfront.  About 75% of Alamedans drive to work.  More than 50% of the total housing units in the City are occupied by renters.

And the roll of the disaffected doesn’t stop with people uneasy about development or rents.

Consider the residents who supported the Crab Cove open-space initiative (especially the 6,437 registered voters who signed the petitions).  Ms. Gilmore continues to defend the original decision to zone the property residential, and she agreed to reverse it only after the initiative forced her hand.  Even then, she appeared to hold her nose.

Consider also those Alamedans – albeit very few – who pay attention to City finances.  They know that the most recent forecast shows that the City will run annual multi-million-dollar operating deficits beginning this fiscal year and will run out of money by the end of Ms. Gilmore’s second term.  Yet the Mayor and her firefighters’ union slate-mates just OK’d spending $12 million on a new emergency operations center and fire station.

So that’s how to run against Mayor Gilmore: assemble a coalition of the disaffected.  It might not work, but it would make the election more interesting.  Now all we need is a candidate willing and – financially – able to take the plunge.  Any volunteers have until August 8 to pull their papers.

(An edited version of this column was published in the Alameda Sun on July 24).

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in City Council, Development, Firefighters, Housing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to How to beat Gilmore for Mayor

  1. notmayberry says:

    Last night, at the ACT meeting at Alameda Hospital, Rosemary McNally asked a panel consisting of Mike D’Orazi + Alex Nguyen + Doug Long + Paul Rolleri, how much the combined EOC + new Fire Station would cost. I was expecting to hear “$12 million”, as reported above, which has also been reported by many other sources. However, the panel said = $5 million for one & 3.8 mil for the other. ??? I admit I am not that good at arithmetic, but 5 + 3.8 does not equal 12. What am I missing?

    • Since the City is borrowing to finance construction of both the new EOC and the new fire station, the total cost includes interest as well as principal. Last March, we published the analysis that led to the $12 million figure.
      Since then, the costs have increased. On June 3, Council approved a $431,200 contract for design and construction management of the new fire station. Next Tuesday, Council will be asked to approve a firm financing plan for building the fire station. According to the staff report, “The total expected cost to the General Fund over the twenty year period is projected to be approximately $8.10 million ($1.19 million of one-time funds plus $6.91 million of debt service payments, based upon an external financing rate of 4.5% for a loan of $3 million, and an internal loan rate of 3% for an internal loan of $809,000).” (Previously, the “conceptual” financing plan approved by Council estimated the total expected construction cost to be $8.07 million).

  2. dlm says:

    This is a wonderful analysis. Now if you could only convince Jane to consider running we’d be all set (and very much obliged to you). If there’s anybody to set things straight, she’s the one to do it.

  3. laura says:

    Our island city deserves another option for Mayor, but one who doesn’t lead/enact like they themselves are an island. And as much as I believe consensus to be generally a good thing, our current representation is way out of whack/touch with our realities as residents. It has been this way far too long (aggressive admin staffers dictating our municipal direction rather than our elected leaders) and also within AUSD’s leadership. But fortunately that has been steadily changing with this past year’s exodus (for greener pa$ture$) of the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Chief Business Officer, and her Legal Counsel, and while November’s election offers us hopeful opportunities for a newer and more effective leadership on the BOE dais too.

  4. Heather Little says:

    Can you send this as a letter to the editor of all alameda papers?

  5. Sylvia says:

    Unfortunately Alameda’s teacher union, AEA, is literally in bed with the firefighters’ union (our recent president, Gray Harris, is dating a firefighter). The firefighters help the teachers elect pro-teacher/pro public education candidates, but in return the teachers are expected to support candidates like Marie Gilmore who hands out huge contracts to the firefighters, is hooked by the developers, and disregards the struggles of Alameda’s lower-middle class. As a teacher in Alameda, I am displeased by the alliance that ties AEA to the firefighters’ union.

  6. Steve Gerstle says:

    I have written to Marie Gilmore at least a dozen times since she became mayor; the only response that I received was an auto-reply that she was on vacation.

    I don’t know if I am on her DNR (Do Not Reply) list, if she ignores all correspondence or if there are unwritten criteria for receiving a response.

  7. Wendy says:

    Scary! That’s unbelievable! Something smells rotten in Alameda.

  8. notmayberry says:

    I haven’t written that many times to Gilmore, but I have sent several over the years, and I have never received a response, either. [I never received responses from Beverly Johnson either] Now that you mention it, that is pretty annoying. Especially since I have always received a written response from Mr. Russo. Which is why I am much more forgiving of Mr. Russo than anyone who has sat in the Mayor’s chair since Appezzato [the last mayor who was actually engaged with the citizens of Alameda]. I have come to consider the Mayoral position as just a figurehead, whose family’s medical & dental insurance I help pay for with my taxes.

    • In response to this comment, I wanted to add that, like the commenter, the Merry-Go-Round always has received a prompt written response from Mr. Russo to our inquiries. Either he provides the information himself or he forwards our message to a staff member who can find it for us. We try to make our questions precise, but Mr. Russo has not tried to evade one yet.
      As to Mayor Gilmore, we usually do not need to seek comment from her beyond her public statements. Earlier this year, however, when The Alamedan broke the story about Ron Cowan arm-twisting at City Hall, we emailed every Council member as well as Mr. Russo and City Planner Andrew Thomas to ask about contacts with Cowan. Every person gave us an answer — except for the Mayor, who didn’t even bother to reply.

  9. notmayberry says:

    What do you make of Fred Marsh now working for Fairfield? Who is his replacement?

    • I DNK the circumstances of Mr. Marsh’s job change, but the Merry-Go-Round will miss him. He always was willing to clarify and explain items in the City’s financial statements and to provide supporting details. Thanks to him, we know far more about budget and pension issues than we would otherwise.
      According to Assistant City Manager Liz Warmerdam, the City hired Juelle-Ann Boyer, who was the City’s Finance Director from 2004-2008, as an interim replacement. “We will be conducting a full recruitment and hope to have a new Director in place by the first of next year,” Ms. Warmerdam told us.

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