2014: A union Oddie-ssey

Does the Alameda firefighters’ union have sufficient political muscle to break precedent by getting a candidate elected to City Council who has never served on Council, the Planning Board, the Hospital Board, or any City board or commission other than the Open Government Commission (and then only for two meetings)?

We’ll see in November.

For now, we know this much:  IAFF Local 689 is wasting no time.  Even though the deadline for filing to run for Council isn’t until August 8, the firefighters’ union issued a press release last Tuesday endorsing two candidates for the open Council seats.

One endorsee was incumbent Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C., who owed his election in 2012 – by his own admission – to the union’s efforts, including a last-minute $10,000 contribution that funded a blizzard of drop pieces.  The Councilman has been a good and faithful servant for the firefighters’ union since his election, and it comes as no surprise that the union endorsed him, notwithstanding the recent revelation that he pled guilty to two counts of insurance fraud in 1994.

The other endorsement is where it gets interesting.  In addition to Councilman Chen, the firefighters’ union gave the nod to Jim Oddie, the former campaign manager for, and current aide-de-camp to, Assemblyman Rob Bonta.  If IAFF Local 689 president Jeff DelBono and his operatives manage to get Mr. Oddie elected to fill the Council seat being vacated by long-time union apologist Lena Tam (who is termed out), they will have achieved an extraordinary result.

As the Merry-Go-Round pointed out a few months ago, no candidate – other than Doug DeHaan – has won a Council seat in the seven municipal elections going back to 2000 without having served on Council or one or both of its two “feeder” boards:  the Planning Board or the Hospital Board.

Take the current Council for example:

  • Mayor Gilmore was a Planning Board member when she was appointed to Council in 2003; thereafter, she twice was elected to Council and she ran for Mayor in 2010 as a sitting Council member.
  • Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft was the Planning Board chair when she succeeded in her third try for Council in 2012.  Before her appointment to the Planning Board in 2006, she sat on the Hospital Board for four years.
  • Councilwoman Lena Tam had been a Hospital Board member for four years when she first ran successfully for Council in 2006.  She was re-elected to Council in 2010.
  • Councilman Tony Daysog served 10 years – one two-year term and two four-year terms – on Council between 1996 and 2006.  He ran unsuccessfully for Mayor in 2010, then rebounded to win a Council seat in 2012.
  • Councilman Chen spent two years on the Hospital Board before winning his first race for Council in 2012.

And Mr. Oddie?

Well, let’s just say he has tried to compile a resume similar to those of the sitting Council members (and their predecessors).

After the 2010 election that swept the IAFF Local 689 slate – which included Ms. Gilmore for Mayor and Mr. Bonta and Ms. Tam for Council – into office, Mr. Oddie set his sights on the Planning Board.

Early in her term, Mayor Gilmore filled two open positions on the Board, one with “clean energy” advocate David Burton, the other with Mike Henneberry, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.  (Local 5’s PAC had made campaign contributions of $250 apiece to Mr. Bonta and Ms. Tam in their successful runs for Council).

Less than a week after Messrs. Burton and Henneberry were appointed, Mr. Oddie submitted his application for the remaining open slot.  Under “qualifying experience,” he wrote, “10 yrs as treasurer/director of the Cantamar Homeowner’s [sic] Association,” one of the 19 homeowners’ associations on Harbor Bay Isle.

A Planning Board member resigned in January 2012, and Mayor Gilmore again had two vacancies to fill.  This time, she nominated Inner Ringer John Knox White and architect Kristoffer Koster.  Having been passed over, Mr. Oddie did not re-apply when his application expired in June 2012.

Mr. Oddie then turned his attention to the second of the two “feeders” to a Council seat – the Hospital Board.   Mr. Oddie previously had applied to be a Healthcare District director in December 2009; he was not selected.  (As a consolation prize, the Board put him on the Hospital’s finance and management committee).

When elected HCD director Elliot Gorelick resigned in June 2013, Mr. Oddie applied to replace him.  His application listed five references:  three elected officials (Mr. Bonta, Dr. Chen, and School Board member Barbara Kahn); a political consultant (Barbara Price) – and Mr. DelBono, then the IAFF Local 689 political director.  No health-care professional was on the list.

Once again, the Hospital Board chose an applicant other than Mr. Oddie.  It voted to give the slot to Lynn Bratchett, a registered nurse and assistant director of nursing at Merritt College who also held a real estate broker’s license.  His application did not include any politically well-connected references, only a Merritt College nursing colleague and an ambulance service owner.

Despite his lack of success in getting a place on the Planning Board or the Hospital Board, Mr. Oddie did serve – briefly – on a City commission, thanks to his patron, Mr. Bonta.

In February 2012, Mr. Bonta tapped Mr. Oddie – each Council member got one pick – for a seat on the newly created Open Government Commission, whose role is to advise Council about the Sunshine Ordinance.  At the OGC’s organizational meeting, Mr. Oddie was elected chair.

Mr. Bonta already had announced his intent to run for State Assembly at the time he chose Mr. Oddie.  Since an appointee’s term lasts only as long as the Council member who selected him remains in office, Mr. Oddie’s stint ended when Mr. Bonta won his Assembly race in November 2012.  All told, he attended two OGC meetings.

(Mr. Oddie’s resume also notes his involvement with “the city’s Ad Hoc America’s Cup Committee.”  This was a group whose membership was self-selected rather than elected or appointed by Council).

By this point, you may be thinking:  Mr. Oddie’s track record in public service is, well, less than dazzling.  So what is it about him that led the firefighters’ union to bestow its coveted endorsement?  Let’s put it this way:  he has shown that he will be an avid – some might even say, rabid – spear carrier and saber rattler for the Democratic party and the public employee unions.

Mr. Oddie can boast of impeccable credentials as a Democratic factotum.

In 2009 he ran unsuccessfully for the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee.  In 2012 he ran again and finished seventh out of 19 candidates, good enough to earn him a spot on the committee.

According to the biographies submitted to SmartVoter in those races, Mr. Oddie was president of the City of Alameda Democratic Club in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2008, and co-president in 2012.  Filings with the Secretary of State also identify him as treasurer of the club’s political action committee.

In addition, the SmartVoter biographies state, Mr. Oddie has chaired the “Alameda City United Democratic Campaign,” a political action committee, since 2002.

And, of course, he was Mr. Bonta’s campaign manager in his 2010 race for Council and now is the Assemblyman’s “district director.”

Even more important than his work for the party, Mr. Oddie repeatedly has taken the side of the firefighters’ and police unions on public issues.  In fact, he has proven eager to demonize, not just criticize, anyone who hasn’t swallowed the union agenda whole.

For example, when Councilman deHaan urged his colleagues in May 2012 to take up the long-deferred campaign finance reform ordinance recommended by the Sunshine Task Force, Mr. Oddie appeared before Council to denounce the proposed law, which contained limits on the amounts local candidates could accept as campaign contributions from individuals or organizations (including organized labor).

Had Mr. Oddie, who holds a law degree from Golden Gate University, challenged the ordinance on constitutional grounds, he might have had a point.  But making it would have required him to acknowledge the United States Supreme Court’s holding in the Citizens United case, which no good liberal would ever do.  So he chose to resort to invective instead.

Mr. Oddie began by comparing the ordinance to “armored police vehicles rumbl[ing] through the city of Oakland down Broadway picking up protestors.”  The Sunshine Task Force’s campaign reform law “kind of does the same thing,” he said. “It’s like, Let’s value the one per cent and let them keep having their free speech rights, but let’s trample the rights of the 99 per cent.  Because that’s what it is.”

Now, we suppose that, by “the one per cent,” Mr. Oddie could have been referring to IAFF Local 689 members, 98 of whom made more than $100,000 in salary and benefits in 2012.  But somehow we suspect not.  Nor is it likely that Mr. Oddie was concerned about the “free speech rights” of firefighters’ union honchos like Captain DelBono (or his wife), whose contributions to Mayor Gilmore, Mr. Bonta, and Ms. Tam in 2010 fell below the maximum set by the proposed ordinance.

No, to him, the campaign finance reform ordinance was nothing less than an effort by corporations and the wealthy to “stifle the voices of our working families.”

Six months later, Mr. Oddie was at it again.  He interjected himself into a long line of politicos and  union leaders who appeared before Council to praise the public safety union contracts that gave the firefighters and cops annual pay raises of up to 4% in 2014, 5% in 2015, and 5% in 2016.  He wanted to offer a “different perspective” on the contracts, Mr. Oddie said.

As Mr. Oddie saw it, the contracts reflected the “will of the voters” who had “said no to these attacks on working families.”  Alamedans had voted overwhelmingly for President Obama and against Proposition 32, he noted.  And, in City elections, the Council candidates who favored a “collaborative approach” had defeated the candidates who – according to him – “ran on platforms of attacking working families and attacking our bargaining units.” Alamedans, he averred, “have shown through their votes that they do support the valuable services provided by the city and the working men and women who provide them.”

In fact, no candidate had run on the platform described by Mr. Oddie.  (And we should know:  we attended every candidates’ forum).  His statement to that effect was utterly graceless – and completely false.  But it sent a message to the union leaders in the audience about the depths to which he was willing to sink to ingratiate himself:  Woe to anyone who questioned the union agenda if Mr. Oddie got into office!

And the firefighters’ union might need to have a guy like Mr. Oddie around in the next two years.

If the past is prologue, negotiations for new public safety union contracts will begin well in advance of the June 2017 expiration date.  When they do, the unions will need someone able to withstand pressure, such as it is, from people who think that the firefighters and cops ought to contribute more than they do now toward reducing the City’s $200 million unfunded liability for public employee pensions and retiree health benefits.

Moreover, since 2010 the City has been using a federal grant to pay the salaries and benefits of six firefighters and, just last Tuesday, Council approved hiring three new firefighters with state grant money.  If these grants are not renewed, the union would need someone willing to insist that the City itself pick up the tab to keep staffing at a level acceptable to the union.

And why stop with preserving the status quo?  The City is in the process of approving development projects on the northern waterfront and, very soon, at Alameda Point that will increase the demand for fire and police services.  The union could use a skilled rhetorician like Mr. Oddie to make the case that failing to add personnel, equipment, and facilities to meet this demand would jeopardize the health and safety of Alameda’s working families.

So now we know why the firefighters’ union wants Mr. Oddie on Council.  Will they succeed?

You’d be a fool to bet against them.  They have money in the bank – $44,978.33 as of July 15, 2014.  They’re willing to spend big bucks ($56,948 in 2010, $53,428 in 2012), especially at the last minute ($3,300 to the Gilmore campaign in 2010, $10,000 to the Chen campaign in 2012).

Moreover, they know how to play the game.  They have (or can pay for) phone-bankers and door-knockers.  And they’re willing to play hard ball if it looks as if one of their adversaries has a chance to win (as the 2010 letter signed by then IAFF Local 689 president Dom Weaver accusing mayoral candidate deHaan of “outright lies” showed).

But still . . . there is that precedent to overcome.  And it can’t be easily dismissed.

The 2012 election proves it.  In that race, the firefighters endorsed three candidates, two of whom – Ms. Ashcraft and Dr. Chen – had the credentials historically associated with success.  But one – Jeff Cambra – did not.  Like Mr. Oddie, Mr. Cambra had never served on Council, the Planning Board, or the Hospital Board.

Moreover, as in the upcoming election, one of the candidates not endorsed by the firefighters did have the right resume.  Then, it was Tony Daysog.  This time, it’s Frank Matarrese, who served two terms on Council between 2002 and 2010.

Mr. Daysog won, and it’s conceivable that, for Mr. Matarrese, as for Mr. Daysog, name recognition will trump even the cleverest tactics employed by Captain DelBono and crew to put a true-blue but obscure acolyte into office.

One strategy for avoiding a repeat would be to attempt to besmirch Mr. Matarrese before he is even able to re-introduce himself to the voters.  But we can’t imagine Local 689 would stoop so low.

Instead, we expect that it will have Mr. Oddie take the hallowed approach of taking his campaign material from the Book of Platitudes (it’s right after Proverbs).  Something like:  “I am running for city council to keep Alameda’s streets safe, partner with our school district to strengthen our schools, and fight to preserve our parks and open spaces.”

Oh, wait a minute.  Mr. Oddie’s already used that line on his Website.

It’s a good omen for his campaign that he’s learning so quickly to respond to his master’s voice.  As for the rest of us . . .


Planning Board application: Planning Board Application (2012)

Hospital Board application: Hospital Board Application (2013)

SmartVoter biographies: 2008 county committee candidate page2012 county committee candidate page

IAFF Local 689 PAC campaign disclosure: 2014- 1st semi

About Robert Sullwold

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

9 Responses to 2014: A union Oddie-ssey

  1. R. Miller says:

    Regarding your latest blog, and I love them all, “One strategy for avoiding a repeat would be to attempt to besmirch Mr. Matarrese…” – have you been following the phone survey activity that starts out rather innocuously and then begins to “besmirch Mr. Matarrese,” and no one has been able to find out who’s paying for it? Please, Mr. Sullwold, keep up the excellent work!!!

  2. Charles Latan says:

    I received the survey call. The questions aligned with political races in which the firefighters’ political organization has made campaign contributions or endorsements. That may be just a strange coincidence. A good portion of the survey had to do with testing the strength of negative statements about Frank Matarrese. One line went something like this, “If you knew that Frank Matarrese voted to cut the water rescue program that resulted in the drowning death of a mentally ill man, would you be more less likely to vote for him?”

    • Mr. Latan,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Anyone who doubts that the “question” to which you refer is based on a false premise should read the report on the “Crown Beach incident” – i.e., the Zack drowning — prepared for the City by FireChiefs.com, LLC, which I’ve uploaded to the site: https://alamedamgr.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/review-of-crown-beach-incident.pdf.

      Lack of training is one of several factors cited in the report as a contributing cause of the incident, but it is not the only one. Moreover, the report makes clear that Council did not cut the rescue swimmer program from the fire department budget. Indeed, the report states that the fire department’s decision to halt the program “was not effectively communicated to the City Council or to the community. The department budget continued to indicate ‘water rescues’ was part of the fire department performance measures, even after the program was ended.”

      To suggest that Mr. Matarrese (or, for that matter, any of his colleagues on Council) was somehow responsible for the Zack drowning is not only defamatory but false.

      • barbara price says:

        Good Morning Mr. Sullwold, I would like to correct the record concerning my support of Mr. Oddie for the HCD. I am a retired Trustee from Alameda Health System, formerly the Alameda County Medical Center. I served on the Board from 2003 to 2012 and I am proud to have been part of the Board of Trustees that turned the center around.
        Barbara Price

      • According to The Alamedan, Ms. Price’s consulting firm, PK Consulting, was co-host with the Alameda firefighters’ and teachers’ unions of a “Taco Tuesday” fund raiser for Mayor Gilmore on June 10. See http://thealamedan.org/blog/campaign-column-polling-problems.

  3. notmayberry says:

    Do not vote for any candidates whose supporters use Raymond Zack’s death as a political football! His death was tragic enough. Let him rest in peace.
    I looked up James Oddie, of Alameda on the calbar website. There it says his law school was Univ of San Francisco, although he posts on LinkedIn that it was Golden Gate. Did he go to both? Why would the State Bar have different info?

    • According to the resume Mr. Oddie submitted to the Hospital Board in July 2013, he received an LLM from Golden Gate in May 2010 and a JD from USF in December 2006. Both are law degrees.

  4. tom says:

    Frank Matarrese has my full support for the election this year. He does have name recognition and a broad base of support in the community. I’ll walk the precincts for him!!!

  5. Tom says:


    Just vote only for Frank Matarrese and not vote for either Oddie or Chen!

    Thus your/my non vote for Fire union candidates is really a negative vote against these two Fireperson Unionists.

    We still know one of them chen/oddie will be elected but by your/ my voting this way We essentially cast two votes for Matarrese!!

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