Trashing Trish

Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.

Those lines, which our readers surely will recognize from Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” are getting to be the theme song of those on a mission to trash Mayor Trish Spencer.  No longer are they content simply to denigrate the Mayor for something she’s said or done; now, they’ve resorted to disparaging her for things she didn’t actually say or do.

Take the special Council meeting on rent control.

Two days after the meeting, we read in Blogging Bayport Alameda that, “Trish Spencer decided to interrupt renter after renter to grill them about whether their rent was ‘current’ after they spoke of receiving an eviction notice.”

Then, an op-ed in this week’s Alameda Sun took it up a notch.  According to the author,

Once renters were finally allowed to speak, their paltry 60 seconds were repeatedly interrupted by Spencer.  After allowing landlords to speak uninterrupted, often for extended periods due to invisible proxies they held in their pockets, Mayor Spencer peppered renters with questions about whether they were current on their rent.  Then, satisfied with their answers, she magnanimously granted “you may proceed.”  How regal.

The Merry-Go-Round was planning to take the week off.  But, having watched the video of the special meeting to prepare last week’s column, we didn’t remember Ms. Spencer’s conduct the way it was being described.  So we went back to watch the video again to see if the Mayor really had treated the tenants so terribly.

It just ain’t so.

Here’s what the video shows:

  • 39 people spoke on the “tenant side”:  32 current renters; four leaders of housing and tenants’ advocacy groups, and three other people whose comments reflected a pro-tenant perspective.
  • Ms. Spencer asked two, and only two, of the 39 tenant speakers about being “current” on his or her rent.  Both had received notices to vacate, and a “good cause” ordinance of the sort being considered by Council does not protect against evictions based on non-payment of rent.
  • Ms. Spencer also asked another tenant what her total rent was.  The tenant had stated the amount of her rent increase, and the Mayor wanted to know the total rent to be able to calculate the percentage increase – which is, after all, the standard used to determine whether a rent increase is “excessive.”
  • Other than on these three occasions out of 39, Ms. Spencer did not interrupt any tenant speaker with any questions.
  • Three Council members – not including Ms. Spencer – voted to limit speaking time to one minute.  Thereafter, the Mayor never cut off any speaker, landlord or tenant, as soon as the red light went on and the buzzer sounded.  Instead, with her consent, the majority of speakers, landlord and tenant, exceeded the Council-imposed limit.
  • In fact, one tenant speaker ignored the stop signs and spoke for about four minutes before Ms. Spencer interjected, “May I ask you to wind up?”  Then, after the speaker finished his story, Ms. Spencer asked him for his contact information so that she could follow up personally.

Those are the facts.  Unfortunately for the Spencer bashers, those facts didn’t fit their preferred narrative of a bully in the Mayor’s chair brow-beating beleaguered renters.  So they invented the story of how Ms. Spencer “grilled” and “peppered” the tenant speakers with a barrage of questions about the timeliness of their rent.  That account achieves the goal of making Ms. Spencer look bad – but it’s not what happened.

Frankly, we’re left shaking our heads.

Why would anyone sling accusations against Ms. Spencer that are so easy to disprove just by watching the video?  We can only surmise that there are some who despise the Mayor so intensely that they can’t – or won’t – believe what’s right up there on the screen for all to see and hear.

But then the question becomes:  Why do they detest Ms. Spencer so much?  We don’t recall her predecessor’s opponents displaying any similar delusional antagonism.  Sure, there were those who disagreed with Marie Gilmore, and maybe even some who disliked her.  But they didn’t act as if she were the devil incarnate.

We never could understand why there were some Republicans who hated – no milder word is appropriate – Bill Clinton.  Nor could we understand why there were some Democrats who loathed George Bush with equal fervor.  Come on, guys, we found ourselves saying, you’ve got to admit that the president (whichever one they were talking about) has some redeeming qualities.

Is this the level to which political discourse in Alameda now has fallen?  We shudder to think so.

We suppose there’s nothing we, or anyone else, can do to stop the Spencer haters from spewing their venom.  But is it too much to ask them to stop making stuff up?

To end, as we began, with Simon and Garfunkel:  Where have you gone, Michele Ellson?  For bringing Alamedans the straight story, our city turns its lonely eyes to you.

Woo woo woo.

About Robert Sullwold

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

29 Responses to Trashing Trish

  1. nyborn2013 says:

    “Ev’rybody’s talking about
    Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
    This-ism, that-ism, is-m, is-m, is-m
    All we are saying is give Trish a chance.”

  2. Marcia says:

    This should be published in the Sun!

  3. jason says:

    She may be an odd duck at times, sometimes all over the place, but she kept the meeting going, got renters to speak when others wanted to shut the whole thing down, and was one of the unanimous votes for the moratorium, and has been very responsive about the mass eviction at 470 Central. Nobody is going to be 100% happy with any politician, local to national.

  4. My wife and I attended that meeting and were impressed by the mayor’s willingness to take leadership in a difficult situation. Following an incident during which two people were arrested, the police indicated that they wanted to clear city hall. At that point, Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer courageously took control of the situation and insisted that the meeting be allowed to continue. This allowed her to permit those supporting tenants’ rights to make their statements. Before that, nearly an hour of testimony had been heard, almost all of it only from landlords, who had arrived early and filled most of the seats. Earlier, the mayor had cut short a lengthy presentation of a consultants report (which was available to the public) in order to hear from more attendees.

  5. BMac says:

    Robert, sorry to interrupt your time off.

  6. One of our readers posted a comment this morning containing previously unreported information about Mayor Spencer’s role in re-opening the meeting after the contretemps in the hallway outside Council chambers.

    Mr. Harawitz writes:

    Following an incident during which two people were arrested, the police indicated that they wanted to clear city hall. At that point, Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer courageously took control of the situation and insisted that the meeting be allowed to continue. This allowed her to permit those supporting tenants’ rights to make their statements.

    His essential facts are corroborated by City staff.

    According to Police Chief Paul Rolleri, Lt. Anthony Munoz was the senior officer who was present at the scene. “After assessing the entirety of the situation,” the Chief told us,

    Lt. Munoz spoke with Interim City Manager Liz Warmerdam (because that is who we report to) in the Council Chambers Conference Room, and they discussed options for how to proceed with the rest of the evening. One option was to end or postpone the rest of the meeting, and another was to continue it with a few extra police officers to ensure the safety of the public and city staff. It was not up to APD to decide whether or not the meeting should continue, just to provide options based on the personnel we had available at the time. I am unaware of any specific discussion to “clear City Hall”, although that is likely what would have occurred if the remainder of the meeting had been postponed.

    Ms. Warmerdam picks up the story from there (in an email responding to our inquiry):

    The Mayor wanted to continue the meeting. I explained that could only happen if the safety of our staff and the City Council could be assured (this on the heels of Bob Haun being pretty seriously injured). That is when she entered the hallway to talk with who was left (by that time John Klein and Bob Davis were arrested) and explained that if they wanted their voices to be heard they needed to clear the hallway. She then agreed to carve up the speakers so that one side did not dominate the conversation.

    Does it surprise anyone that neither Blogging Bayport Alameda nor the op-ed in the Alameda Sun mentioned any of these facts?

  7. Erik M. says:

    To Mr. McGuire, author of the Commentary in The Sun: in the words of Joseph N. Welch, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

    Regarding why they detest Mayor Spencer so much:

    1. They didn’t get what they wanted so now they must pout. It seems to be an unfortunate part of the current American character that if “your” candidate doesn’t win, you must despise the candidate who beat them, bash them at every opportunity, and ignore, deny, or minimize anything positive they may accomplish.

    This is exacerbated in situations like ours in Alameda where the losing candidate, who everyone seemed to forget originally won with a whopping 35% of the vote (if she had been up against only Matarrese or DeHaan she would have been a footnote) and her supporters thought they had it in the bag. Ms. Spencer was not a terrifically strong candidate (although I like her and voted for her), yet she beat theirs while spending a fraction of the money.

    2. They also know that next time, they will be up against an incumbent, so the smear campaign needs to get underway early.

    • David says:

      Indeed, there is a coterie in Alameda, aligned around Gilmore, the firefighters, and other Inner Ringers, who are still smarting over Gilmore’s loss and actively pursuing a smear campaign, even if it means contriving scandals and plenty of faux outrage, to point of embarrassing themselves.

  8. carolyn says:

    After going out of his way to write such a dishonest commentary in the Alameda Sun, Brian McGuire has pretty much destroyed his credibility on any subject. When reading anything attributed to Brian McGuire in the future, consider the source before taking it at face value.

    • BMac says:

      What part did you think was dishonest? The author of this blog chose one paragraph to make his principled stand about the decline of civil discourse in American politics. If Mr. Sullwold’s point is that only three renters got interrupted, fine. I believe I said “repeatedly” and that seems accurate, if differently interpreted. I was speaking to the effect the interruptions had and how they are received by the renter community at large. It was but a piece of the letter and I did not have the space nor inclination to try and decide whether the mayor was cross examining for malicious purposes or she was just clueless as the the message it sends to observers.

      The fact that people like the author of this blog and others sympathetic to the mayor see things differently is fine. To dismiss those who receive her actions differently as dishonest does nothing to further the debate around important topics in town and ensures an insular, unaware, bunker mentality that may have contributed to the defeat of her predecessor.

      I understand that many real Alamedans, the ones who have owned property in town for at least two generations, are troubled by others having a say in the direction of Mayberry. It is frightening.

      I just hope my lack of appreciation for the mayor’s leadership skills or judgment doesn’t destroy my credibility on everything. If you read anything by me about UCSB men’s basketball, for example, you should take it as gospel. To do otherwise would be illogical.

      • David says:

        See how desperate the coterie is, to try to defend their exaggerations and distortions of the truth, even when they are caught red-handed in the open.

        It is this, and not their lack of appreciation for the Mayor, that has destroyed their credibility.

      • BMac says:

        If my credibility is being judged against you Dave, and Action-Alameda Faux News, I’m feeling pretty good.

      • Editor’s Note to Carolyn, BMac and David:

        OK, guys, enough.

        The one – and so far only – rule I employ for approving comments is that purely ad hominem attacks are prohibited. I’ve let this exchange go on this far because it started as a comment on the Alameda Sun op-ed, which was a subject of the column. But now it’s time to call it a day: We’ll stipulate that two of you have no use for the third (and vice versa). So take it outside (or to Blogging Bayport Alameda).

  9. dave says:

    Regarding hatred of presidents, the way I recall it is that the Republicans hated Clinton from Day 1, whereas Democrats’ hatred of Bush didn’t really get strong until the Iraq debacle. While their politics aren’t very close to the national R’s, I think it’s fair to say that Inner Ringers’ dislike of Trish is much more like the Clinton hate than the Bush hate, ie from the very beginning.

    • BMac says:

      Six years on the school board was a pretty good sample for attentive Alamedans to form an opinion of her likely performance as Mayor. It is not like 49.9% of Alamedans knew nothing about her and irrationally decided to oppose anything she did. The community is obviously split based upon the election results. I have a feeling that after a year, there are more people who voted for Spencer that wished they could get their votes back than Gilmore voters who wished they had gone with the winner. Just a hunch.

      • Erik M. says:

        If the community is “split,” we’re less so than we were In 2010, when 63% of the people who voted in Alameda voted for someone other than Gilmore. In both of her runs for mayor (in which she outspent all of her opponents), most of the people who voted chose someone else.

      • BMac says:

        I am shocked to find out that in a three way race, the winner received a smaller percentage of votes than in a two way race.

      • David says:

        The point is that 36% of the vote hardly qualifies for a mandate. Certainly less of a mandate than 50% plus one vote and less than 50.15%

        It’s a common problem in first-past-the-post models.

        If Gilmore and her policies were so in demand, they why didn’t she trounce both deHaan and Matarrese, with 49% to 50% of the vote?

        http://alamedasun.com/news/gilmore%E2%80%99s-tenure-calls-charter-reform

      • BMac says:

        Because a huge percentage of people casting ballots in a local election do not even have a clue what set of policy priorities they are voting for. They vote for whatever lawn sign they saw last, or who they have been to a party with and had a good conversation of colleges for their kids or some other squishy reason.
        I’m not a big believer in this strange notion of who gets a mandate to govern and who doesn’t. The rules are set, the game is played, a winner is declared and sworn in. They get to govern how they choose, responding to the climate and consequences as they go in whatever manner they choose. Show me in the election laws or constitution where it says who gets a mandate to govern vs. who gets elected and then has to do what their opposition says because they don’t have a mandate. Silly conversation.

      • BMac says:

        If you’d like to put an instant runoff or ranked choice system in place, I’ll sign your petition.

      • David says:

        As I recall, there were many Gilmore supporters who did, and still do, claim that Spencer doesn’t have “a mandate” by virtue of her narrow victory in 2014.

        Indeed, Gilmore herself claimed that Spencer’s victory wasn’t a “mandate for change.”

        So it seems that whether or not a mandate is important depends on whether or not its convenient to do so.

    • Erik M. says:

      B, you say “a huge percentage of people casting ballots in a local election do not even have a clue what set of policy priorities they are voting for. They vote for whatever lawn sign they saw last, or who they have been to a party with and had a good conversation of colleges for their kids….”

      That explains why my neighborhood went so overwhelmingly in favor of Spencer: most of the kids are not old enough to be in college yet. And we had some dandy Spencer For Mayor lawn signs.

      Seriously, with that sort of contempt for the electorate, no wonder you dug Gilmore. She sure didn’t appear to me to be encumbered by worries about anyone disagreeing with her policies. (and she got a demonstration of the “consequences” that you mention, too)

      “I have a feeling that after a year, there are more people who voted for Spencer that wished they could get their votes back than Gilmore voters who wished they had gone with the winner.”

      So what do you think happened in a year? I haven’t seen any lawn signs (don’t get any ideas, you rascal;-). Did a large number of voters’ kids transfer to rival colleges? If so, is that somehow Trish Spencer’s fault? Were the “true colors” mentioned in the title of the Sun hit piece a clever reference (go Blue and Gold)?

      • BMac says:

        It was just ONE example of the frivolous reasons people end up preferring one candidate over another. You are correct in one thing, you will never catch me overestimating the electorate. If today’s Republican primary polls and current political dialogue over refugees doesn’t breed contempt for the American electorate, you are a better person than I am. The thing I have a ton of respect for is the process. The participants on the other hand….?

  10. carolyn says:

    Big difference: Clinton was impeached. Bush was not. Clinton became POTUS w/loads of moral baggage. Clinton re-defined “sexual relations” to escape conviction under impeachment. Bush was guilty of believing foreign intelligence fed to him by his official advisors. I don’t see how the 2 situations are comparable. But the irrational hatreds persist in those who refuse to examine their own prejudices and are smugly comfortable in their bigotry.

  11. Erik M. says:

    B, yes, I suppose it is difficult not to have a jaundiced view of the electorate, but I think you’re wrong about Alameda in that respect. I suspect you’re being a bit devil’s advocate-y about it too; if you truly thought nobody were paying attention, why bother writing about it?

    One of the things that I love about this town is that people do actually seem to pay attention to and participate in local politics.

    Anyway, I am intrigued by this talk about ranked choice or instant runoff. If you and David and I all like the idea, it’s got to have some traction.

    • BMac says:

      I’m surely employing hyperbole to make a point. But my words are also being taken for more than I’m saying. I said a huge portion of voters…. Not nobody. Of course there are people who pay attention. Many in varying degrees. Some can be persuaded by a simple jingoistic lawn sign proclaiming they put Alamedans First, some are influenced by opinion letters and still others watch hours upon hours of city meetings to make up their minds.

      As for talk of mandates above, David, I don’t speak for Gilmore. Never met her. People can govern how they want and use what ever language they want to influence outcomes. I will always dismiss mandate discussions as silly and besides the point. The prof is in the pudding. What can you get done?

  12. Mark Irons says:

    Robert, I read this when it was posted in the Sun and meant to reply much earlier. You may be the only person to read this comment. I actually agree that the criticisms of Spencer’s interruptions were hyperbolic. I also understand that at least in her mind she was asking questions for clarification not to belittle or harass. But a point I made on that other blog is that public speaking can be nerve wracking and with 60 seconds time limits the mayor might have considered that her interruptions were unnerving and she could have waited for the speakers to finish and then asked questions. I believe this was why Ms. Ashcraft attempted to intervene after Spencer persisted. One more point. You wrote “We don’t recall her predecessor’s opponents displaying any similar delusional antagonism. ” REALLY? Your lack of recollection doesn’t mean that there were not egregious and in fact outrageous accusations and insults hurled at Mayor Gilmore from people who ended up being prime backers of Spencer. I will refrain from naming anybody. Maybe you were on vacation, otherwise I have to assume you suffer the same selectivity of which you accuse others. Thanks and good New Year to you.

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