Real Alamedans united

At the Merry-Go-Round, we’ve always had a soft spot for grassroots organizations formed by ordinary citizens to use the electoral process to achieve shared policy objectives, especially when the ruling class won’t listen to them.

This is why we admire outfits like Indivisible, which has evolved from an outlet for anti-Trump invective into a network of local chapters devoted to endorsing, and campaigning for, candidates for federal and state office.  And it’s why, closer to home, we applauded Protect Our Alameda Parks, formed in 2012 to promote a charter amendment prohibiting the sale of City parks to developers, and Friends of Crown Beach, formed in 2014 to sponsor an initiative re-zoning surplus federal land as open space.

Now another citizen-driven organization is about to appear on the local scene.

Earlier this year, the Alameda Citizens Task Force set up an “exploratory committee” to consider creating a political action committee to support candidates for mayor and council this November.  ACT never has issued any formal endorsements in local races.  But certain of its members (and other like-minded Alamedans) concluded that the time had come to take a more active role.  As Paul Foreman, one of the organizers, explained to us,

My concept is that individual candidates and their supporters are so wrapped up in their own campaigns, they miss the forest for the trees.  We now have a three-vote majority on Council that, from the point of view of folks like me, consistently prioritizes the narrow interests of special interest groups, especially those who support them politically, ahead of the interests of the community as a whole.  Electing one or two candidates who are more concerned with the broad interests of the community accomplishes nothing.  We need to elect at least three candidates whose mission is consistent with ours.  In order to do this we need to have a PAC that concentrates on the forest, not the trees, and presents a slate of candidates that, if elected, may turn this City around.

The exploratory committee will present its recommendation for a new PAC at a public meeting this Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the RE/MAX building at 2437 Santa Clara Avenue.  According to the announcement distributed by Mr. Foreman, the “mission” of the newly formed organization will be to elect a new Council majority who will

1.     Make decisions based on the public good, not rewarding campaign contributions from public employee unions, developers and other special interest groups.

2.     Make independent decisions based upon a clear understanding of all of the options, rather than rubber stamping staff recommendations.

3.     Respect and encourage the advice of our City Treasurer and Auditor.

4.     Evaluate development proposals based upon their impact on the entire community.

We find it hard to argue with any of these propositions.  But drafting an appealing mission statement is only the first step toward becoming an effective force in local elections.  So we thought today it might be useful to describe the arena the new PAC will be entering – if only to show the extent of the challenges it will face.

The chart below, drawn from the campaign disclosure statements filed with the City Clerk, shows spending by political action committees in mayoral and council races in the last five elections:

Contributions graph white new colors

Let us highlight a few points.

First, the chart shows that the era of significant PAC involvement in Alameda mayoral and council elections began in 2010.  It’s just a coincidence that Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the case striking down restrictions on campaign spending by corporations and unions, was decided that year.  In fact, the reason for the uptick in PAC activity had more to do with then‑Acting City Manager Ann Marie Gallant than it did with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

Faced with a budget crisis, Ms. Gallant had shut down a fire station and reduced the fire department head count.  What’s worse, she had commissioned a study showing that the department could do its job with far fewer firefighters (which would mean far fewer union members).  For these sins, the Alameda firefighters’ union decided that she had to go, and the union used its existing PAC as the vehicle to elect a mayor and council that would get rid of her.

In the previous mayor’s race in 2006, the IAFF Local 689 PAC had spent less than $10,000 on the mayoral and Council races combined.  In 2010, the firefighters opened up the hydrants.  The IAFF Local 689 PAC donated $13,300 in cash to mayoral candidate Marie Gilmore and $2,500 apiece in cash to Council candidates Rob Bonta and Lena Tam.  (For good measure, it also gave Council candidate Jeff Mitchell $750.)  In addition, the PAC spent $10,773.77 on mailers promoting Ms. Gilmore, Mr. Bonta, and Ms. Tam, as well as another $9,385.83 on a mailer slamming mayoral candidate Doug deHaan.  All told, the firefighters’ union put $42,060.17 on the table, more than the total spent by all PACs in any previous year.

The plan worked.  Ms. Gilmore was elected mayor, and Mr. Bonta and Ms. Tam Council members.  Fewer than 90 days after the election, the three voted to terminate Ms. Gallant’s contract, and she was gone.

Second, the chart includes both direct cash donations to a candidate and separate spending by the PAC in support of the candidate.  The contributions by labor PACs other than the firefighters’ union consisted almost exclusively of cash contributions, and, as the chart shows, the amount has gone up every year since 2008 (with 2012 as an outlier).  For the firefighters’ union, it’s a different story.  After 2010, when it both donated to campaigns and paid for mailers, the IAFF Local 689 PAC has eschewed giving cash and instead concentrated on spending over which the union itself exercised control.  The totals for 2014 and 2016 consist exclusively of payments made by the firefighters’ union for fundraisers, mailers, and robocalls.

Third, the category in the chart labeled “political PACs” includes primarily donations by one campaign committee to another.  Conventional wisdom holds that an ambitious politician can earn her cohorts’ loyalty by helping fund their campaigns; if so, State Assemblyman Rob Bonta has a jar full of chits.  It probably isn’t surprising that Mr. Bonta donated a total of $7,500 to Councilman Jim Oddie’s first-time bid for office in 2014 – after all, Mr. Oddie works for Mr. Bonta – but Ms. Gilmore, Vice Mayor Malia Vella, and former Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C., also have benefited from the Assemblyman’s largesse.

Fourth, the chart includes a bar for spending by corporate PACs, but you’ll have to look closely to find an associated block.  In fact, a review of the campaign disclosure statements shows no spending at all by corporate PACs in three of the last five local elections, and minimal spending ($500 and $2,000) in the other two.  Our local leftists can rant all they want about how the evil corporate PACs control politics, but whatever may be the case on the national scene, it ain’t happening here.

Finally, the emergence in the last election of Alamedans United, the PAC sponsored by IAFF Local 689 and UFCW Local 5, changed the profile dramatically.  The vast majority of Alameda firefighters’ union members do not live in the City, but at least this is where they work.  Similarly, many of the other union locals whose PACs regularly contribute to mayoral and council campaigns represent people who are employed by the City, Alameda Municipal Power, or private Alameda employers like grocery stores.  By contrast, Alamedans United got its money primarily from out-of-towners.  For example, six different firefighters’ unions located outside Alameda contributed a total of $16,000 to the PAC.  Perhaps the oddest donation was $9,500 from Shawn Wilson, a Brentwood resident who is chief of staff to Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty.

Moreover, the amount spent by Alamedans United dwarfed the amount previously spent by union PACs in any previous mayoral and council race.  Spending by the firefighters’ union after 2010 topped out at $27,345.17.  Likewise, the most spent by any other labor PAC was $4,500 by the Northern California Regional Carpenters Council in 2014.  By contrast, Alamedans United shelled out a total of $76,452.63 in 2016, of which $19,303.94 went to support Ms. Vella, $13,349.29 to support Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, and $17,205.10 to trash incumbent Councilman Tony Daysog.

Reviewing the data, it seems to us that the new citizens’ group would be setting an unrealistic goal for itself if it aspired to match the financial clout of the union-sponsored PACs.

The IAFF Local 689 PAC, of course, has a ready source of funding:  the union dues paid by its members.  Last year, for example, it took in $45,302.92 in “monetary contributions” from firefighters.  Other PACs set up by unions whose members work for the City, like Operating Engineers Local 3 and IBEW Local 595, can tap similar sources of funds.

Likewise, the out-of-town real-estate firms who helped fund Alamedans United have every financial reason for contributing to a PAC that will support candidates favorable to  development projects.  It’s no wonder that North Cove Waterfront, the company developing the Del Monte warehouse, donated $5,000 to Alamedans United, or that Hartz Holdings, an affiliate of the company proposing to build a senior-assisted-living facility at Harbor Bay, kicked in $10,000.

The new PAC has neither of these sources available.  Nor is it likely to be able to count on wealthy Alamedans to fund its mission.  During the last five elections, we found only six local residents – we’ll keep their names private to spare them from fundraising pitches – who contributed $500 or more to a candidate in more than one mayoral or council race.  For better or worse, Alamedans seem to find better things to do with their money than give it to political campaigns.

Moreover, the new PAC will need to be wary of soliciting donors who otherwise would be inclined to write a check to a specific candidate.  Unless such donors contribute both to the candidate and to the PAC, the effect of the group’s fundraising might be to reduce the amount available for its favored candidates to spend on their own campaigns.

All that being said, we don’t want to sound too pessimistic.  We’re not qualified, and wouldn’t presume, to tell the organizers of the new PAC how to run their show.  But there are at least two areas for which we see a role for the organization.  And neither of them would require any cash.

First, the PAC could set up a formal vetting process designed to determine which candidates truly agree with the principles expressed in its mission statement.

This is a standard practice for PACs.  For example, both the firefighters’ union and the Alameda Labor Council require a candidate seeking an endorsement to demonstrate, by filling out a questionnaire and submitting to a follow-up interview, that she sees eye-to-eye with the positions taken by organized labor.  If she can’t, or won’t, provide the appropriate assurances, she won’t make it onto the slate of endorsees.

The new PAC could do something similar.  Indeed, if we had our druthers, we’d go beyond asking a candidate simply to ascribe to the draft mission statement, which, according to Mr. Foreman, was intentionally broad.  Instead, we’d want to come up with a list of specific positions for a candidate to commit to.  (Example: “I will not vote to spend unbudgeted funds on any project proposed by a City department – including but not limited to the fire department – without a damned good reason.”)  Sure, this sounds like a litmus test, but we’d prefer that candidates earn an endorsement by making commitments rather than spewing platitudes.

Second, the new PAC could act as a resource for fact-checking claims made by candidates about their accomplishments and goals.

We’re not suggesting that the new PAC practice the sort of “negative campaigning” in which PACs previously engaged in local elections.  No scurrilous hit pieces like the one sent out in 2010 by the IAFF Local 689 PAC attacking mayoral candidate Doug deHaan or those sent out in 2016 by Alamedans United attacking incumbent Councilman Tony Daysog and candidates Jennifer Roloff and Lena Tam.

Rather, what we have in mind is the kind of analysis Linda Qui of the New York Times regularly does of statements made by Donald Trump:  here’s what the president said; here’s what the evidence shows.  For example, should an incumbent Councilman running for re-election this November claim that he was “exonerated” in the scandal surrounding the appointment of a new fire chief, the PAC could point out, in the Alameda Sun and/or on social media, what the Jenkins report actually found.

Our feelings won’t be hurt if, come Wednesday, the organizers ignore, or reject, our suggestions.  But, whatever they decide, we’ll be rooting for them to do for Alamedans what Indivisible is doing for Democrats.

Source: Campaign disclosure statements for mayoral and council races are available on the City website at


About Robert Sullwold

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

26 Responses to Real Alamedans united

  1. Catherine Bierwith says:

    Thank you!

  2. Paul S Foreman says:

    Mr. Sullwold. Your suggestions as to what the PAC should be doing are right in line with my own and I hope will be adopted by the PAC.

    You are quite right that we cannot begin to match Alamedans United financially, but I strongly believe that grass roots people power can overcome money. On June 20 we will find out if enough people want to go beyond complaining about the current course of our City to actually do something that may produce real change.

  3. NYBORN says:

    We are looking for a common ground that allows for fair and reasonable decisions by our elected officials. We need it. Unions have their place, but we should not run our city based on union wants. I’m not sure if another PAC is the answer vs. citizens getting more involved and informed.

  4. Mike McMahon says:

    In your graph how did you account for the $150,000 spent by the CA Apartment Association?

    • As the column states, the chart depicts spending by PACs in mayoral and council races. Thus, no spending on ballot measures, by the California Apartment Association or anyone else (e.g., the Alameda Renters Coalition), is included.

  5. Paul S Foreman says:

    Nyborn, when Janet Gibson, one of the charter members of ACT, suggested a PAC prior to the 2016 election, I was not receptive to it. However, this year, it finally occurred to me that if we want to change the course of the City, we need a new majority on Council. I see the PAC as the only vehicle designed to do this.
    Although I am only one voice in this project, I will working to make this PAC a lot different from the others cited in Mr. Sullwold’s article.
    1. We will not contribute money to any candidate.
    2. All of our expenditures will support the entire slate as a body, not any individual candidate.
    3. Our selection of a slate and our campaign will be entirely independent of any candidate. We will not ask a candidate’s permission to include any other candidate on our slate.
    4. We will as much as possible be a broad based group of Alameda residents with a broad mission statement. Our basic goal will be to elect candidates who will make objective informed decisions in the broad interest of Alameda residents,

  6. Cheryl Saxton says:

    I’m in! Thank you!

  7. Denise Lai says:

    Thank you for explaining the recent history of mayoral election-funding in our city.

  8. Hamfat Williams says:

    Anyone here associated with ACT care to address this, reported on Twitter by Rasheed Shabazz? Perhaps you would like to respond Mr. Foreman?

    “After a brief fracas with random people answering (all essentially saying Rasheed would need to do their outreach for them), Foreman responded.
    “I noticed we have very few dark skin faces” in the room, “Do we need to plant them”? he said, sarcastically. #alamtg”

    Bob, to not consider the CA Apartment Associations money in your column is misleading when discussing how money impacts local elections. I would prefer unions and lobbies of all sorts stay out of local politics. But you don’t want to dive into that pool, do you,….

  9. Paul S Foreman says:

    Hamfat, Thank you for opening this conversation. I am not comfortable with twitter as a means of conversation and much more comfortable where I don’t have to count the characters.
    I am deeply upset and angry about much of what Mr. Shabazz tweeted and fully intend to tell him so, but I will limit these remarks to the matter you mention.

    In response his remarks at the meeting about the lack of diversity I said that I was inexperienced in social media and had posted the meeting announcement in every place I could think of. He then said that I needed to reach folks by means other than computer or newspaper. I responded that I needed help in learning how to do that and asked for his help. I then related, as an example of my naiveté on this diversity issue, my experience with the Roloff group picture at City Hall in 2016 where I just asked supporters to participate and did not attempt to “plant” people of color in the group.. I was attempting to respond to his statement with an example of my short-sightedness, and that is precisely why I asked for his help. He conveniently misplaced that remark and labeled it a sarcastic reply to his diversity criticism.

    Despite my anger with his tweets, I accept our lack of diversity as a legitimate issue that I am trying to rectify by continuing to seek help with this. Prior to the meeting I recruited several people of color to serve on our governing board. Some of them are are willing to contribute time and money but not available to serve on the governing board.

    If you have any suggestions, I would very much like to hear them.

    • carol says:

      What? People of all diversities cannot read? Why that’s RACIST, Rasheed. How dare you!

      • Rasheed says:

        Yeah. I’m a professional reverse racist.

        Seriously, there are actually members of our community that do not speak or read English.

        Also, after the meeting Mr. Foreman asked how people heard about the event. The majority appeared to learn from the local newspapers and social media (Nextdoor).

        I will go out on a limb and say, there are probably many people that do not read either local newspaper. And, social networks are often racially isolated. For example, a study four years ago found that 3/4th’s of white people have no non-white friends. (

        But, my question was not about the meetings attendance, but more so representation of interests of people of different racialized groups, ability, and age.

    • Rasheed says:

      Peace Mr. Foreman,

      I’m just catching up on all the different blog comments. We’ve already corresponded, but I just want to clarify for those who will read this.

      “He then said that I needed to reach folks by means other than computer or newspaper.”

      I never made any statement or suggestion. I do not know how or why you’ve attributed this to me. However, I suspect you may have attributed this to me because after i asked my question about representation for the “entire community,” a number of people began to blurt out responses. For example, during that time, I was unable to hear you clearly, which is why i stated, “I asked him!” People still continued speaking at me. That is why i did not originally understand everything you were saying about the Roloff photo-op, and why you asked, “Do we need to plant them?”

      In that context, i would place your remark re: being naive somewhere near a lamentation genuinely not wanting to tokenizing people and using sarcasm to express that dilemma.

      Unfortunately I was not able to clarify after the meeting when you walked past me. I also was unable to ask my question about how the governing board would be selected, but you shared that via email.

      Anyway, look forward to your response to my email response about your feelings and perception. Feel free to share it with yo’ peoples.

      Also, based on the reception and responses to what i tweeted, it appears that much of what i tweeted either confirmed people’s preexisting biases or perceptions.

  10. carol says:

    I do not think anyone failed to hear about the meeting b/c of their race, creed, or color. Anyone can visit Facebook. Can’t tell them where to look.

  11. Barbara Thomas says:

    As Alaskan native, graduate of Paden, Washington, Encinal HS, UCB, Hastings, sitting with with my filipino/a friends, I was taken aback at the man who began his question to the speaker by calling everyone “old” . Name calling is never a good way to start on “open” discussion. It hurts, and automatically closes minds to avoid further hurt by that speaker. I was deeply offended for myself and others. Showing insensitivity to the feelings of others for whatever reason, age, color, national origin, does not give any credibility to one’s cause. If one wants respect for one’s own issues, one needs to begin by respecting the forum, and the persons who have come to listen to the subject matter. Few heard anything past the name calling of “old”. In my opinion it is best to leave Twitter to Donald Trump and those who likewise promote that level and quality of public discourse.

    • Rasheed says:

      Peace M(r)s Thomas,

      We’ve never met, but I’ve read a lot about your positions on policing and housing while you were on the City Council.

      For the record, there is a difference between “old” and “older.” I stated the latter. And, older is relative.

      But i appreciate your insight, considering that you (and possibly others) just heard “It’s hella old white people here,” that might explain the some of the responses i received during and after the meeting.

  12. Steve Gerstle says:

    People are allowed to call meetings and limit those meetings to those who support its purpose. As long as those who attend the meeting support its purpose, there is no reason to exclude them. However, those who come to the meeting who do not support its called purpose, can be excluded.
    The assumption would be that Rasheed Shabazz was there to support the formation of the PAC. Otherwise, it would be like Republicans showing up at a Democratic Club meeting to demand the building of a border wall.

    • Rasheed says:

      Hi Mr. Gerstle,

      I attended the meeting to write a story for a local publication. I am also interested in how different groups have organized themselves to impact local politics, historically.

      I was neither there to support or oppose the formation of the PAC, or of ACT generally. I was there to learn and later share.


      • carol says:

        Reporters observing a meeting don’t generally stand up and make off-agenda comments, which focus attention on themselves. It’s disruptive and changes the entire theme of the meeting. That is exactly what happened.
        It wasn’t a press conference, where you get to shout out questions about anything you choose.

      • Steve Gerstle says:

        So Rasheed, you were there as a reporter? Was it for this publication?
        Did you identify yourself as a reporter and not a meeting participant?

        I was not at the meeting, so everything that I hear is second hand. That is why accurate reporting is so important.

        Were there other reporters present and other press reports?

      • carol says:

        Mr. Gerstle: I was there, from the beginning to the end. seated near the entrance. I did not see any legitimate known reporters or other news media. Most importantly, Steven Tavares was ABSENT, so everything written by Tavares is certainly second-hand. I have never seen the individual who made the headlined outburst at an ACT meeting before. He came in after the meeting was well underway and stood in the back. When an open meeting is held, you never know who is going to walk in the door or what they will say. For Tavares to attribute this individual’s outburst as representative of the entire group is libelous. It is defamatory and has no basis in fact. It is deserving of a printed retraction and apology at least, a lawsuit at most. Alameda Magazine and BANG should stop printing articles from this irresponsible individual who seems to have no sense of journalistic ethics.

      • Tony Daysog says:

        Hey Rasheed,

        You know me so I hope you read the following in the earnest and forthright manner I mean it in: I saw how you referenced the Alameda Citizen Task Force as akin to the infamous White Citizens Council of the South. That was way too over-the-top if you ask me, since the White Citizens Council as we all know was the tip-of-the-spear of the Jim Crow system. In other words, folks in the South’s White Citizens Council weren’t simply racist by-standers in the apartheid system of back-then — they were its de jure enforcers. So, if you ask me, you were wrong to equate the Alameda Citizens Task Force with the Southern White Citizens Council of yesteryear. It looks like you and Paul Foreman are engaging in dialogue, so I hope you guys go over that too. Thanks. /s/ Tony

      • Hamfat Williams says:

        Tony, you’re correct. That’s why ACT uses dog whistles, so people like you can feel better about themselves. Thank you for pointing that out.

  13. Milt Friedman says:

    Very cogent analysis. Another aspiration I would have for a citizens’ PAC is that it could reach out for and facilitate the organization of grassroots involvement, an appropriate and effective counter to corporate (and other interest group) influence.

  14. chrisrabe says:

    Great article! Have you heard of Alameda Safe Energy? We are a truly local grassroots organization, fighting to spread awareness of the myriad dangers of smart meters, and other RF hazards in our community. Please visit our website, and/or my wordpress account if you’d like to learn more.

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