And they’re off!

Traditionally, Labor Day marks the beginning of the political campaign season.  The Merry-Go-Round missed the kickoff by a week, but we’ll try to make up for it today by commenting about a couple of the actors in our local political drama.

Robert Matz

Of the two candidates running for elective office for the first time, the more intriguing – and appealing – one to us is Alameda trial lawyer Robert Matz.

For one thing, Mr. Matz comes across as a, well, real person.  The bio on his website contains the usual information about his educational and employment background.  But it also tells voters that Mr. Matz became interested in politics as a result of watching his mother knock on doors campaigning for a seat on the Library Board in Brookfield, Illinois, and that he started coaching Little League and basketball teams in Alameda because his father had been his own Little League coach.

These are the kind of humanizing details that other candidates would have to pay their consultants to invent.

More importantly, Mr. Matz appears willing to take firm positions on political issues, and his views don’t place him neatly in one camp.

Take rent control as an example.

According to his website, Mr. Matz opposes Measure K, the local initiative designed to put the rent stabilization ordinance passed by Council into the City Charter in haec verba.   Aha, one might think, here’s another candidate out for votes from members of the Alameda Renters’ Coalition, which denounces the measure as the devil’s (or his archangel, Don Lindsey’s) handiwork.

But then, in the very next bullet point, Mr. Matz declares that he opposes the state initiative to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, which prohibits municipalities from applying rent control to single-family homes and apartment buildings built after 1995.  By opposing the measure, Mr. Matz finds himself on the same side as Lucifer Lindsey and the rest of the hated landlords, who, it is claimed, are spending millions to defeat it.

From a political standpoint, these positions appear to conflict.  We suppose it’s possible that Mr. Matz simply can’t decide which interest group he should pander to.  But maybe not.  There are different legitimate reasons for opposing each measure, and Mr. Matz may be one of those people, rare in politics, who’s capable of evaluating every issue on its own merits.

Either way, he deserves credit for going on the record.  Want to know whether mayoral candidate Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft or Council candidate John Knox White – should we start calling them the Trinomials? – supports repealing Costa-Hawkins?  You’ll need to wait for them to show up on your doorstep to inquire, because there’s no answer on their websites.

It’s still early in the campaign, but Mr. Matz seems to be doing something right.  A day after portraying him – with, typically, no factual basis whatsoever – as a political naif with “bad advisors,” Blogging Bayport Alameda devoted an entire post to bashing the candidate for telling the “Alameda Progressives” that our City Council should spend its time trying to fix local problems rather than grandstanding on national issues.  The next day the blog went back at him once more.

Mr. Matz thus finds himself in the select company of people like Mayor Trish Spencer and former Councilman Tony Daysog, whom the enlightened elite and their acolytes despise – but a lot of ordinary Alamedans vote for anyway.  It could be a good omen for him.

A few weeks ago, after we had ignored Mr. Matz in a column about fund-raising by Council candidates, we promised him that we’d start paying more attention to his campaign.  It was a promise offered as penance.  But now we’re glad we made it, and we urge our readers to take a look at Mr. Matz as well.

John Knox White

The other first-time candidate, of course, is Inner Ringleader and former Planning Board member John Knox White.

We recently commented that Mr. Knox White had lined up an impressive retinue of local Democratic party bigwigs and self-styled activists – his own “band of brothers” (and sisters) – to endorse his candidacy, and now it appears he’s added the Alameda firefighters’ union to the list.  (Unlike Mr. Matz, Mr. Knox White does not have a tab labeled “Platform” on his website, but he does have one called “Endorsements.”)

Mr. Knox White was the only office-seeker other than embattled Councilman Jim Oddie able to pass the demanding test devised by IAFF Local 689 president Jeff DelBono, who told the East Bay Citizen that, “We have high standards when it comes to endorsing candidates that are going to make sure the community is safe.”  (Kind of reminds you of the fella – what’s his name, again? – who brags that he picks only the “best people” for his Cabinet.)  Presumably, Mr. Knox White earned extra credit because he previously had demonstrated his loyalty to the union by speaking before Council in favor of the contracts guaranteeing annual wage increases for public-safety-union members through 2021 (except for 2019), and the resolution creating a fire-prevention bureau staffed with union firefighters (and now supervised by Capt. DelBono) that costs the City $1 million a year.

Still, the firefighters’ union may have a special reason for wanting to put candidates whom it can control onto the dais this time, since negotiations with the public-safety unions for a new contract are likely to begin during the next Council’s term, and it would be a shame not to get another guaranteed raise before the City runs out of money.  For that reason, we wonder whether the union sought, or obtained, any kind of future commitment from Mr. Knox White in exchange for its endorsement.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Somehow, however, we doubt that Mr. Knox White would sign a loyalty oath.  Whatever other flaws the Inner Ringleader may have, he does not lack self-confidence, and we just don’t see him willing to take orders from Jeff DelBono.  Imagine the conversation that would have taken place had Mr. Knox White been sitting on Council when Fire Chief Doug Long announced his retirement:  “John, it’s Jeff,” says the union honcho.  “I want Dom Weaver to be the next fire chief.  Lean on Keimach and get her to do the right thing.”  To which Mr. Knox White replies:  “Jeff, I really want to engage the community about this, and you’re a valuable part of my outreach.  But everyone knows that the City Charter prevents me from interfering with the appointment.  Marilyn told me she was sure you’d understand.”


For those paying attention to PACs, there’s a new big-money contributor on the scene:  the Alameda Police Officers Association Political Action Committee.

Historically, the APOA PAC has not showered candidates running for office in Alameda with cash.  During the last election cycle in 2016, the PAC disbursed only $7,577.75, which included accountants’ fees, from its treasury.  The PAC paid for food and drinks for fundraisers for Council candidates Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Malia Vella; it also gave Ms. Ashcraft $750 in cash.  (State Assemblyman Ron Bonta got $1,000.)

But the primary beneficiary of funds from the APOA PAC last time was the IAFF Local 689 PAC, to which the police-union PAC contributed $3,000.  This year, a similar PAC-to-PAC transfer occurred, but the amount went up – to a cool 10 grand.

Those of us who grew up watching TV shows highlighting the pre-9/11 rivalry between the police and fire departments in New York City – where have you gone, Dennis Leary? – may consider it odd that our local cops are choosing to put so much of their political cash in the hands of the firefighters.  But maybe, as we keep hearing from those who aren’t pushing high-rise residential development projects, Alameda really is different from New York.

In any event, the Alameda cops and firefighters traditionally have cooperated with each other when it comes to negotiating public-safety-union contracts, and whatever raises the firefighters manage to get their friends on Council to sign off on, the cops are given as well.  So maybe the APOA has grown comfortable with allowing IAFF Local 689 to take the lead.

Still, we couldn’t help but wonder why, for this election, the police union decided to give the firefighters so much more to play with.  So we asked, and Officer Jeffrey Park replied:

This year, we identified an opportunity to support two candidates running for city council.  These candidates are also being supported by other groups including IAFF. Because we lack the people resources to be involved in this process, we have decided to provide financial support.  The contribution to the firefighters’ PAC allows us to provide support with the resources we have.

A Better Alameda

Speaking of PACs . . .

A Better Alameda, the citizens’ PAC sponsored by the Alameda Citizens Task Force, is now up and running, and what is interesting to us is how the local Democratic party establishment (and its hangers-on) have reacted to the new organization.

Mayoral candidate Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Council candidates Jim Oddie and John Knox White all refused to fill out the questionnaire prepared by A Better Alameda.  We suppose they would claim that they don’t like “slanted” questions, although it’s hard to discern the bias in seeking a candidate’s opinion about whether the 15% requirement in the inclusionary housing ordinance “adequately addresses our affordable housing needs” (Question No. 15) or whether there is “any current need to amend” the rent stabilization ordinance (Question No. 23).

As a student of political history, we think there may be a simpler explanation for the decision by the three candidates to snub the ACT PAC.  If we remember Professor Blum correctly, Franklin Roosevelt never mentioned any of his opponents by name on the theory that the most effective way to minimize the influence of an adversary is to act like he doesn’t exist.  Ms. Ashcraft and Messrs. Oddie and Knox White, all of whom (we assume) are being advised by political consultants, may just be following this familiar path.

The bloggers and tweeters who promote the “progressive” agenda have displayed no similar reticence.  Indeed, Blogging Bayport Alameda devoted not one but four posts to disparaging the ACT PAC’s questionnaire.  Perhaps the most amusing attack came in the second installment when A Better Alameda was chastised for including a section asking candidates about “Donations,” by “which I think they mean ‘Contributions’ since a ‘donation’ typically carries with a connotation that it’s for charity or something like that.”

The blog’s favorite candidate, Mr. Knox White, must have been absent when this grammar lesson was dispensed, for the homepage on his website asks supporters – twice – to “Donate” to his cause.  Or maybe he’s actually running a charity and not a campaign after all.

We hesitate to get in line behind commentators like this, but we feel compelled to offer A Better Alameda a critique of our own.  For one thing, we think the group could have done a better job of explaining why it endorsed Trish Spencer over Frank Matarrese for mayor.  According to the ACT PAC’s website, “Mayor Spencer has more consistently cast votes that demonstrate” the qualities the PAC is looking for (i.e., making “decisions in the best interest of the community as a whole based on careful and critical evaluation of the staff recommendations rather than rewarding those with the most political influence.”)  Examples and analysis, please.

Moreover, we were disappointed that, although A Better Alameda posted the questionnaire, it didn’t publish the responses received from the five candidates who accepted the challenge of providing answers.  Perhaps the candidates were promised confidentiality, but, if so, they shouldn’t have been, and now they should be asked for permission to make their responses public.  We fully realize that this may lead to the sort of cherry-picking that Mr. Matz recently has had to endure, but we’d rather read the candidate’s own words than a partisan “summary” of them.

Jim Oddie

If we were in the bookmaking business, the Council candidate for whom we’d have the hardest time setting the odds is Jim Oddie.

On the one hand, Mr. Oddie brings certain advantages to his bid for re-election:

  • He’s an incumbent, although that isn’t as important as it used to be (see Chen, Stewart in 2014 and Daysog, Tony in 2016).
  • He is extremely well-funded.  Mr. Oddie got $24,045 in cash contributions, 68 percent from organized labor, in the first six months of 2018, to go with $26,300 received in the last six months of 2017.  The bulk of this money apparently went to pay legal fees to San Francisco defense lawyers, but some remained for the campaign.  Moreover, as Steve Gerstle has reported, Mr. Oddie has taken in another $21,000 since the last semi-annual report was filed, including $5,000 from the Alameda firefighters’ union.  (The next round of campaign disclosure reports is not due until September 27, so there may be other contributions for which early reporting is not required.)
  • He has re-invented himself as “Just Cause Jim” and is ramping up the rhetoric to reinforce his reputation as the tribune of the tenants. For example, according to the East Bay Citizen, Mr. Oddie used his speech before the City of Alameda Democratic Club to castigate what he called the “landlord/realtor oligarchy.”  (We’ll need to get a guidebook to determine if this group consists of the same villains whom Club co-president Gabrielle Dolphin identifies as “investors from China” and “international conglomerates.”)

Yet, for all these advantages, Mr. Oddie does face one nagging problem:  the Jenkins report about his illegal interference in the process by which City Manager Jill Keimach selected the City’s new fire chief.  The report’s conclusion cannot be clearer:  “Councilman Oddie violated Section 7-3 of the Alameda City Charter by attempting to influence the City Manager’s appointment.”

By reading the version of the scandal concocted by the East Bay Citizen, we’ve got a pretty good idea of how Mr. Oddie is going to try to spin this finding.  All he did was to write a letter of recommendation for a “specific fire chief candidate,” he’ll say.  That was no big deal, just a technical violation of a Charter provision upon which Mr. Jenkins himself “cast doubt” and “urged . . . should be amended.”  (The quoted language was used by Steve Tavares in his recent piece.)

Left unsaid in this version is that the “specific fire chief candidate” whom Mr. Oddie endorsed happened to be the former firefighters’ union president whom the current union president told Mr. Oddie he wanted to get the job.  Moreover, Mr. Jenkins found that letter-writing wasn’t the only act taken by the Councilman to carry out his marching orders.  Among other things, at a meeting between Mr. Oddie (and Ms. Vella) with Ms. Keimach, Mr. Oddie “advanc[ed] arguments in favor of Weaver that introduced considerations beyond candidate qualifications, such [as] satisfying the councilmembers or IAFF, that were meant to influence her appointment decision.”

Likewise, Mr. Jenkins didn’t actually “cast doubt” on section 7-3, but instead acknowledged, with evident approval, its purpose of “eliminat[ing] corrupt influences such as political patronage or conflicts of interest” and “preserv[ing] the professional administration central to a manager-council form of government.”  The only suggestion he made was to revise the language in order to “delineate[] with specificity the types of conduct that constitute a violation of this section.”

This may seem like so much hair-splitting, but there’s one part of the Jenkins report Mr. Oddie may not be able to wriggle away from, and that’s his conversation with Police Chief Paul Rolleri in which Mr. Oddie told the chief that City Manager Keimach “better do the right thing” and “there were already two councilmembers ready to fire her if she did not.”

According to the East Bay Citizen, the City of Alameda Democratic Club ruled the topic of the scandal off-limits when it held its endorsement meeting with the Council candidates.  (Mr. Oddie is a past co-president of the Club.)  But other, supposedly non-partisan groups – are you listening, League of Women Voters? – might not be so accommodating.  Surely, someone out there would like to display her cross-examination skills and go after Mr. Oddie like Senator Kamala Harris did Judge Kavanaugh:  So, Councilman, is Chief Rolleri telling the truth? If he isn’t, what reason does he have for lying?  And if he is telling the truth, can we expect similar behavior from you if we give you another term?

That would be some show.  And after it took place, we might be more amenable to quoting the odds of Mr. Oddie getting to keep his seat.


APOA campaign spending: 2016 1st semi; 2016 2nd P-E; 2016 2nd semi; Form 497 – filed 9-8-18

Oddie campaign contributions: 2017 2nd semi; 2018 – 1st semi

Jenkins report: Final Report – Redacted for release 5-2-18 – OCR (1-30-18)Final Report – Redacted for release 5-2-18 – OCR (errata)

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
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18 Responses to And they’re off!

  1. Robert Schrader says:

    From Robert Matz’s webpage: “An experienced lawyer with a big heart and a record of community service. Mr. Matz is unsullied by allegiances to special interests. ”
    Apart from the fact that the first sentence is actually NOT a sentence (remember that he graduated summa cum laude in English from UC Berkeley?), I was likewise impressed by the rest of his declarations. He seems like someone that Alameda needs to put on the City Council.

  2. Barbara Thomas says:

    Please don’t forget that John Knox White’s degree in Psychology explains his ability to convince the Council to not wait to get the Ok to put the bike path on the beach side of Shoreline where it was supposed to be. Instead it eliminated two lanes of traffic, reduced the width of the remaining single directional lanes too narrow for buses, and halts traffic every time a car parallel parks in what remains of the decimated parking. The Shoreline bike path failed to comply with State of California engineering standards, just psychological feel good stuff. No need for such technicalities! After rushed approval by the Council, the path was sent back to the engineering and other technical staff for review. They could do nothing as Mayor Gilmore who appointed Knox White, and her minions, had already approved his bike path. Now they want to perform a Knox White on Central Avenue, Clement, Otis and a few other streets. Those who have children who use bike paths unattended by adult supervision should pay extra attention. Many of the real commuter bicyclists who used to commute on Shoreline, preferred the previous four lanes, where cars could pull around them if they wanted to, and they did not get airborne if going 20 mph on a “bike path”.

    Maybe Matz just meant a comma instead of a period. I prefer a candidate who openly shows his true self, including his faults, so that the voters may decide. Were the others just too arrogant to participate in the process or just plain out lying because they think voters are stupid enough to believe what they say unchallenged by their past inconsistent deeds. After the last presidential campaign, everyone who does not take the time to study the candidates’ articulated positions on most of the meaningful issues and compare that with that candidates past actions, before voting, deserves what they get. Candidates who refuse to participate in the examination process posed by the various other interest groups, should take Jeff Del Bono’s stamp of approval as POISON.

  3. Barbara Thomas says:

    PS. Is Jeff Del Bono still pursing his $100-200,000 claim for damages against the City of Alameda/taxpayers? Since DelBono endordorses Knox White, Ashcraft and Oddie, will these three pledge, if elected, to NOT award Del Bono any taxpayer money?

  4. carol says:

    I like that Robert Matz has a bullet-point type platform. Easy to understand.

  5. Paul S Foreman says:

    I am the Treasurer of A Better Alameda and appreciate your critique.

    We were very pleased with all of the questionnaire’s that we received. from Mayor Spencer and Councilmember Mataresse. They both exhibited the independent thinking and lack of bias toward any particular group that we are seeking. However, their actual performance on Council for the past term was the most important factor for us. Mr. Mataresse has made several very good referrals to Council, and has expressed concern about issues that are important to us, but he has not been as consistent as Mayor Spencer at following up with votes that are consistent with those concerns. One glaring example is his affirmative vote on the public safety union contract extensions contrary to the advice of our City Auditor, City Treasurer, and yourself.

    With regard to releasing the answers to the questionnaire, we did not give the candidates any assurance of confidentiality. Thus, we do not need their permission, although one might see it as a curtesy. These answers were written very early in August and under tight time constraints Thus, the answers, while consistent with their current campaign statements, are not as carefully articulated and could lead to cherry picking by the opposition.

    Our Committee will meet next week and will discuss the pros and cons of this issue. I am undecided on how I will vote. Regardless of what we decide, over the next two months the voters, if they take the time to read the websites, social and news media and attend the candidate’s nights, will have every opportunity to get a complete picture of every candidate.

    • Hi Paul, Will A Better Alameda publish the full questionnaire and responses publicly?

      • Paul S Foreman says:

        Rasheed, we have given this a lot of thought. We have decided that this was a policy decision that should have been made before we sent the questionnaire to the candidates so that they would have prior notice of our intent to publish. Since we failed to give that notice we feel that fair practice requires us to refrain from publishing their responses. We are a new organization, learning lessons as we go. Hopefully, we will refine our process as we gain more experience.

        I can assure you that, thus far, their campaign statements are fully consistent with their responses to our questionnaire, so that you will have plenty of information from which to base your decision as a voter.

  6. Mike McMahon says:

    I realize that Mayor and City Council races are extremely important to current issues facing Alameda’s quality of life for the upcoming years. However, there is one race that A Better Alameda has ignored and it is for two year term for the Hospital Board which in my opinion deserves equal attention.

    Let me explain. Last year two members of the Hospital Board resigned, creating two vacancies that needed to be filled by appointment. Myself and the editor of this blog applied for the openings as well as Stewart Chen. The Board ended appointed Gayle Godfrey Codiga and Dennis Popalardo.

    Fast forward to this election cycle. The three full term positions ended up with incumbents and Gayle applying for the position with no opposition and therefore will not appear on the ballot. This happened in 2016 when there were two positions and hence the race was not on the ballot.

    Dennis filed papers for the short term position. I decided to file in order to bring public awareness to the role of Hospital Board in serving this community. While it is 12 years away, right now there is 90% chance the Alameda Hospital will be closed due to requirement governmental seismic requirements. This will be have a significant impact on the community.

    The Hospital Board needs to better communicate what is happening in dealing with this challenge and engage the community to determine how to best deal with the closure.

    • MP says:

      For those who don’t know, in a nutshell (1) why 12 years? Lum Elem., e.g., was essentially closed as soon as school let out; (2) what to do with the hospital property? Does the rule/law with the 12 year deadline require (practically or directly) a teardown or only preclude certain uses? Thank you

      • Mike McMahon says:

        In my discussions with prior Board members and former hospital staff, the existing seismic legislation contains two target dates for hospitals. One in 2020 and in 2030. The requirements for 2020 in the case of Alameda Hospital require to move some essential services from the older building to the newer hospital wing in order to remain open. The 2030 seismic requirements would essentially require a complete tear down and rebuild.

  7. Paul S Foreman says:

    Mr. Sullwold, In answer to your inquiry about Ms. Ashcraft’s position on Costa -Hawkins, she is for repeal, as is Mr. Mataresse. See
    Both candidates made the same argument at the Democratic Club Mayoral event. They are for anything that gives Council local control. I don’t recall them being clear as to whether the repeal would cause them to support extending rent control to properties now exempt under Costa Hawkins

  8. Paul S Foreman says:

    Mr. Sullwold, It is inaccurate to refer to A Better Alameda as a PAC sponsored by ACT or as an ACT/PAC.

    ACT provided the meeting room at Alameda Hospital for the initial discussion which I believe was in April and also the meeting room for the June meeting. We did invite our members, but also our friends and advertised to the public. At both meetings we tried our best to recruit Committee members from outside of the ACT Board.. Ideally we did not want more than one or two ACT members on the PAC Committee. Unfortunately, while a lot of non-ACT folks were very supportive, few wanted to serve, so three of our Committee members are also ACT Board members.

    However, at the seminal June meeting only about 20% of the 50 or so attending were dues paying members of ACT. Our current contributors are also roughly 80% non-members of ACT and all are residents of Alameda. We did not seek the approval of the ACT Board in selecting our endorsed candidates, ACT itself has made no donation to the PAC, nor expended any funds on its behalf. The meeting rooms were given to ACT free of charge.

    If people want to see this as an ACT PAC, they have a right to their perception of us, but I would hope that you understand the distinction.

  9. Steve Gerstle says:

    After too much thought, this is who I am endorsing for mayor and voting for in the council race. I am not only looking at individual candidates, but for a council that can debate and, hopefully, create more light than heat. Likely everyone in town will find a reason to hate me after seeing the list.

    For Mayor I an supporting/endorsing Frank Matarrese. He is smart, articulate, informed and even-tempered. He plays well with others and will be able to lead effective meetings that have disciplined discussions. Frank is a good listener and does not dominate a conversation. Frank is a mensch.

    While not endorsing anyone for Council, I will be voting for John Knox White and Tony Daysog. Huh? Yes, you heard right. Like them or not, they are both knowledgeable and articulate. They would have some great debates. This does not mean that I support what they support – or oppose what they oppose. Democracy is a process that requires intelligent debate and conflicting positions. Our elected officials have our lives in their hands. I trust all three to govern well together along with the other members of the council. I also believe that our mayor and council need to be compensated for their responsibilities. I see democracy more about finding our way than getting our way.

  10. Paul S Foreman says:

    Steve, I don’t agree with your choices, other than Tony, but I do strongly agree with everything else you are saying so well.

  11. Mike McMahon says:

    If you cannot wait for the detailed analysis of the first pre-election campaign financial reporting which will be coming soon, you can always go to this recap and links to individuals candidates’ filings here:

  12. Karen Butter says:

    The League of Women Voters just released an analysis, along with explanatory material, of the September 22 filings for mayor and city council.

    Karen Butter, LWVA Action Co Chair

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