There’s still another week to go before the election, and the Merry-Go-Round expects that Alamedans are going to see a last-minute flurry of mailers from or about local mayoral and Council candidates. (The truly vile hit pieces often are saved for last, when there is no time for the target to rebut them.)
But our mailbox is getting pretty full already, so we decided to start early in choosing the candidates or groups whose campaign literature stood out. Today, we’ll present three awards.
The “How dumb do they think we are?” award
goes to . . . the Alameda firefighters’ union.
Through Friday, the IAFF Local 689 PAC had paid for and distributed two mailers: one featuring its endorsed slate of candidates, and another devoted to attacking Council candidates Tony Daysog and Robert Matz.
The hit piece doesn’t criticize any positions taken by Mr. Daysog or Mr. Matz. That would be much too substantive. Instead, it takes aim at the two candidates based on the groups who, it alleges, are “promoters” of their campaigns.
If the union wants to play the “guilt by association” game, it isn’t too much to ask that at least it will show that the asserted tie really exists. The mailer does no such thing. Instead, voters are expected to check their common sense at the door.
The mailer begins by contending that Messrs. Daysog and Matz are backed by “REALTORS, INVESTORS, LAWYERS, CONSTRUCTION [there seems to be a word missing here] who may profit from expensive housing.”
How does the union know that? The mailer cites, as its source, “Official ‘A Better Alameda’ financial filings with CA Fair Political Practices Committee.” And it’s true that the “A Better Alameda” PAC has endorsed Messrs. Daysog and Matz for Council. But that hardly means that everyone who contributed to the PAC also backs these two candidates, any more than a donation to the Sierra Club means that the donor supports every candidate listed on the club’s slate card.
But suppose that it’s true that the contributors to the PAC are all Daysog and Matz supporters. Just how many fall into the nefarious group of “realtors, investors, and lawyers” called out by the mailer? Well, as it happens, of the 41 Alamedans who gave money to A Better Alameda, 27 are identified in its campaign finance disclosures as retirees. There is one real estate agent, one “investor,” and one lawyer in the group (unless one also counts the person performing “attorney service” for an outfit called the Backroom Attorney Research Service). There is no reason to believe, based on their occupation alone, that any of this trio “profit[s] from expensive housing.”
The next claim takes the “guilt by association” tactic a step further, and it’s an ugly one.
Messrs. Daysog and Matz, the mailer alleges, are supported by “Bigots [note the plural] who called an Alameda City Councilwoman a ‘whore’ in public.” The source for this claim is given as an article posted by Steven Tavares on the East Bay Citizen, which in turn was based on a tweet by Rasheed Shabazz, whose Twitter profile describes as, among other things, a ”PhotoJournalist Educator & Historian.” And Mr. Shabazz indeed tweeted that “some guy” who attended an Alameda Citizens Task Force meeting on June 20 “turned his ire towards @RobBonta @jhoddie777, and his greatest vitriol for @Malia_Vella. ‘If you hear her supporters, she’s a saint,’ he said. ‘She’s a Union Whore!’”
Mr. Shabazz’s tweet did not say who “some guy” was, much less identify him as an officer of, or spokesperson for, ACT. In fact, the statement he quoted apparently was made by an audience member. (Next to the text in the mailer is a picture of an angry Donald Trump, but even the firefighters’ union isn’t really contending – or is it? – that it was Trump himself who showed up at the meeting to trash Mr. Bonta, Mr. Oddie, and Ms. Vella.) Nevertheless, the tweet somehow proves that “bigots” support Messrs. Daysog and Matz.
See if you can follow the “reasoning”: An audience member made an offensive comment at an ACT meeting. The insult was directed at Ms. Vella, and since she is (according to Alameda Magazine) a mixed-race Filipina, it was racially motivated. Thus, ACT is an organization composed of “bigots.” And since A Better Alameda has ACT members on its board, it, too, is an organization composed of bigots. Thus, the endorsement by A Better Alameda means that bigots are “promoting” Messrs. Daysog and Matz.
Quod erat non demonstrandum.
Finally, the mailer alleges that Messrs. Daysog and Matz are backed by “Interests OPPOSED to housing affordable for our families.” The source is given as another East Bay Citizen article by Mr. Tavares, in which he “reported” on a “push poll” that was “probing and testing potential attack lines against a lengthy list of potential progressive candidates for the city’s mayoral and city council elections this fall.”
Mr. Tavares himself apparently had never heard the poll, and he offered no facts about who commissioned or paid for it. Nevertheless, his piece declared that the survey was “suspected by many to have originated from Alameda landlords’ groups.” On what basis? Because the questions purportedly took a “clear positive view” of Mr. Daysog, and the former Councilman was the “darling” of the landlords!
Evidence this is not.
But suppose Mr. Tavares’s “suspicion” is right on. Further suppose that it’s true that, simply because someone is a landlord, she is “OPPOSED to affordable housing.” (It’s no different than saying that, simply because someone lives on the Gold Coast, she is an “enemy of working families.” That’s a fact, isn’t it, Ms. Ashcraft?) Even so, it’s quite a stretch to conclude that, because these tenant-haters sponsored a push poll six months ago, they now are controlling the campaigns of two Council candidates. (And, BTW, if you check the campaign finance disclosure statements, you won’t see any contributions to either Mr. Daysog or Mr. Matz from any “landlords’ group.”)
(As we were finishing this column, another hit piece paid for by the firefighters’ union arrived in the mail. This time, the only target was Mr. Daysog, whom the mailer described as a “special interest” and “corporate” pawn who “opposes seniors.” As “evidence,” the mailer recycled an opinion piece written by former Planning Board member David Burton in 2016 – which had been used against Mr. Daysog in that election, too – and relied on snippets from three East Bay Citizen articles, including the one characterizing Mr. Daysog as the “darling” of the landlords. All we can say is that the firefighters’ union is lucky to have a hard-hitting journalist like Mr. Tavares around to create the ammo for it to use against those on its hit list.)
Next, the “What more can one man do?” award
goes to . . . embattled Councilman Jim Oddie.
As befits the Council candidate who has hauled in the most cash for his campaign ($55,661.41 through October 20, $25,300 of which came from organized labor, plus another grand from the sheet metal workers’ union on October 25), Councilman Oddie has sent out three separate mailers.
One of them is pretty standard fare, containing testimonials from Oddie supporters, including his boss (Assemblyman Rob Bonta), his daughters (Sarah and Linnea), and his union buddies (Jeff DelBono of IAFF Local 689 and Mike Henneberry of UCFW Local 5; School Board president Gray Harris, Capt. DelBono’s wife and former head of the Alameda teachers’ union, throws in a few good words for Mr. Oddie, too). Thanks to this mailer, voters can rest assured that Mr. Oddie’s family and friends are standing behind him in his hour of need.
But the two other mailers are, frankly, a little strange.
One two-sided mailer is devoted entirely to . . . traffic. “Traffic must be managed for our quality of life,” says the headline, and the mailer goes on to list six separate alleged accomplishments by Mr. Oddie in reducing traffic congestion. (More on this in a moment.) The other mailer is a fold-over, whose cover portrays Mr. Oddie as the guardian of “Island Values,” but whose inside consists of a large map of Alameda annotated with references to “results” allegedly achieved by Mr. Oddie in improving City streets.
We admit to drifting off occasionally while watching the video of Council meetings, but we seem to have missed Mr. Oddie’s focus on making it easier for Alamedans to get around, and on and off, the island. He has shown his passion for “progressive” causes such as making Alameda a “sanctuary city” and directing staff to find a politically pristine bank to process City-issued checks. Likewise, once he realized the political value of indulging our most vocal tenant advocates (or, perhaps, the political cost of annoying them), he has championed the effort to amend the rent stabilization ordinance to prohibit so-called “no cause” evictions (hence his nickname, “Just Cause Jim.”) But . . . scourge of traffic congestion? That’s a new one to us.
If the mailers are to be believed, however, during his tenure on Council Mr. Oddie almost single-handedly has eased Alamedans’ transportation burdens.
According to the two-sided mailer, he has, among other things, “expanded ferries,” “restored Bus Line 19 with rush hour service prioritized,” and “improved traffic flow on Island Dr.” In fact, Mr. Oddie’s actual role in achieving the first two results was hardly instrumental: the decision to expand ferry service was made by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority – of which Mr. Oddie is not a board member – and the decision to resume Bus 19 service was made by AC Transit – for which he doesn’t work, either. Sure, when the desirability of additional ferry and bus service comes up before Council, Mr. Oddie is all for it – but so is everyone else on the dais.
And how about the claim that Mr. Oddie “improved traffic flow on Island Drive”? It conjures up images of the Councilman standing in the middle of the street, attired in a safety vest and holding flags in each hand, waving cars through the intersection. In fact, what happened was that, soon after being elected, Mr. Oddie submitted a Council referral directing staff to study four specific measures for traffic “relief” on Island Drive. Council approved the referral (after modifying it), and, a few months later, Public Works staff presented its report. One of the four measures – extending a turn lane by 50 feet– was found to be doable; the other three were rejected as impractical or unnecessary.
The fold-over mailer is even more detailed about Mr. Oddie’s hands-on efforts to improve life on City streets. “Citywide,” it says, Mr. Oddie has “repaved miles of streets” and “repaired miles of sidewalks” (as well as “promoted pedestrian safety.”) Moreover, Mr. Oddie has “undergrounded utilities” both at Alameda Landing and on the East End. So forget about the guy dressed like a traffic cop and imagine Mr. Oddie in a hard hat wearing gloves and protective glasses as he spreads tar on the road surface with a broom and a bulldozer follows behind to smooth it out.
All of the work attributed to Mr. Oddie in the fold-over mailer actually is performed, of course, by the Alameda Public Works Department and/or Alameda Municipal Power (or contractors they hire). Council’s role is to approve the annual capital improvement budget, which includes street repairs, and to decide which federal, state and county grants for transportation projects the City should apply for. Sure enough, street repaving was among the items included in the CIP budget and on the list for which the City sought funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. And Mr. Oddie did indeed vote to approve the CIP budget and to apply for the MTC funds.
But the most recent CIP budget was okayed by a 4-to-1 vote, and the MTC application was so uncontroversial it was placed on the consent calendar. If Mr. Oddie deserves credit for getting or spending money to repave City streets, he’s hardly the only one.
So why did “Just Cause Jim” morph into “Street Warrior Jim” for the November election? Well, we have a hypothesis. Last year, the City hired a consulting firm to conduct a “community survey” of Alameda residents. Guess what was the second most “serious” problem facing Alameda? “Traffic and congestion on local streets and roads.” (The cost of housing was first.) And guess what was the top “priority” for the municipal budget? “Repairing streets, sidewalks and storm drains.”
We’re willing to bet that Mr. Oddie’s campaign consultants are quite familiar with these survey results, and promising to give the public what it says it wants is a time-honored strategy for getting a candidate elected. For Mr. Oddie, it sure beats having to explain why he boasted he could get the City Manager fired unless she gave the fire chief’s job to the man hand-picked by his friends at the firefighters’ union.
Finally, the “What is this guy up to?” award
goes to . . . Hospital Board candidate Dennis Popalardo.
Mr. Popalardo, a lawyer in Senator Barbara Boxer’s husband’s firm who represents firefighters in workers’ compensation cases, was appointed to the Hospital Board in 2017. Having finished last in the six-person race for School Board in 2016, he is now running to remain on the Hospital Board for another two years.
Seats on the Hospital Board usually aren’t considered worthy of spending a lot of money to get. Indeed, some aspirants – including incumbent Robert I. Deutsch, M.D. – even balk at paying the hefty fee charged to put a statement in the ballot pamphlet.
Mr. Popalardo’s case is different. He apparently hasn’t raised or spent any money himself on his campaign – at least he hasn’t filed any campaign finance disclosure statements – but the firefighters’ union paid for and sent out a slick mailer asking voters to “re-elect” him. (In fact, of course, Mr. Popalardo never was elected to the Hospital Board in the first place.) Notable is the list of endorsers, who include not only the firefighters’ union and the Alameda Labor Council but the three local politicians justly famed for their allegiance to organized labor (Assemblyman Bonta and Council members Vella and Oddie) as well as Ms. Harris, the former teachers’ union president.
Why would the firefighters’ union spend its money to get Mr. Popalardo two more years on the Hospital Board? Well, because a seat on the Board traditionally is considered a stepping stone to a spot on Council – Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Lena Tam, Stewart Chen, and Mr. Bonta himself all took that route – and IAFF Local 689 is playing the long game: It wants as many Council members beholden to the union as possible when the next round of contract negotiations begins, and, if Mr. Popalardo parlays his Hospital Board stint into a Council position in 2020, he’ll be one of the them.
Standing in the way of that outcome is Mr. Popalardo’s opponent, former School Board member and longtime City of Alameda Democratic Club mainstay Mike McMahon. We confess that, over time, we have warmed to the often acerbic Mr. McMahon. On his website, he publishes analyses of campaign finance disclosures and election results that are thorough and objective. His occasional blog comments stand out because they stick to facts rather than spewing insults. And we are convinced that he is running for the Hospital Board because he wants to perform public service, not as part of a scheme to advance somebody else’s agenda.
We’ve gotten no mailers from Mr. McMahon.
* * *
Thus far the awards list. There’s still a week to go, so keep checking your mail. The best – or worst – may be yet to come.
Campaign finance disclosure statements are available at https://www.southtechhosting.com/AlamedaCity/CampaignDocsWebRetrieval/. Or you can check out Mike McMahon’s summary at http://www.mikemcmahon.info/election18.htm#contributions2018.
Street repaying application: 2017-06-06 staff report re projects funded with OBAG grant