Election Oddi(e)ty

Ever since the election results began coming in, one question has nagged the Merry-Go-Round:  How could so many Alamedans – more than 10,000 at last count – vote to re-elect Councilman Jim Oddie, knowing that he violated the City Charter, caused the City to pay nearly a million dollars to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit, and then tried to stick the City with his legal bills?

Sure, we understand that the handful of Alameda firefighters who actually live here probably voted for Mr. Oddie to bolster the odds that he will still be on the dais the next time their union seeks Council approval for guaranteed raises.  We also suspect that the heads of the local construction trades unions urged their Alameda members to reward Mr. Oddie with their votes for pushing to require union-job-generating “project labor agreements” on all projects done for the City.  And, of course, the Councilman’s family and friends could be counted on to stand behind him.  (Indeed, through October 20, daughter Sarah contributed $1,500 to his campaign, and local political figures and union leaders added $3,320.41.)

But what about ordinary Alameda voters, even those who consider themselves “progressives”?  Why wouldn’t they echo the view expressed in an op-ed  in this week’s Alameda Sun:  “I agree with Oddie’s positions on other issues, such as rent control and our city’s sanctuary city status,” local author Tony Brasunas wrote.  “Yet the fact remains that if one decries corrupt behavior in those with whom one disagrees, it is hypocritical to stand by while witnessing similar behavior in those with whom one agrees.”

Well, we have a theory.

The key word in the question we posed at the outset is “knowing.”  A principled voter who knew the facts about Mr. Oddie’s role in the fire-chief scandal would be reluctant to vote for him.  But what if the voter didn’t know those facts?  What if all she knew about Mr. Oddie was how he portrayed himself, and how his supporters portrayed him, in his campaign literature?

In that case, it’s a whole different story.

People who read the local newspapers and/or follow the blogs may find it hard to accept the proposition that there are Alamedans who didn’t know that, in violation of the City Charter, Mr. Oddie tried to pressure City Manager Jill Keimach to appoint the former firefighters’ union president as fire chief, or who didn’t know that the City paid $945,000 in exchange for Ms. Keimach’s release of her contract and tort claims against the City, or who didn’t know that Mr. Oddie had submitted a claim to the City for at least $63,000 to cover his legal fees (much of which he already had paid with funds donated by organized labor and other supporters).  Hell, even the East Bay Citizen covered the first two stories (albeit painting Mr. Oddie in as favorable a light as possible under the circumstances).

But how many Alamedans actually read the newspapers or follow the blogs?  Pretty damned few, we’d bet (painful as that is to admit).  As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said, “The single hardest thing for a practising politician to understand is that most people, most of the time, don’t give politics a first thought all day long. Or if they do, it is with a sigh. . . , before going back to worrying about the kids, the parents, the mortgage, the boss, their friends, their weight, their health, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. . . .  For most normal people, politics is a distant, occasionally irritating fog.”

This isn’t just the Hon. Blair’s opinion.  One doesn’t have to go far to find “study after study” – as Councilman-elect John Knox White would put it – demonstrating the dearth of knowledge among the general public about political leaders and issues.  (As a starting point, check out the websites of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Pew Research Center.)  H.L. Mencken once famously wrote that, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”  No one ever went broke underestimating the public’s ignorance of civic affairs, either.

As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, there’s no reason to think that Alamedans are any better-informed than their peers elsewhere.

So it’s not unreasonable to hypothesize that many, if not most, Alameda voters knew nothing about Mr. Oddie’s perfidy.  But if they weren’t reading the newspapers or following the blogs, where did they get information about him – and what did they find?

We suppose that the algorithms governing social media delivered “news” about Mr. Oddie to their users, but this likely served only to reinforce opinions they already had.  And, of course, not every Alamedan has a Facebook or Twitter account.  But everyone does get mail – and, during the election season, a steady flow of mailers from, or on behalf of, Mr. Oddie arrived in local mailboxes.

At our household, we received five separate mailers paid for by the Oddie for Council campaign.  In addition, we got four mailers paid for by the Alameda firefighters’ union PAC, two of which combined praise for the union slate that included Mr. Oddie with attacks on rival Council candidates Tony Daysog and Robert Matz.

Sidebar on PG&EThis inundation of campaign literature didn’t come cheap.  The final accounting won’t be available until the semi-annual campaign finance disclosure statements are filed in January 2019, but the reports submitted so far show that the Oddie campaign spent $36,850.88 on “literature” and “postage” through October 20.  This amount doesn’t include any spending on mailers during the two-plus weeks leading up to election day – of which there undoubtedly was some – but, as of the last report, Mr. Oddie had spent more on campaign literature than the total amount that two of the other five candidates – Councilman-elect Daysog and Mr. Matz, who lost out to Mr. Oddie for the third seat on Council by around 500 votes (at last count) – had raised for their entire campaigns.

(Not all of the Oddie campaign spending categorized as “literature” went for mailers.  Mr. Oddie also paid to get himself listed on slate cards put out by various interest groups – and he covered all the bases, including shelling out $780 for a spot in the “Budget Watchdogs Newsletter,” which the Center for Responsive Politics characterizes as espousing a “conservative” viewpoint.)

Where did the money to pay for all these mailers (and other campaign expenses) come from?  Our readers will not be surprised to learn that, through October 20, Mr. Oddie received $25,300 in cash from organized labor (45% of his total cash contributions), plus $5,904.48 in “non-monetary” contributions from the police and firefighters’ union PACs.  After the last pre-election report was filed, three unions ponied up another $1,000 apiece, and the campaign committee for Mr. Oddie’s boss, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, chipped in another $8,958.  Throw in the $12,600 he got from out-of-town corporations and Mr. Oddie had plenty of cash to spend on mailers.

Reviewing all of the mailers, the picture they paint of Mr. Oddie is one of a hard-working public servant who has compiled an impressive array of achievements in his four short years on Council – and who is committed to an aggressive agenda of good works for a second term.

As we previously reported, two mailers trumpet Mr. Oddie’s purported extensive efforts to improve traffic conditions throughout the City – one even gives him the sobriquet of “Traffic Buster.”  Other mailers contain quotes from the Councilman averring that he “worked with the community to keep Alameda Hospital open,” and that, “working together” with others, he “established Central Alameda’s Emergency Operations Center, maintained rapid 911 response, filled more potholes than we would care to count and expanded City-School partnerships.”

These claims mix facts with, to put it politely, hyperbole.  For example, Alameda Hospital does indeed remain open, but we’re not quite sure what Mr. Oddie personally did, or when, to accomplish that result.  Nor are we aware of what “partnership” between the City and the School District he “expanded,” or how, or when.  By the same token, the principal basis for taking credit for “establish[ing]” the EOC and “maintain[ing] rapid 911 response” is that Mr. Oddie voted to spend and borrow money to pay for the Taj Mahal on Grand Avenue and to keep up (and increase) existing fire-department staffing levels.  And if he did something to fill potholes other than vote for the capital improvement budget, we don’t know what it is.  But nuances like these would escape the ordinary voter.

Then come the promises:

  • “I’ll continue the fight to provide all Alamedans with quality housing and the 911 services you rely on.”
  • “I’ll continue to secure Alameda’s fair share of money for road repairs; provide jobs near housing; continue traffic calming; and increase school crossing/pedestrian safety.”
  • “I’m proud to continue to stand with you in upholding these values – whether it’s to condemn hate in our schools or places of worship – or to demand the housing solutions critical to keeping future generations of families and our workforce in Alameda.”
  • “My pledge to you for the next four years is to continue to address the priorities you’ve told me you want:  rapid, 911 Fire, Police and Emergency Medical Services; traffic reduction; free and low-cost recreation programs; and housing options all generations can afford.”

Taken at face value, this track record and these commitments are praiseworthy indeed.  Accordingly, it’s small wonder that Mr. Oddie saw fit to send out a separate mailer listing his endorsements from “Leaders throughout Alameda,” including Mr. Bonta and three other politicians; IAFF Local 689 president Jeff DelBono and his wife, School Board member and former teachers’ union president Gray Harris, and Mr. Oddie’s two daughters.  The same mailer also contained a testimonial from an Alameda resident who “had a medical incident” and called 911 a few weeks ago – “I’m voting to re-elect Jim Oddie because he supports firefighters that provide the best care anywhere in the Bay” – as well as an excerpt from the Bay Area Reporter noting, with approbation, that Mr. Oddie is the “first out LGBT person known to have served on Alameda’s city council.”

None of Mr. Oddie’s mailers attacked any of the other candidates.  For that he relied on the IAFF Local 689 PAC, whose campaign disclosure statements report a total of $11,500.77 contributed to Mr. Oddie or spent on his behalf through October 20.

We’ve already commented on the two fatuous hit pieces distributed by the PAC targeting Mr. Daysog and Mr. Matz.  On the “positive” side, one mailer paid for by the firefighters’ union contained a “message” from Assemblyman Bonta urging Alamedans to vote for his wife for School Board and Messrs. Knox White and Oddie for Council, and another offered a “Dear Neighbor” letter lauding Ms. Bonta and Mr. Oddie as “exceptional Alamedans who have consistently addressed issues of concern to women and families.”  The other two touted the union-backed Council candidates as “Leaders Who Fight for US – NOT Corporate Special Interests” and “Trusted Leaders Who Fight for Island Values and Results.”

(We had to chuckle at the statement in one mailer that Mr. Oddie had been “endorsed by Open Government leaders.”  Presumably, the reference was to the most bombastic of our local labor bigwigs, Alameda Labor Council executive board member Mike Henneberry, who also happens to sit on the Open Government Commission.)

The bottom line is that if an Alameda voter relied on these mailers in deciding whom to cast her ballot for, Mr. Oddie surely would top the list.  Concerned about traffic?  Jim’s your man.  Street conditions?  Ditto.  911 response times?  Ditto.  Affordable housing?  Ditto.  “Island values”?  Ditto.  Indeed, a comparison of Mr. Oddie’s campaign literature with the “problems” and “priorities” identified by Alamedans in the July 2017 “Quality of Life” survey done for the City shows that the Councilman promised to solve virtually every major “problem” and to advance virtually every major “priority.”

(Conspicuous in its absence in the mailers was any mention of Mr. Oddie’s support for amending the rent stabilization ordinance to prohibit “no cause” terminations of tenancy.  What ever happened to “Just Cause Jim”?  Maybe the political consultant hired by the firefighters’ union for five grand – the Lew Edwards Group – advised him to keep his mouth shut about such a divisive issue.)

So that’s our theory:  To the ordinary Alameda voter, Jim Oddie was not the unscrupulous lackey for the unions depicted by the news reports that the voter never read; rather, he was the indefatigable paladin for the people portrayed in the mailers that flooded her mailbox.  And that’s why he managed to get enough votes to secure the third seat on Council.

We confess that we were reluctant to offer a theory based on the effectiveness of mailers without some evidence that they actually worked.  A couple veteran observers of the local political scene assured us that this was the case, but they wouldn’t go on the record.  So we looked online.  Skipping over the pieces prepared by political consultants to drum up business, we found articles in publications as diverse as Politico, Slate, the Washington Post, and the Orlando Sentinel attesting to the efficacy of political direct mail even in the digital age.

Of course, absent exit polls (and we’re aware of none), no one can provide a definitive explanation for Mr. Oddie’s (relative) success.  But we’ll go with our theory till we hear a more convincing one.

Sources:

The Oddie and IAFF Local 689 campaign disclosure statements for 2018 are available at https://www.southtechhosting.com/AlamedaCity/CampaignDocsWebRetrieval/Search/SearchByJurisdiction.aspx.

 

About Robert Sullwold

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

23 Responses to Election Oddi(e)ty

  1. Hilary woo says:

    Thank you!! Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Allan Mann says:

    His third-place finish despite being a well-financed incumbent is proof that enough people ARE paying attention.

  3. Gadfly of Poplar Grove says:

    The election results were disappointing, to be sure, and it is disgusting that this crook will again be seated on our Council. I agree with Allan that it is significant that he did come close to getting his butt whipped by a first-timer with no machine behind him at all. And Matz will be back next time with more experience and name recognition. The fact that it was as close as it was is pretty amazing given the disparity in resources. But you can fool some of the people all of the time. How did Chen get 3,000 votes? Also all of the people some of the time. Nixon won by a landslide in ’72.

  4. matthatther says:

    I’m so glad you voiced this. I’ve been wondering the same thing. It also sickened me as one who adhered to the “vote against all Republicans” strategy to see Oddie make the official Democratic Party list of endorsees.

  5. Steve Gerstle says:

    Alameda is in dire need of election reform. Those who hold office should receive a majority of the votes, not a plurality. As it is now, someone can serve on the council who has received as little as ten percent of the vote. We also need campaign finance reform. Will any of those who are currently on the council and who have benefited from this flawed system now champion reform? We shall see.

  6. Thanks for the article!

    Another factor is the Democratic party endorsement. Strong anti-Trump sentiment drove voter turn out with little knowledge of political questions below the top of the ticket and straight party line votes. The related increasing tribalism is a factor in valuing loyalty over integrity and competence in candidates.

  7. Mike McMahon says:

    On a national level, two Republicans were elected while under indictment so the theory about voters not knowing/caring makes sense.
    And to reinforce Paul’s comment, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 1, receiving the backing of the Democratic party is a worth quite a few votes.
    And if you read the charter closely, Mr Oddie can run for City Council on 2020 and 2024.

  8. chrisrabe says:

    Elections are a scam, and this is proof! We live in a corporate oligarchy, ruled by corporations. Oddie will continue to do the dirty work of his out of town campaign donors, at the expense of all Alamedans. According to the City Charter, Oddie should have been removed from office for his antics last year, yet he was still voted in because of how much $$$$$ he spent. This is so ABSURD to anyone who has been watching all along (which is only a few of us). Voting will never change the corrupt system, but it gives the layman (who is too “busy” to research) the illusion of participation. Voting is what CREATED the corrupt system we have today. If “did not vote” ran for any public office, it would have won in a landslide! Voting legitimizes an illegitimate system. If you really want to change the world, vote with you dollars and how you spend your time instead. Most people won’t do that, though. Most people today only really care about themselves. You can tell as they walk around downtown staring into their computer phones, with no regard for anyone around them. Everyone is in their own little world being hypnotized by silicon valley, the agenda they are force feeding them, and they love it so much that they hardly even look up to cross the street! This is why our government has gone down the drain, and will continue to do so.

  9. jujutronic4 says:

    Thanks for illuminating the possible causes for another series of unfortunate events in our towns political devolution. Now that leaves me with another question; How did they get the 1/2 cent tax to pass? I did not get any flyers promoting it nor did I hear anyone really tout it as anything but future union pension payoff. Did I miss something?

  10. Paul S Foreman says:

    Your analysis of the results is as good as any, but I have a completely different view. I think the results are a result of shrewd political strategy by the firefighters, tenant’s group, and the Bonta political establishment. This leads me to conclude that informed voters, not the uninformed voters swung this election..

    Ashcraft and Mataresse were No on K.. Spencer was yes on K. When you combine the current Ashcraft-Mataresse votes (1957!) with the No on K vote (19733) the correlation is pretty amazing;. likewise, compare the yes on K vote ((12984) with the Daysog, who was Yes on K (12444). With only aplurality required to win a Council seat, Daysog just needed the strong backing of the landlords to win.

    Oddie won the consolation prize because the landlords did not unite behind a second choice for Council. Although Chen was Yes on K, he had too much baggage to be a viable candidate. On the other hand, the tenants did have a second choice after voting for Knox-White, Oddie had supported requiring just cause for eviction and opposed K. He also had the firefighters and Bonta and the Democratic club behind him, all of whom have been strong supporters of the tenants..

    Even with all of this support Oddie just barely won because of his Charter violation. I firmly believe that if Matz had been No on K he would be sitting on Council in December. This not a criticism of him. He is to be admired for being true to himself.

    The tenants made a very smart move in pressing Council to eliminate the landlord’s initiative against Just Cause by repealing the Just Cause amendment to the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, thus assuring that K , standing alone, would be defeated and the tenants could maintain a majority on Council who will now use the defeat of K to embolden them to restore Just Cause.

    The landlords made a very big mistake in putting K on the ballot. They had 2 0f 3 candidates for Mayor to choose from and 3 out of 5 candidates for Council. I include Matz, because, although he was No on K, he was clearly in favor of the current Ordinance. That is where they should have spent their money.

    Finally, I fully agree with Steve Gerstle on the need for majority rule and campaign finance reform. We need either a runoff election or ranked choice to avoid strong minorities running the City. No candidate for Mayor exceeded 42% of the vote. No candidate for Council exceeded 26%.

  11. I received the following comment from Ken Werner (which, for some reason, WordPress wouldn’t process):

    It troubles me that the only non-self-aggrandizing behavior we’ve seen from Mr. Oddie is his indifference towards the city charter. Don’t council members have to at least read it once? It also needs a refresher to indicate consequences for violating the Charter. I would love it if the city/citizens sued Mr. Oddie for the funds that were received by Ms. Keimach (AND his fees). I’ve also seen recall papers floating around for Malia Vella and would be glad to put my name on both hers and Oddie’s recall efforts. Don’t we get enough BS and corruption from the Trump administration? Do we have to have our own? Mr. Oddie – the very least you could do is publicly apologize for your lack of judgment to the Alameda citizenry.
    Ken Werner

  12. AN says:

    Let’s not forget the candidates and campaigns. Trish was a known quantity. I heard from people (a small sample of the electorate of course) that what they knew of her didn’t make them want to vote for her. And presumably she decided to hitch her wagon to the K campaign. The third candidate may well have hurt Ashcraft as much as Spencer. Matz was a very flawed candidate. A local Ted Cruz effect. He should have done a lot better vs. Oddie. And for all the noise and excitement about its birth, and despite its resources, A Better Alameda was ineffective in its communications. It seemed to have targeted people who already agreed with them. It just seemed grumpy. In contrast, the tenants’ campaign was very well executed.

  13. Steve Gerstle says:

    If we were electing three people to the city council, why were we only given two votes for council? That is another bizarre aspect of our city charter. The vacancy created by the a councilmember becoming mayor should be filled by election and not happenstance. Even if the third place finisher would have received only ten percent of the vote, she or he would be on the council. The only reason to keep the current system is that it benefited the incumbents. Is this what democracy looks like?

  14. William says:

    Oddie spends his life kissing the “behind” of Rob Bonta, thus that is his approach to the office of council member. The Alameda SUN and Journal are read by very few people under the age of thirty, thus if the news of Oddie’s stupidity did not get on to social media, the younger voters may not have heard how he cost us $1M and wanted his legal fees paid. I would like to know how they DID get paid BTW. Union??? Oddie can not be trusted and should be watched very carefully from now on. His lack of integrity should be a concern for everyone. He is far more like Trump than anyone knew. Robert: Keep an eye on him for us. He is bound to do something dumb and illegal again. Thanks.

  15. carol says:

    From hanging out at the library, and listening to and participating in pre-election banter, I would say that Millennials voted for Oddie [and they didn’t like Trish, for some reason]. These kids, while sharp as sh** when it comes to computers, are dumb as dirt when it comes to civics and politics. They were asking each other how they should vote. I asked what they thought of the city manager scandal. They had never heard of it and didn’t care. I don’t think they even know what a city manager does. Interference with a CM’s job is information an order of magnitude over their heads. There are many more of them than there are of us. Since each vote counts the same, once again, low-information voters win the day.

  16. so disappointed says:

    If the money on mailers theory is true, how can we explain the Yes/No on K dogfight- if memory serves the Yes on K mailers vastly outnumbered No on K, and yet the Yes went down in defeat….

  17. Mike McMahon says:

    As Robert pointed out his theory is merely a hypothesis. All things being equal, mailers make a difference. However, too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect when voters feel they are being bought. In prior 2014, many felt the Firefighters outreached with their mailers in support Marie Gilmore. In addition, on social media the number of conversations on Measure K were plentiful while discussion about City Council candidates were less frequent. In the case of candidate Matz, his social media responses may have actually hurt him. In the end, there are a number of factors that contribute to the success/failure of a candidate/measure.

    • so disappointed says:

      Your reply is appreciated – IMHO the use of social media and the ‘pie chart’ of money (brilliant visual) were the clinchers for the No on K movement.

      In related news, A 52 unit apartment building on Buena Vista and a pair of duplexes just went on the market today – there are currently 17 multi family listings on the MLS, 15 of them listed within the last 90 days.

  18. Camille says:

    It’s all about endorsements. Many voters do not pay any attention to voting until the deadline looms. This year I had 4 calls from well educated professionals asking for my recommedations on several of the local measures minutes before they were going to fill in their voting ballots. If you don’t know or trust someone personally that can advise you on voting, then you go with organizational endorsements. Our local Democratic Party and League of Women Voters both endorsed Ashcraft, Knox-White and Oddie. The local unions particularly spent a lot of time and money behind endorsing Oddie. I received at least 4 calls a day before the election with glowing endorsements from prominent members of the Democratic Party naming Oddie as the people’s choice. I’ve been a registered Democrat for over 40 years and have seen many changes in the party. Since Trump’s election the party’s members have shifted over to the left, being taken over (revived) by the Demoncratic Socialist of America (DSA). https://www.dsausa.org/statements/npc-statement-on-2018-elections/. All moderates are considered useless, facts are considered lies and capitalism is a crime. That’s how Oddie got 10K votes. Considering he answered the call for strict rent control he was able to get the support of our local ARC who now have now taken over our local Democratic Party Club, who in turn gave him their endorsement. If you check the above link to the DSA and go to their mission statement they are socialists who would like to have their own party, but find it easier to take over the Democratic Party to promote socialist views. Bernie Sanders is their prefered leader, though he list himself as an Independent and a Socialist. Our Democratic Club had a meeting with locals to show them how to fill in their voter ballots. No questions about Oddie’s indiscretions where allowed by Co-Presidents Dolphin and Vella. That’s how you get votes in this town.

    My questions are these. It is obvious that both Oddie and Vella broke a rule of our Charter that requires them to be removed from our City Council, but who enforces this rule? Now that the City Council has a majority progressive (leftist) membership, surely we can not expect them to regulate themselves? And since the two Kevins’ claims of our city’s financial problems are driving the city toward bankruptcy have been discredited by our city’s Democratic Party Leader Gabby Dolphin, is Oddie the party’s answer? He’s had to file for bankruptcy in his own personal finances so I quess that gives him experience and he’ll be a great asset when our city’s finances tank.

  19. Steve Gerstle says:

    Perhaps voters looked at all of the candidates and voted for the best among the lot? We need more Alamedans who are willing to run for office and that may not happen until we pay them for their work. The job requires long hours and taking a fair amount of abuse. Regardless of who wins, I do not doubt their sincerity under those conditions. We are a city of 80,000 in the heart of the Bay Area and we need to compensate our elected officials fairly for their time and work.

  20. AN says:

    The consensus above from those whose candidates lost seems to be that the voters are idiots. Maybe only the enlightened should be permitted to vote, perhaps by some sort of qualification test. That was quite popular in certain southern states not too long ago.

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