And then there were three

Read or heard enough already about Council candidates Tony Daysog and Jim Oddie?

Well, we thought you might have.

After all, both have been around quite a while – Mr. Daysog was first elected to Council in 2002, and Mr. Oddie held office for six years before losing his bid for re‑election in 2020 – and both by now are pretty well‑known to the Alameda electorate.

So today the Merry‑Go‑Round will focus on the three other candidates running for Council:  Paul Beusterien, Hannah Groce, and Tracy Jensen.

Each of the three has a LinkedIn page containing biographical information.  (Ms. Groce recently revised hers to change the dates she worked for the Alameda Housing Authority.)  Each has a campaign website, two of which contain a page devoted to the candidate’s views on the issues facing the city.  (Ms. Groce’s does not.)  And each has participated in public forums for which videos are (or will be) available online.

These all are good sources of information about a candidate.  For our part, we thought we’d try to pick one distinct issue for each contender and then ask him or her to address it in his or her own words.  We’ll try to keep our commentary to the minimum.

Mr. Beusterien and Ms. Jensen kindly responded to our request.  Ms. Groce did not.  Rather than leave her out, we’ll make what we hope is an educated guess about an issue that, according to the East Bay Times, distinguished her from the other Council candidates during its interviews.

Paul Beusterien

For some time now, the Alameda League of Women Voters has urged the City to adopt a “Ranked Choice Voting” system for municipal elections for mayor, council, auditor, and treasurer.  (A Charter amendment would be required.)  Mr. Beusterien has picked up the torch for RCV and made it a key plank in his campaign platform.  He is, as far as we know, the first candidate running for mayor or council ever to have done so.

Under the RCV system, versions of which are now being used in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro, and will be used for the first time this year in Albany, a voter ranks the candidates in order of preference.  (The Alameda County Registrar of Voters currently allows ranking up to five places.)  To win an election for which only one seat is at stake (e.g., mayor), a candidate must exceed a threshold of 50 percent of the total votes cast.  For a two‑seat election (e.g., Alameda City Council), the threshold is 33 1/3 percent.

If, when the ballots initially are counted, a mayoral candidate gets 50 percent +1 of the first‑place votes, or two council candidates each get 33 1/3 percent +1 of the first‑place votes, the election is over.  But if that isn’t the case, RCV establishes a process for redistributing votes and eliminating the last‑place finisher until one mayoral candidate passes, or two council candidates pass, the threshold.  (The mechanics are detailed here: https://fairvote.org/our‑reforms/proportional‑ranked‑choice‑voting‑information/#how‑proportional‑rcv‑works.)

On his website, Mr. Beusterien lists what RCV advocates contend are the advantages of the system:  it “leads to more representative outcomes”; “enforces majority rule versus small pluralities”; results in “less negative campaigning”; “addresses the spoiler effect,” “reduces polarization,” and “encourages collaboration for elected officials.”

We asked Mr. Beusterien to describe why he believes an RCV system would create those benefits for Alameda.  He replied:

  1.  More representative outcomes and majority rule versus small pluralities

We have numerous cases in Alameda where people have been elected with significantly less than a majority of the votes.  Most recently, consider the 2018 Alameda mayoral race: Mayor Ashcraft won with 42% of the vote, with Trish Spencer getting 37% in 2nd place. The 20% of the voters who voted for Frank Mataresse didn’t get to make a final choice between the top two vote getters. RCV would have enabled them to do so, as well as ensuring that the winner was chosen by over 50% of the voters, enforcing majority rule versus small pluralities.

I am particularly excited about RCV in multi‑seat races, also known as proportional RCV, which ensures a majority consensus among the electorate. In Alameda, each voter gets two votes because two council seats are up for re‑election.  As the number of candidates increases in our current system, it (1) gets easier for a special interest group to pick two favored candidates, (2) discourages similar‑thinking candidates from running, and (3) lets the vote get diluted among the rest.  The result is a small percentage of voters can choose two councilmembers and the rest have none of their candidates win.

(We asked Mr. Beusterien to clarify his statement that RCV “ensures a majority consensus among the electorate” in a multi‑seat race like the one for council.  He explained that, “while a majority does not elect either specific candidate, a super majority of 66 2/3% is used to select both candidates, since the second winner is chosen from voters who did not contribute to the first candidate’s threshold.”  Accordingly, in his view, “RCV gets even more representative with multi‑seat elections.”)

  1.   Less negative campaigning

In Alameda, a lot of mudslinging against candidates and their supporters occurs on social media and behind the scenes, turning people away from engaging in the electoral process.  In RCV elections, when a candidate wants their opponents’ second place votes, candidates and their supporters are less likely to be negative and more likely to stick to the issues because no one likes it when someone puts down their favorite candidate.

  1.   Spoiler Effect

Because of spoiler effect dynamics like Frank Mataresse’s run possibly changing the result of the 2018 Alameda mayoral election, potential candidates in Alameda are encouraged not to run if they’re perceived as taking votes away from candidates perceived to be similar.  On the other hand, candidates could be encouraged to run to purposely take votes away from one candidate to help another candidate.  RCV eliminates the spoiler effect.  Voters can vote for both, in preference order.  The incentive to drop out of the race or game the system is removed.  The result is more candidate participation and more voter choice.

  1.  Reduces polarization and encourage collaboration for elected officials

There are plenty of Alameda examples of polarized politics shown in almost every council meeting.  The current plurality voting system encourages the council members to appeal to their base of supporters to get reelected.  When the voting system is changed to RCV, requiring a majority of votes to be reelected, compromise and moderation become more important.  Otherwise, candidates will get the votes from their base, but are less likely to get secondary votes necessary to achieve a majority in RCV’s instant run‑off process.

Tracy Jensen

Unlike our experience with Mr. Beusterien, nothing on Ms. Jensen’s website drew us to a specific issue that set her apart from the rest of the field.  So we invited her to pick one herself.  She replied:  “My accomplishments on behalf of the residents of Alameda distinguish me from the other candidates.  Along with my transparency, integrity and problem‑solving skills.”

Ms. Jensen, who ran unsuccessfully for Council in 2008 and 2010, went on to enumerate the various organizations for which she was now, or had been, a board member:  the Alameda Unified School District (from 2002 to 2010); the Alameda Health Care District (from 2014 to the present); the Alameda Soccer Club; Alameda Youth Basketball; the Alameda League of Women Voters; the Alameda County Community Food Bank; and Elder Care Alliance.  And she noted – pointedly, we thought, given the travails of Mr. Oddie – that, “While certainly there has been controversy during my time on certain boards I have never been investigated, audited, chastised, or asked to resign.”

Ms. Jensen highlighted, in particular, her service on the Hospital and School boards.

As to the Health Care District, she told us:

Each year,  for 8 years, my Alameda Health Care District colleagues elected me to represent Alameda on the board of the $1.4B Alameda Health System.  While on the board I developed and approved a contract for Alameda Health System’s nurses, resolving the 2020 work stoppage at Alameda, San Leandro and Highland hospitals.  I hired two CEOs and dismissed one of them without litigation or investigation.  I enlisted the help of Barbara Lee, Nancy Skinner and Rob Bonta to ensure that AHS upheld the Alameda Hospital capital improvement provisions in the contract with Alameda Health Care District.

When the Community Paramedicine program pilot was established in 2014, I worked closely with the Alameda Fire Department, Alameda County Social Services Agency, and Alameda Health System to develop a sustainable model to support the needs of vulnerable patients being discharged from Alameda Emergency without social support and, often, without housing.  I joined with other local leaders testifying in Sacramento to the program’s effectiveness and was very happy to see the CPP extended in 2018.  When the City of Alameda declined to continue funding the CPP, I led the plan and voted to support funding from Alameda Health Care District,  funding which has been revived and reallocated for the Alameda Community Assessment Response & Engagement CARE team.

And . . . in 2020 and 2021 I worked hard to share information about the COVID19 cases at Alameda Hospital, leading AHS to be as transparent as possible in sharing epidemic data.

As to AUSD, she commented:

[T]he Alameda Unified Board of Education, where I served for 8 years, was a place that saw controversy during my tenure.  I led the AUSD to implement a curricul[um] supporting all students and their families even though I faced personal attacks and ultimately [an] unsuccessful recall.  I am an authentic leader, and I make decisions that reflect the needs of those served by the organization.  That is different from decision‑making for “the organization,” whereby an elected/appointed leader acts to avoid controversy or to assuage some internal constituency without regard for the organizational mission.  The action taken by me and my AUSD board colleagues in 2009 continues today, as I see AUSD schools modeling acceptance, tolerance and inclusion.

(Note:  We’ve omitted from these quotes Ms. Jensen’s references to her endorsers, which are available on her campaign website.)

“[T]hese are just a few examples of the experience, integrity and dedication to service that I will bring to the Alameda City Council,” Ms. Jensen concluded.  “I am not doing this out of a sense of entitlement, or to represent a unique constituency, or as a springboard to another office.  I am running for the City Council because Alameda deserves leaders who are transparent, who listen to all voices, and who make independent decisions to move Alameda forward.”

Hannah Groce

Last Sunday, the East Bay Times published an article about the Alameda council races based on interviews with all five candidates, including Ms. Groce.  (The article also discussed the mayoral race.)  Given our intentions for this column, our interest was piqued by what the piece described as a “distinctive difference” between Ms. Groce and her rivals:  her advocacy for establishment of “a city department focused on police oversight and racial equity, creation of a civilian oversight board and implementation of restorative justice practices. . . .”

We thought we knew what the article was talking about:  In the report submitted by the “police reform and racial equity” steering committee in March 2021, the group recommended that the City “create and establish a new city department focused on police accountability and racial equity.”  In addition, the report included a detailed proposal from the subcommittee on “police accountability and oversight” for amending the City Charter to establish a “civilian oversight board for the police department” with a host of duties and powers.

We sent an email to Ms. Groce, who was a member of a different police‑reform subcommittee (“systemic and community racism/anti‑racism”), at the address given on her campaign website asking her to confirm that she in fact was referring to these recommendations in her East Bay Times interview.  We also invited her to describe why she believed a civilian oversight board was necessary and/or desirable for Alameda.

Alas, she did not respond.

The proposal by the subcommittee for a civilian oversight board is especially noteworthy, since it goes beyond the merely conceptual.  Among the key features of the board recommended by the subcommittee:

  • The board would be composed of seven to 13 “civilians,” including Alameda residents who are homeless or who are “facing housing insecurities.”  Members “should be chosen to represent a wide range of demographic groups” and should be paid pursuant to a “sliding scale of compensation.”
  • One function of the board would be to receive, investigate and hold hearings on citizen complaints against the police.  In performing this role, it should have “broad powers to get evidence from the police department” and, perhaps, to issue subpoenas to third parties.  (“Further advice from the city attorney’s office is recommended here,” the report states.)
  • The board should have the power to “advise on type of discipline and to recommend dismissal/reassignment.”  It also should take an “active role in oral boards for hiring officers” and be afforded “input into the hiring process for the police chief.”
  • Moreover, the board should have the power to “recommend changes to police policy” and “either specific training or . . . subject areas for ongoing training.”

We would have liked to know whether Ms. Groce would change anything in the proposal devised by the subcommittee, but, regrettably, the lack of a response from her leaves us in the dark.

Ms. Groce, however, soon may get another opportunity to reveal her views on the questions we asked her.  Interim City Manager Nancy Bronstein told us that staff intends to present a report at the November 1 Council meeting that contains “options and recommendations for police oversight.”  The report will be published on October 20, 18 days before the election, so Ms. Groce will have plenty of time to comment, if she chooses to do so.  (We also should note that, on her campaign website, Ms. Jensen criticizes the City for “disregarding” the steering committee’s recommendations, including the call for a civilian oversight board, so she, too, might be inclined to react publicly to the staff report.)

We hope that our readers have found the foregoing useful.  From our perspective, what a candidate says (or declines to say) about a specific issue important to him or her is far more illuminating than the claims made in the mailers the candidate (or a friendly PAC) sends out.  We don’t purport to have provided a complete picture of Mr. Beusterien, Ms. Jensen, or Ms. Groce.  But to those who’ve already decided to vote for Mr. Daysog or Mr. Oddie, their answers (or non‑answers) may make it a little easier to arrive at a rational choice for the second seat.

References:

LinkedIn pages: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulbeusterien/;           https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-groce/; https://www.linkedin.com/in/tracyjensen2022/

Campaign websites: https://www.paulb4alameda.com/; https://www.tracyjensen2022.com/; https://www.hannah4alameda.com/

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
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7 Responses to And then there were three

  1. Denise Lai says:

    Here’s another question for Beusterien: does RCV exacerbate or limit or do nothing to the control special interest groups funding campaigns have on local elections, e.g., the the local fire union and our municipal elections. Does RCV weaken special interests influencing, controlling essentially, our local elections? If not, what can be done?

    • Allan Mann says:

      Theoretically, RCV would make it easier for a low-funded candidate to reach voters in the district at low cost, but it also makes it easier for special interests to cherry pick a district and pour in a lot of money to support or oppose a candidate.

      • Allan Mann says:

        My mistake. I was thinking of districting, not RCV. Don’t know how RCV would affect special interest contribution.

    • Paul Beusterien says:

      RCV weakens the influence of special interest groups. In a single-seat election, they’re no longer able to win with 20 or 30% of the votes, since RCV requires a majority. In multi-seat races, the special interest may still be able to get one seat with a minority of votes, but it’s much harder to win additional seats.

      Another factor is that voters are likely to do more homework for their rankings, they may not be as easily swayed by the amount of mailers and the perception of inevitability. Voters can vote without the fear of “wasting” or “splitting” their votes and for their values and true preference. Also less-financed individuals are not afraid to run for office because the conditions are more favorable to building coalitions and issue-oriented campaigns.

  2. Allan Mann says:

    Easy-to-read graphic summaries of campaign contributions to candidates for Council, Mayor and School Board are available at the League of Women Voters Alameda website at https://www.lwvalameda.org/alameda-campaign-finance-review.html. Also listed are loans to candidates and independent expenditures supporting or opposing their election.

    • Expose Dark Money says:

      This is good effort but seems very incomplete. “A Better Alameda” raised $20,000 to support Trish Spencer but this is not reported at all. This would make her campaign haul comparable to Ashcraft but you’re creating a totally different narrative, which is very atypical of LWV.

      • Allan Mann says:

        These numbers are based on the Sept 24 filings. They will be updated after the Oct 27 filings, and will include a list of all independent expenditures made to support or oppose candidates, very little of which was spent by Sept. 24.

        I wish we had the ability to report these results in real time, but we don’t. We’d be happy to talk with anybody who thinks they can help us do it.

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