Where’s the money? Where’s the beef?

Having posted five columns about the upcoming election, the Merry‑Go‑Round intended this week to turn to another topic.  But we couldn’t resist taking at least one more pass at it before November 8.

The questions for discussion today are:

  • Can Jim Oddie get elected to Council again even though he is taking in less money for his campaign than he did in his three previous races?
  • Can Hannah Groce get elected to Council even though she has done little to acquaint voters with her positions on the issues?

We can’t offer definitive answers to either question, but it’s safe to say that, if either Mr. Oddie or Ms. Groce wins a Council seat, he or she will have defied the conventional wisdom.

We’ll start with Mr. Oddie.

The former Councilman, of course, is well‑known to Alameda voters for many things, not all of them positive.  But among his distinctions is as a campaign fundraiser and spender.

Take a look at this chart:

These are the details:

Mr. Oddie first ran for Council in 2014 in a three‑person race.  He topped the field in both total contributions ($60,255.21) and total expenditures ($58,075.00) and finished second.

In 2018, Mr. Oddie ran for re‑election in a five‑person race.  Once again, he led the pack in both total contributions ($80.070.89) and total expenditures ($85,026.71).  (He made up the shortfall with donated funds remaining after he paid his defense lawyers in 2017.)

This time, he finished third.  Nevertheless, he remained on Council for the next two years because an extra seat opened up when Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft was elected mayor.

In 2020, Mr. Oddie tried again for a full four‑year term in another five‑person race.  He found himself in a neck‑and‑neck contest with Councilwoman Malia Vella to see who could attract and spend the most money, but he ended up prevailing, with greater total contributions ($109,755.81) and total expenditures ($110,592.44) than Ms. Vella ($95,951.99 and $98,205.02, respectively).

Once again, however, Mr. Oddie came in third, and this time there was no vacant seat to fill.

Despite this record of collecting and spending more money each time he ran, Mr. Oddie this year appears to have suffered a reversal of fortune:  Through October 22, his total contributions amounted only to $36,569.34.  By way of comparison, at the same stage of the campaign he had received contributions totaling $46,227.27 in 2014, $61,914.89 in 2018, and $49,695.86 in 2020.

Undoubtedly, Mr. Oddie’s fundraising totals will go up before election day, since, historically, a lot of money tends to come in during the final two weeks of the campaign.  But it doesn’t seem likely that he will be able to maintain (or extend) his upward trend.

We can only speculate about why this is the case.  Perhaps Mr. Oddie’s usual roster of contributors has grown tired of giving him money every two years.  (Who does he think he is – a member of the House of Representatives?)  Or perhaps some of those upon whom he used to rely for contributions have begun to like him a little bit less.

The real question involves union money.

In all of his prior campaigns, Mr. Oddie has benefited from organized labor’s largesse:  He received contributions from unions totaling $23,544.90 in 2014, $35,204.48 in 2018, and $60,668.99 in 2020.  (These totals combine cash and so‑called “non‑monetary contributions.”)

This year, Mr. Oddie has taken in only $13,150.00 in union cash through October 22, including $1,000 from the firefighters’ union, and his reports do not disclose any non‑monetary union contributions.  (The disclosure statements filed by the firefighters’ union PAC, however, reflect “independent expenditures” of $1,474.47 for Mr. Oddie’s benefit.)

Again, one can only guess about the reasons for this phenomenon.  Perhaps the unions’ polling shows that Mr. Oddie is so certain to finish no worse than second they don’t need to contribute or spend as much as they did in the past to put an apparatchik on Council.  Or, perhaps, their polling shows that he’s so far behind that such help would be a waste of money.

We’ll see.

Mr. Oddie’s cost per vote has increased every time he’s run, from $5.68 in 2014, to $8.04 in 2018, and to $8.40 in 2020.  This year, as a result either of collecting and spending less money or of getting fewer votes, it’s likely that it will turn out to be lower.  If he wins a seat anyway, Mr. Oddie can consider himself to have gotten a bargain.

(Our analysis today has focused on Mr. Oddie.  For more comprehensive data about local campaign finance, our readers should go to the League of Women Voters website, which does an admirable job of analyzing and displaying the numbers.)

Now to Ms. Groce.

If Mr. Oddie is the epitome of a known quantity, Ms. Groce is just the opposite.

This is her first run for Council, and she has never held any public office, elected or appointed.  Nevertheless, she has done none of the things a first‑time candidate usually does to introduce herself and her platform to the electorate.

There is no page devoted to “Issues” on her website.

As far as we know, she hasn’t sent out any mailers; at least none has come to our household composed of a registered Democrat and an independent.  (Ms. Groce, however, was included, together with Ms. Ashcraft, Mr. Oddie, and Council candidate Tracy Jensen, in a mailer paid for by the firefighters’ union.)

And she doesn’t appear to have spent much of her campaign funds on lawn signs, either.  Our source, who rides her adult tricycle across the island every day, reports seeing only two “Groce for Council” signs among the welter of Ashcraft, Spencer, Oddie, and Jensen posters along her 15‑mile route.  (Even Daysog and Beusterien signs were more evident.)

Moreover, when Ms. Groce makes what passes for a thematic declaration, it is typically bland and innocuous.  Here, for example, is how she ended her official ballot statement:

It’s the City’s responsibility to proactively engage, inform, and solicit feedback with critical conversations to weigh our options and work toward solutions.  Over the last decade, I’ve established a reputation for collaboration, respectful engagement, and problem‑solving.  I’ve spent years impacting housing – regionally and countywide; I have the courage and experience to address housing insecurity and affordability.  I’m optimistic and committed to providing the foundation we need to meet the challenges ahead.  I respectfully ask for your vote.

The use of words like “proactively,” “conversations” and “impacting,” shows that Ms. Groce has mastered the woke vocabulary.  But the statement doesn’t say anything that would distinguish her from the rest of the field or give voters a compelling reason to vote for her.  Instead, it leads to the sort of tepid endorsement Ms. Groce got from our leading leftist blogger:

Similarly I am not running out and being excited about voting for Hannah Groce because, honestly, I don’t know a lot about her and she doesn’t really seem to be running a robust campaign.  . . .  But I’m more willing to give a young woman of color a chance at being a marginal candidate and a marginal City Councilmember because we’ve had white men, white women, and AAPI men be marginal City Councilmembers for a long time.

(Reading this, we were reminded of what Senator Roman Hruska famously said about Supreme Court nominee G. Harold Carswell:  “There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers.  They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?”)

Ms. Groce doesn’t deserve the diminishing.  It’s not as if she doesn’t have any substantive opinions or that she is unable to express them.  To the contrary, we’ve watched her performance at the candidate forums held by the League of Women Voters, BikeWalkAlameda/CASA, and the Alameda Post, and each time she’s come across as knowledgeable, polished and articulate.  And it wasn’t too difficult to discern on which side of the political spectrum she belongs.

Indeed, Ms. Groce’s responses to the questions the candidates were asked during the forums fell squarely in line with what one might expect from a typical Alameda “progressive.”

The draft Housing Element?  She supports it.

Rent control?  Ditto.

The McKay Avenue wellness center?  Ditto.

“Safe streets”?  Ditto.

The bike‑pedestrian bridge over the estuary?  Ditto.

More generally, when asked about the “concerns” progressives put at the top of their list, like affordable housing and climate change, Ms. Groce gave the same reassuring answer:  “We need to be doing more.”  And she portrayed herself as having “focused my career” on “how we increase equity.”  She even threw in that “I actually grew up with” prominent local activist Rasheed Shabazz, who led the effort to rename Haight School.

In fact, the only time Ms. Groce deviated from the party line was when she was asked about automated license plate readers, which all right‑thinking progressives adamantly oppose.  “I am torn on them,” she said at the Alameda Post forum.  “I think it is one of those measures that tends to make people feel safer, but I am not convinced of their efficacy in actually making us safer and making crime rates go down.”  A defensible answer – but not one that a member of the enlightened elite would have given.

We’re left shaking our head.  Ms. Groce is a candidate with an appealing life story:  Raised by a single mother whom she now supports, she went from Encinal High School to Mount Holyoke College, one of the prestigious women’s liberal arts colleges in New England known as the “Seven Sisters,” and after graduation she eschewed going to law or business school in favor of taking a variety of jobs in the non‑profit sector.  Likewise, she is a candidate who seems quite willing to adhere to, if not evangelize for, the gospel according to John Knox White.  His acolytes should be eager to hoist her banner.

Under these circumstances, one might have thought Ms. Groce would have done a little more to, well, market herself to left‑leaning Alameda voters.  Maybe she is just modest by nature.  Or maybe her political advisers have told her that the less outspoken she is about the issues, the less risk she takes of offending potential supporters.  In the meantime, she can count on the usual social‑media mavens to take time away from trashing Trish Spencer and Tony Daysog to tweet a good word for her.

Still, there’s something unsettling about not knowing what decisions Hannah Groce is likely to make as a Council member unless and until she actually takes a seat on the dais.

About Robert Sullwold

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

3 Responses to Where’s the money? Where’s the beef?

  1. Encinal Jet says:

    Megan Sweet did not have a campaign, maybe only one homemade lawn sign, and she was able to win a school board seat over two Bonta-backed candidates and their very expensive multicolored glossy lawn signs. In this town, lawn signs don’t vote. If Megan could do it, so can Hannah Groce.

    Hannah is perhaps the sharpest of all the candidates running for council. She seems to have the best grasp on housing issues, which I understand is her background. She spoke at all the forums, and came across as the most thoughtful, empathetic, and had the right populist stances on issues.

    If Hannah wins, it’s because she’s the strongest candidate running, and Alameda needs a fresh voice on the council. If she loses, well, the other guys simply had more lawn signs I guess.

    • Mike McMahon says:

      School board race are different from City Council races. Voters read a school board candidate statement and decide if their educational qualifications meet their checklist. As for City Council races, I would posit in person voter contact by the candidate ends being the largest deterimant of getting elected.

    • Real Observer says:

      That’s a good point Jet. I hope Hannah does well.

      But when you’re a newcomer you have to work harder. Nobody knocked on my door for her. LaLonde buried the field with donations and had more
      outreach.

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