Irresponsible endorsements

So we’ve got what, 11 days before the election? I’m so nervous! Anyway, next week’s blogs are going to be all elections, all the time, and since I’m finally done with some big projects I’ve been working on, I’ll actually have the time to write them! Part of next week’s election coverage is going to be endorsements. I take this seriously, and have spent a great deal of time researching the candidates, especially in races that I’m not terribly familiar with, because I want to be able to stand behind what I say and feel like I’ve made a recommendation based on as much information as possible.

Apparently, not everyone takes the responsibility so seriously. dto510 wrote last week about the misplaced ideology behind the Central Labor Council/Sierra Club/Central Committee/Green Party/Bay Guardian slate, a post which generated a number of comments from endorsers of the “progressive” candidates. The commenters were unable to provide any justification of the logic behind their endorsements, or answer questions about Nadel’s troubling record, instead falling back on vague statements like “V Smoothe, I know it must be eminently gratifying to pretend that people who reject your analysis only do so because of ignorance, but you know some of us pay attention and still think you’re wrong.”

What a horrible thing to say! It isn’t gratifying in the least to see people making bad choices about their government because they’re uninformed! In fact, it’s incredibly depressing! It keeps me awake at night. Anyway, while some of these groups, such as the East Bay Young Democrats, continue to fail to offer any argument supporting their endorsements (making it impossible to then rebut said argument), other endorsers of this slate have done so, and, as expected, their choices are, well, completely uninformed.

Take, for example, the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s endorsement of Nancy Nadel:

Nadel is hardworking, effective, a leader on progressive economic and planning issues, and one of the best members of the Oakland City Council. She asked the hard questions and demanded improvements in the giant Oak to Ninth project (although she wound up voting for it). She’s pushing for better community policing and promoting community-based anticrime efforts, including a teen center in a part of her district where there have been several homicides. She was a principal architect of the West Oakland industrial zoning plan, which she hopes will attract new jobs to the community (although she also pissed off a few artists who fear they’ll be evicted from living spaces that aren’t up to code, and she needs to address the problem). We’re happy to endorse her for another term.

Is she? Hardworking and effective are subjective terms, I guess, but I doubt that even her most ardent supporters would use the latter to describe her. A teen center? Seriously? I find it really irritating when people just repeat her lie about the teen center. Why does nobody bother to check? Let me repeat once again: there is no teen center coming to Market Street. Nancy Nadel saved her pay-go and project priority funds for years, and instead of buying that street furniture or lighting, or getting that community garden started, or making that dog park, or installing that crosswalk, she spent $850,000 (PDF!) on a building, that is going to be mothballed at the cost of nearly $20,000 per year (also coming out of District 3 pay-go funds!). There is no money to turn this building into a teen center. Let me repeat that. There is no money available to turn this money into a teen center. We can’t afford to rehab the building to even make it suitable for use, and there is no money whatsoever available to fund the operation of the teen center if we ever were able to restore it. Nadel, who first brought her request to purchase the building to Council last summer, and who got it approved last fall, is now planning on looking for grants over the next year and trying to get Measure Y money appropriated to it. Oh, but one aspect of the project will start soon – the teen planning process!

Moving on: “She was a principal architect of the West Oakland industrial zoning plan.” Again, 100% not true. Not only was Nadel not a “principal architect” of the new industrial zoning, she wouldn’t even be allowed to be. Councilmembers giving planning staff direction about their zoning plans is explicitly forbidden by City Charter. She is, of course, welcome to come to meetings and testify as to what she would like to see in the proposal just like everyone else. You’d think, being so interested in industrial land use, she might have bothered to attend the Planning Commission or CED hearings on the new zoning. Nope. In fact, at one CED meeting, she showed up and sat through a different item, then left before the zoning issue came up.

As for the artists – the issue isn’t and was never building code enforcement – the issue was that the proposed zoning banned any work/live space anywhere in industrial zones except in a small border area. After CED tried to amend the code to allow work/live spaces with a Conditional Use Permit, she had the plan further amended at Council so that it would not allow any new hybrid space, saying specifically with respect to work/live space “If you want this in your District, fine. But I don’t want it in West Oakland.”

Even the most perfunctory attempt at researching Nadel’s record or claims of accomplishment would have revealed that none of the issues the Guardian claims their endorsement of Nadel is based on were even true. A similar problem is found in the Rebecca Kaplan endorsement, which appears to be primarily based on the idea that “defying all odds, [she] managed to get all-night transit service from San Francisco to the East Bay. Of course, as I’ve noted before, she didn’t actually do this, and there was already all night bus service across the Bay before the launch of the new and improved “All-Nighter” service. Kaplan may be the obvious choice for the Guardian’s at-large endorsement, but it would have been nice to see them write an explanation for their choice that was actually, you know, true. As for Clifford Gilmore, who they don’t seem to even know anything about, they simply say that “it’s hard to imagine” that he could be worse than Larry Reid. This is so irresponsible!

Then yesterday, I was looking over the Green Voter guide (PDF!), and found myself equally disturbed. The Green Party’s guide is better than the SF Bay Guardian, in that at least some of the endorsements appear to be rooted in legitimate ideological positions. I strongly disagree that Larry Reid should be replaced in Distict 7 because he abstained on the plastic bag ban vote, or that Brian Rogers “must be stopped” because he’s a Republican, but at least those things are true.

But at least one of their endorsements is bizarre. The lengthy section on the District 3 race criticizes Nancy Nadel extensively for her support of Jerry Brown’s sideshow ordinance, failing to stop the Walmart on Hegenberger (and because she “chose not to notify Oakland’s progressive community of the project until it was too late to oppose it”), voting in favor of Oak to Ninth, and not helping the Green Party with their referendum effort on Oak to Ninth. Fair enough. They don’t have much to say about Hodge except that his positions are vague. Then they go on and on about how awful Sean Sullivan is, based on, well, nothing! They basically say that the entire reason they oppose him is because he has OakPac’s endorsement:

Nadel’s second opponent is Sean Sullivan. Far from challenging the progressive credentials of Nadel or Hodge, Mr. Sullivan is the chosen conservative candidate of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. His only endorsement as of mid-April is from OAKPAC, the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce. He also has specific links to real estate developers, including Mike Ghielmetti, the Oak to Ninth project developer.

They write almost nothing about the work he’s done in the community, saying:

In general, Mr. Sullivan’s answers to our questionnaire reveal a narrower focus than either Nadel or Hodge. His primary issues are crime, growth, and food security. He has worked to get young adults away from unproductive lives on the streets, by raising money for Covenant House, a service organization with projects in 15 US cities and in other countries. He is a Board Member of Alameda County’s FEMA, and Treasurer of the Oakland Rainbow Chamber of Commerce and Labor, a multi-ethnic LGBT business group founded by Peggy Moore.

So yes, a lot of Sean’s job, as I understand it, is raising money. That’s how he was able to build the new shelter in Jack London. But the way they write it, it sounds like he held a bake sale for Covenant House once or something! It’s horribly disrespectful to write off 12 years of hard work in youth service, providing job training, street outreach, and shelter as “raising money.”

They then go on to reveal that although they support inclusionary zoning, they haven’t the faintest idea how redevelopment areas work:

Mr. Sullivan’s concept of “smart growth,” as stated on his Smart Voter webpage, seems to be rooted in currently popular economic ideas. “Through creation of market rate housing in our redevelopment areas,” he says, “we will fast track desperately needed affordable housing.” It is not clear from this phrasing if Mr. Sullivan actually favors “inclusionary zoning” (in which developers of market rate housing are required to provide affordable housing as part of the package), but, given his “free market” endorsers, this seems improbable. More likely he means that some of the tax increments that come to the City when the value of property rises within a redevelopment area could be used for affordable housing. As Greens, we do not believe that this trickle-down approach to housing will serve the homeless, one of Mr. Sullivan’s professed goals.

Okay, so if you read this blog, you probably already know this, but in case you don’t: this isn’t some kind of trendy economic theory, it’s State law. 15% of all units built in redevelopment areas are required by State law to be affordable. These units are funded by the 25% of redevelopment funds that we set aside for affordable housing. By using these funds, we have built more affordable housing in Oakland in the last 10 years than we did in the 20 previous. We produce significantly more affordable housing per capita than our neighbors who do have inclusionary zoning do. It isn’t a “trickle-down” issue. It’s a legal obligation. If you think it’s more important to punish developers with unfunded, on-site mandates than to provide more affordable units, then the inclusionary litmus test is appropriate. That’s a question of priorities. But to condemn someone’s position as not serving the goal of affordable housing or assisting the homeless without even bothering to do the most elementary bit of research that would have explained the answer is reprehensible.

They conclude “Please DON’T vote Sean Sullivan, but DO VOTE.” Given the uninformed blather that comprises their essay, this conclusion appears to be entirely based, as far as I can tell from their explanation, on the fact that Sean is supported by businesses. The horror!

I really wish that groups or media organizations who decide to make endorsements in these races would just spend even a little time doing some fact checking, or examining records, or at least trying to understand a candidate’s positions. Failure to do so is a serious abdication of responsibility and does a disservice to the public these organizations are allegedly tasking with informing.

15 thoughts on “Irresponsible endorsements

  1. dto510

    When the East Bay Young Dems attacked me for attacking them, rather than providing any justification for their endorsements (and after admitting they don’t live in the District or even Oakland), I invited them to make their endorsement interviews and questionnaires public. No response.

    Also, Nadel seems to share the Green Party’s attitude that “the friend of business is my enemy approach” with her lame yet hysterical response to the mailer that quoted her repeatedly on her attitude to law enforcement. She simply called the multiple quotes over several years from herself “distort(ion)” and then said it was paid by “Multi-National Finance Corporations.” She sounds more like Aimee Allison every day.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Every time I look at that mailer, I laugh. It’s absurd. I certainly hope that Oakland’s electorate is sophisticated enough not to think that Haliburton is trying to engineer the Oakland District 3 City Council election so they can take over City Hall, which is what she seems to be suggesting.

  3. dto510

    Well, that’s exactly what she’s suggesting. Aimee Allison also tried to link Pat Kernighan with Halliburton. That didn’t work. Perhaps Pat Kernighan’s recent endorsement of Sean Sullivan has something to do with these campaign tactics?

  4. Eric

    Unfortunately, the SFBG is usually less interested in analysis, and more interested in endorsing a stereotypical ballot so that people can feel “progressive” and “hip” by voting in a trendy way that relieves them of the need to come uncomfortably close to the issues.

  5. oakie

    I just have to commend V. Smoothe for excellent journalism/commentary. Oakland is a much better place because you are here. I just wish we had more engaged thoughtful people that can learn from your knowledge. We have a democracy, and the voters will choose what direction Oakland will go in. If Sean Sullivan and Patrick McCullough can beat Nadel and Brunner, I would say we have a chance to change the direction of this city for the better: we have choices on the ballot to make that happen and there is no excuse now. George Orwell said “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” There are a lot of entrenched “progressive” interests that are perfectly satisfied and comfortable continuing down the current path, who cannot see what is in front of their noses. I hope we win this one.

  6. Max Allstadt

    The fact that the East Bay Young Democrats won’t release their interviews and questionnaires public is deplorable. I don’t think it would change their endorsement, but in an era where we’re seeing greater and greater calls for transparency, progressives should be leading the way.

    One day I will run for office on the platform that I will streamcast my entire life outside the bedroom and bathroom. You heard it here first folks.

  7. Josh Abrams

    most organizations that give candidates questions to answer in writing tell the candidates that the answers will not be released – that is one reason thatthey might not be answering the calls for the release of that information.

  8. Max Allstadt


    Well if they promised not to release that information, the promise is the problem.

  9. josh abrams

    I am not saying they did or did not promise to not release, I have no idea about that. I am simply saying that many groups do promise to keep answers private (not a good thing, I think) and breaking that promise would probably cause a problem for them.

    The best way to solve this problem – join thesw groups and change the policy. Or realize that nobody cares about the endorsements of obscure groups except political junkies.

    If I don’t know anything about a race, the only endorsement I listen to is my mom :)

  10. Chris Kidd

    Refusing to release information just says to me that their ultimate decisions are not based on the guiding principles of the group. There’d be no reason NOT to release them otherwise. It’s more political machine decisions coming down the pipe. Because it’s not about what’s best for Oakland, it’s about what’s best for the party.

    And why wouldn’t a candidate want the opportunity to release more press where all they do is talk about how awesome they are? These things… I just don’t understand them.

  11. OP

    Chris and Max — I really don’t understand your objection to groups not releasing the answers to their candidate questions. These are not public education groups like the League of Women Voters, so I really don’t see any mandate on them to release the info. As has already been pointed out, keeping confidentiality can be a way for people to feel more candid in their responses. If you are so interested in the answers to their questions, ask the candidates for what they wrote — candidates love sharing their propaganda so they should be so inclined, right?

    Moreover, I think everyone is greatly overstating the importance of candidate position papers. Candidates’ relationships with people in the organizations and their in-person presentations are typically what decide these things. Because of this, it also makes it harder for a membership org to have an official “reason” for supporting a candidate (eg EBYD requires a 60% vote of their membership – so really there are prob as many different rationalizations as there are members) as opposed to an editorial board or a union or the Chamber where things are decided by one person or an executive board or other small group.

    As for the EBYD, I am not a member but did attend the public debate they put on at the Berkeley library and thought Nancy Nadel presented herself very well (though I liked Sean and Greg as well). Whatever people think of her policies and politics, I think it is undeniable that she is the most Youth-friendly member of the current City Council. It is very hard for citizens generally to have a voice in city hall and this problem is compounded for young adults. Around a decade ago I was on the Oakland Youth Advisory Commission (which I recommend for high school youth interested in politics), and found that Nancy was the only Councilmember willing to meet with us and take our concerns about youth issues seriously. In speaking with young adults at that meeting I can tell that has not changed, and I suspect that played a large — and legitimate — role in the EBYD endorsement.

  12. Jonathan C. Breault

    One of my longest running laments has been how insufferably arrogant and biased the allegedly “alternative media” has become. When attempting to decipher the meaning and rationale for the editorial slant of of Bay Guardian and East Bay Express I often cannot decide for which I have a more abiding and dismissive contempt. Given their influence in this area it very often can make one seriously pessimistic about Oakland’s prospects. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is an individual serious about Oakland and running for Oakland City Council. A person who is clearly rational, intelligent, highly articulate with reasonable positions on complex, yet extremely important issues upon which Oakland’s future prospects are dependent. Sean Sullivan, a candidate for District 3 is ready for the task at hand and is eminently qualified to replace Nancy Nadel and begin the process of restoring West Oakland to a semblance of viability and prosperity. Sullivan can do the job and has the capacity for assimilating the complexities of Oakland’s diverse issues and is rational and sensible in his approach which will be a revelation to those accustomed to the stridency, vitriol and idealogical intransigence which has become the hallmark of the incumbent, Ms. Nadel. It will take a whileto undo the enormous damage done by Nadel’s abject neglect and dismissiveness towards the business and development community. Nadel does not discriminate, however. She is equally dogmatic and adversarial towards free enterprise and entrepreneurs in he district or anywhere else in Oakland. Sullivan is proactive, highly conversant on economic and development issues, realistic about the urgent need for heightened investment in public safety and is also, very importantly, young and enthusiastic with a point-of-view in tune with the younger generation which is something sorely lacking in the current composition of the council. Sullivan is without a doubt the best thing happening on the political front in Oakland. District 3 voters should leap at this opportunity to elect a terrific, young advocate for the best that Oakland has to offer and can become.

  13. Max Allstadt


    If you think Sullivan, who’s career has been reaching out to youth in need, would be less attentive to youth issues, I’m baffled.

    Here’s why the greens and the EBYD endorsed Nadel: unions. Nadel has spent a long time making friends with unions, and as the incumbent has been able to do them favors. Now she’s cashing them in. I was going door to door with Sullivan in Adams point yesterday. I ran into somebody who was going door to door for Nadel. That’s right. I was WITH Sullivan himself, and other volunteers who’d decided to go with him as individuals. I ran into a guy who was out there with Nadel flyers, but who was actually a union guy who’d been sent with material endorsing a variety of candidates including Nadel and others. He may even have been being paid by the union to do this, or earning some other benefit.

    It’s not even that Sean is anti-union. He isn’t at all. But power consolidation over a long incumbency means that Nadel is guaranteed endorsement of unions and democratic organizations because she’s had more opportunities to do them favors. She’d have to do something unforgivably scandalous to lose those endorsements.

    As far as making endorsement interviews public, I’m going to be sure to put pressure on future candidates to refuse to participate in secret interviews and questionnaires.

    Oh, and as far as the SF Guardian’s endorsement of Nadel… They never even contacted Sullivan. Irresponsible.

  14. Max Allstadt

    Hey here’s another thought on the secrecy of the Young Democrats’ endorsement process. It comes in the form of a quiz:

    Which (relatively) young democrat said “The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society”?

  15. len raphael

    my understanding is that union endorsements in oakland are better than highly restricted/limited money contributions because they can assign their members to “volunteer” to work in candidates’ offices on phone banks, go door to door etc. not clear to me exactly how they motivate union members, but one piece of it is that apprentice members in certain trade union (i was told) have to put in a certain number of hours of “community service”.

    these “in kind” “volunteer” services are not limited by the Oakland contribution limit rules, so in effect any incumbent such as Nadel or Brunner, who automatically approves union compensation increases, get the union endorsements for re-election which are worth more than any monetary contribution from any single source.

    Soft money contributions via “friends of” ad campaigns etc. is another story, but you’d need a hecka lot of that to offset the union support.

    -len raphael
    volunteer treasurer, Pat McCullough for City Council