Recently, my mother came to Oakland to visit me for the weekend. One of the things my mom likes to do when she visits is to suggest that we drive around neighborhoods where I might be interested in living, and see the houses for sale.
Inevitably, this lasts maybe half an hour, at which point she decides that the neighborhoods I have selected aren’t very nice, and that she would rather drive around and look at prettier, bigger, better maintained houses on adorable tree-lined streets. So then we go drive around like, Crocker Highlands or something as she relays a bunch of elaborate career strategies she has thought of for me (most of which involve changing careers) that would allow me to buy one of them someday.
Anyway. So we did our little tour, and as she admired the houses, I entertainment myself by counting lawn signs. I found myself surprised by the number of Joe Tuman signs. It was striking enough that even my mother asked about it. She’s all “So who is this guy Joe? I don’t think you’ve mentioned him before.” And I’m all “Oh, that’s cause he has no chance and is not worth mentioning.” And she’s like “Well, he seems popular.” And I’m like “Wev, this his his neighborhood.”
But she does have a point. I am increasingly surprised to hear so many people tell me how much they like Joe Tuman or how they’re considering voting for Tuman and how he has all these great plans for Oakland.
Um…he doesn’t. He’s a charlatan, folks. You’ve all been hoodwinked. He doesn’t know anything.
So. My first introduction to Joe Tuman was at a forum last July. He had announced he was running like two days before, and the only things I knew about him were from on his website, which wasn’t much. I don’t watch the TV news, so his job as a political analyst meant nothing to me. So I went to the forum genuinely curious about what this guy’s deal was.
The first question was about decriminalizing sexually exploited minors. You can listen to his response below:
He started out with this condescending line about how he was going to speak in “plain language”, as though the audience was too stupid to understand what anyone of the other candidates had said. This, in light of all the other problems I have with him, is probably a minor issue. But it drives me fucking nuts. In forum after forum, and in his answers to the Make Oakland Better Now! Questionnaire (PDF), like, every third answer starts out with him insulting either the audience or the questioner.
For some reason, a lot of people hear this and think that he must know what he’s talking about. Don’t fall for this, folks. It is a rhetorical trick. And a cheap one at that. You tell everyone you’re the smartest person in the room, and then you proceed to say something completely inane and hope people don’t notice. I think it’s awful.
Anyway. So he did that thing, like he always does, and then he totally failed to answer the question, talking only about enforcement on the consumer end and saying not one single word about how we should deal with these kids. Then, he went into this whole thing about how, as Mayor, he would reform the foster care system. Ooo-kay. Plan talk. I mean, yeah. If by “plain,” you mean “clueless.” Because, of course, the City does not run the foster care system and therefore it is not within the Mayor’s jurisdiction to change how children coming out of that system are dealt with, which I’m pretty sure dude knows absolutely nothing about anyway.
So that’s when I decided I didn’t like Joe Tuman — about 10 minutes after I first saw him. Then, of course, I went to more forums and read all the answers to questions on his website and read his Make Oakland Better Now! questionnaire (PDF), and the more I hear from this guy, the more obvious it is that he is just completely out of it. Yet, for some bizarre reason, people talk about him as if he’s some kind of expert on Oakland. The time has come to put that notion out of its misery.
So, besides not knowing that the County, not the City runs the foster care system, what else is Joe Tuman clueless about? Let me count the ways.
Funding the police force
First, there is his ridiculous police plan he is so freaking proud of. If you haven’t been to any forums or read it anywhere, his plan is basically that he is going to offer older officers early retirement and then hire them back part-time as annuitants where they are only paid salary and not benefits. He will then use the savings from those retirements to hire more new officers (we’ll have 1200 total!) who have a drastically cheaper compensation package. And he’s going to have them pay into their pensions. Here’s him talking about it at a forum:
So first of all, everyone, including the OPOA, agrees about the pension contribution. The only dispute is what they should get in exchange (they want a no-layoff guarantee). There is also widespread agreement that we are going to have to go to some sort of two-tier system. So on those points, he’s just with everyone else.
Which leaves us with this early retirement plan as the only difference. Now, the City already did a Golden Handshake program for non-sworn employees, and so if you were paying attention during the like six months of debate on this issue a couple of years ago, you know more about the Golden Handshake than you could possibly want to know. Joe Tuman clearly did not. Which is fine. But, of course, you’d think that if you were going to make it the centerpiece of your campaign platform, you would take some time to learn the rules at some point.
Here’s the deal with the Golden Handshake (PDF). It doesn’t save money. It costs money (PDF). That two years additional service credit you’re giving people? It’s not free. You pay for it. And you keep paying for it (through increased City pension contribution rates) for like 20 years. The only way you can make up for this additional cost is by keeping the positions vacated by employees taking the Golden Handshake vacant. That way, your salary savings offset the increased pension contribution costs.
Did you guys get all that? The Golden Handshake is not a good way to save money. What it is good for is reducing your workforce without having to lay people off. This is why it sometimes makes sense to do it — because layoffs are awful.
Another problem with his plan is that it is not even legal under California law, which explicitly states that you can only use the Golden Handshake for permanent reductions in the workforce. The shorthand people will give you about the program is generally that you have to keep the positions vacant for at least two years, and while it is, in practice, more flexible than that, it is not a tool you are allowed to use for doubling the size of the police force like he wants to do, even if it did make any financial sense. Which it doesn’t.
So there you go. The main point of Joe Tuman’s platform doesn’t make any sense if you know anything at all about the subject, which, of course, he doesn’t. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough to write him out of consideration. But hey, why stop there?
Neighborhood Service Coordinators
I laughed out loud when I got to the last line of that Chronicle article about the Mayoral candidates positions on crime:
Neighborhood service coordinators, for example, have numerous and vocal supporters. Asked whether he, like Perata, would cut them, Tuman said, “Describe those to me.”
As Chronicle reporter Matthai Kuruvila noted on KQED Forum a couple weeks back, there is literally no way you could not know what Neighborhood Service Coordinators are if you had paid any attention whatsoever to the budget process earlier this year. Or last year, for that matter. Or the year before. Because they come up for cuts like every damn time the budget comes back, and there is always the same parade of people lining up to defend them, and always the same arguments about them, and there really just is no way to not know that this is a big issue if you are at all engaged.
Additionally, anyone who has been involved in their NCPC or their community or trying to improve their neighborhoods would know what Neighborhood Service Coordinators are even if they hadn’t paid any attention to the budget process, because you work with them. You get e-mails from them all the time just by signing up on your neighborhood listserv!
This really bothers me. I mean, I don’t believe that one has to have worked in City government before to be qualified for public office. But I do think that, if you want to be taken seriously, you need to be able to demonstrate some record of involvement and commitment to your community. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. But if you can’t point to anything you have done in the past that shows you’ve made an effort to improve the City in your capacity as a resident, why should anything think that you’ll take the job seriously once you’re elected?
On a similar note, I have often said that I don’t think the candidate forums should be some kind of trivia contest. It’s not fair to expect the same off-the-cuff knowledge of the City from people who are already working for it as those who aren’t. A smart person who is willing to put in the work can and will learn the details over time. The City is complicated. But it’s not rocket science.
Which is why I’m inclined to give outsider candidates a little leeway when they’re asked questions about City issues at forums and produce totally out to lunch answers about it, as Tuman does in response to a forum question about the Army Base development in the video below:
Some people might say that after a multi-year competitive bidding process with an RFQ and then an RFP and now an ENA and all the debate that went along with each step in the process, and with the Army Base being such a huge development project, a candidate running for Mayor should know at least something about it other than the fact that Phil Tagami ended up getting the deal. I’m sympathetic to that argument. But I also realize there are a ton of things to learn, and you don’t know what you’re going to get asked, and the fact is that sometimes you’ll get asked about something you haven’t gotten up to speed on yet. That’s forgivable.
And that’s one of the reasons I like reading candidate questionnaires so much. If you really want to know where someone stands on an issue, the best way to do it is to give them the time they need to research the subject and come to a position. I wish more organizations would publish their questionnaires, and I think that Make Oakland Better Now has done an excellent service to Oakland voters by asking all the Mayoral candidates to fill out detailed questionnaires and then releasing them for everyone to read.
And reading Joe Tuman’s questionnaire (PDF) is, I think, quite enlightening. But it doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of the guy. In fact, it paints a picture of someone who is basically completely ignorant about City government, and worse — proud of that ignorance.
When asked what he would cut in the budget, his response is that he doesn’t know:
I don’t know what I will cut yet; that will be subject to what I find in the audit.
I’m sorry. How can you possibly think you deserve to be Mayor in this time of complete fiscal crisis and not have thought of a single thing to cut in the budget?
MOB NOW! Questionnaire
It keeps going. He says he’s going to hire someone to study the Mayor’s and City Administrator’s office to look for efficiencies. I guess the 168 page report (PDF) from less than two years ago produced by PFM Group about exactly that subject wasn’t good enough for him? Oh, or maybe he just didn’t read it, or even know it exists.
His position on labor negotiations is uninspiring, to say the least:
Suffice it to say, I will use the following criteria for negotiation with our labor partners and stake-holders: a, every decision we make with respect to closing the deficit must serve the interest of everyone in the city — not just interested parties or select groups; b, every decision we make must reflect a long-term solution to the city’s fiscal planning.
Jesus. He’s going to meet with the unions and tell them we have a deficit? Does he think they don’t know? Does he really think nobody has ever thought of doing that before?
There’s another question in there about the Public Works Agency Performance Audit, and this is the one that got me the most.
This kind of audit provides terrific material, but it leaves me at a disadvantage for answering your questions because the report is a year old, and I am unable to tell what, if anything, the City has done with its recommendations (btw pages 24-25 do not deal with “recommendations for adequate funding” – as your question implied).
Look, I don’t expect the guy to have watched like every Public Works Committee meeting for the last year and therefore be some expert on what progress they have made on the audit recommendations off the top of his head. But the fact is that this information is out there and not that hard to find if you’re willing to look for it. But he can’t be bothered to make any effort to find out. He goes out of his way to say that he was too lazy to find out.
There’s a question about KTOP in there, and again his answer is that he doesn’t know what the City does with it other than broadcast Council meetings. Why would you say that? Why does this man take such pride in ignorance? It’s an odd trait for a professor, don’t you think? I mean, how the hell hard is it to find out what’s on KTOP besides a Council meeting? Turn it on! Or go to their website and look at the schedule! It’s not some great mystery. The information isn’t hidden. It just requires a modicum of effort to find out. And if you can’t be bothered to expend that tiny bit of effort to answer a question about why people should vote for you for Mayor, then why should anyone expect you to lift a fucking finger once you actually get in the office? Being Mayor is a hard job. Getting elected is the easy part.
He also has some strange ideas about management:
I will not fall victim to the micro-management curse, which would only lessen my effectiveness as Mayor, but I will insist on regular meetings with department heads that will require them to present me with firm, verifiable data as to capacity of their department, including a history of the performance of their employees, from the most senior managers to the lowest worker…Once a reachable goal has been agreed upon, I will insist that daily progress reports be sent to my office and will presonally review each such report.
He’s going to demand detailed data about every single employee in a department and then make department heads write him daily progress reports? In what universe is that anything other than micro-managing?
I could go on and on about this damn questionnaire. When asked about preventing police layoffs, he suggests applying to the DOJ for grants and using redevelopment money to pay police officers. We, of course, already do both of these things. I don’t think it is outside of the realm of possibility that there are ways we could do both of them better. But he doesn’t suggest doing them better. He just says that we should do them. Because, of course, he doesn’t know that we already do.
Like I said above — I don’t think you have to know everything before getting in office. But you sure as hell need to show you’re willing to learn. And everything about this questionnaire says the opposite. It’s like getting a question outright wrong on an untimed, open book test. There’s just no excuse.
I’ll figure it out when I get there
Can we go back to that budget question again? The one where he says he’ll decide what to cut after he gets elected? I’m sorry, but if you are running for Mayor in the middle of the biggest financial crisis Oakland has ever seen, and your position on the budget is that you’ll figure it out later, how are people supposed to take you seriously? Why do people take him seriously? I’m not being snide — it’s an honest question. I just don’t get it.
I mean, I can sort of see his appeal to a certain segment of the population. He’s got that whole angry citizen thing going on. It’s an attitude you see a lot from people who pay just enough attention to politics to know that we have serious problems, but not enough attention to grasp any of the nuances in policy debates or the barriers to progress. The end result is this attitude that basically says “Well, the people in charge have done such a bad job running things, any random person off the street must be able to do it better.”
And that’s a tempting thought. It’s easy to look at things from a distance and think “Oh yeah, I could do that!” But the thing is, running the City actually is, you know, hard. And that’s not to say that I think our leadership has done a great job, because I don’t. And I do believe there are a great many people out there who are not currently part of City who could do it better. And I don’t think you have to have work in City government to be one of them. But it is hard. It’s not like everyone in City Hall sits around eating peeled grapes all day.
And that’s Tuman’s attitude. I’ll figure it out later. I’ll tell you I’m going to do obvious things that everyone already agrees on or that we’re already doing and pretend nobody has ever thought of them before. I’ll learn about the budget once I’m in office. It can’t be that hard, right? After all, I chaired a committee at my school. That’s the same, right?
The Ron Dellums of 2010
Someone recently told me that they think of Tuman as this year’s Ron Dellums. And as soon as I heard that, I was like OMG, that is exactly what he is (minus the long and admirable record of public service, of course)! He’s a really good speaker, he condescends to his audience, says absolutely nothing, can’t be bothered to learn anything, and yet somehow, people are entranced. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. Don’t make the same mistake a second time, folks. Vote for a minor candidate who has no chance if you want to, but at least pick one who does their homework.