So, on Wednesday night, I went to the “Green Oakland” Mayoral forum sponsored by the Sierra Club and the East Bay Young Democrats.
I’ll write more about the forum next week, but for those who wanted to attend but couldn’t, I don’t want to make you wait to see what happened. Please enjoy the full video of the event below. I apologize for the somewhat uneven quality.
I’m still digesting the forum from last Wednesday (9 candidates is a lot to process!), so today, I’m going to talk instead about a different Mayoral forum I watched recently. Totally randomly, while working on a project unrelated to this blog, I stumbled across this video of a 2006 Oakland Mayor debate sponsored by the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club. Of course, I had to watch it. For those find themselves similarly compelled, I have reposted all the video below.
It was kind of strange watching it and being reminded of how different things were just four years ago. Questions covered building the economy, how Oakland should address development on the waterfront (the Oak to Ninth project was a super hot issue at the time), crime reduction, the poverty problem, mitigating the fallout of the Raiders deal, improving opportunities for young people in Oakland, disaster preparedness, and how to better brand the City.
Ignacio De La Fuente went first with the opening remarks, and started off by complaining about the format — apparently, the candidates were all given the questions in advance — and how that leads to scripted answers.
That got me thinking about debate formats. I’m not sure how I feel about giving people questions in advance. I mean, I understand the concern about scripted answers. You want candidates to demonstrate the knowledge they have, and thinking on your feet is of course an important skill. But on the other hand, I don’t really like the idea that the point of a candidate forum is to like, catch people by surprise. Ooh! Gotcha! You don’t know anything about subject X and now you look stupid.
I mean, nobody’s going to be an expert on everything, so if you actually want to know where a candidate stands on something, you might as well give them the time to make sure they have a position and can answer your question coherently.
It’s like how two years ago at the City Council debates the League of Women Voters hosted, they asked everybody if they would support a comprehensive records management program for the City and the hiring of a certified records manager to be in charge of it, and everyone was like “Um, yeah. Sure, I support that.” But it was totally obvious that nobody had any idea what the hell the question was even about. And then of course Jane Brunner spends like two years throwing a temper tantrum about the League’s efforts to get the City to actually create a records management program (this was finally approved in July). And Rebecca Kaplan at a Council meeting in January displayed a distressing amount of contempt for the concept of putting a well-trained professional in the position, going went on about how she doesn’t see any reason why we would need to recruit a certified records manager instead of just picking anyone from the City’s existing employee pool to do the job.
Anyway, I see why people might think that giving questions in advance might result in a situation where statements are crafted to be as inoffensive as possible, but the fact is that if a candidate just wants to dissemble about everything, they’re gonna do it whether they got to see the question beforehand or not. I just don’t really think the goal of a debate should be to find out who is the best off the cuff speaker. Of course, it’s possible I just think that because I am terrible at answering any question without having plenty of time to think about it, and tend to sound like a babbling idiot when people ask me things.
When it was Ron Dellums’s turn to open, he informed the audience that despite apparently having received all the questions in advance, he was “going off the cuff.” Because that’s exactly what everyone wants in a Mayor, right? Someone who has an opportunity to prepare for something, and doesn’t because they think they’re too good for it. I mean, apparently that is what people want, since everyone laughed hysterically and clapped at that line. Oh, and also I guess cause he won.
But really, this is something that has always bothered me about Dellums, and I don’t think I’ve actually ever complained about it here. Crazy, I know. But people are always talking about how impressive it is that he speaks so well without notes, and I have always thought that’s kind of a bunch of bullshit. I mean, yes, he does sound eloquent, but when he does that he just spews all these words and never actually says anything. It’s just pretty sounding jibberish. I mean, this was the beginning of his statement:
Master of ceremonies, my distinguished colleagues, and ladies and gentlemen, it’s both an honor and a privilege to be before you, and I am proud to be before you as a candidate for the Mayor of Oakland at a very significant time in the evolution of life in this City, in this Country, in this world and secondly because this is a significant moment in the civic life of this coummunity.
What the hell is that? It is so many words for saying absolutely nothing. And I know what you’re all thinking. Gee V, you’re one to talk. But while I readily admit that parsimony is not my strong suit, I’d like to think that if I had only had three minutes to make a pitch for something, I could be a little more careful.
Oh, and then at the end, after saying nothing, he complained that that he couldn’t possibly talk about everything he was going to do in only three minutes. So there you go.
But what struck me most about the debate, especially in contrast to the Sierra Club one from the other night, was how dramatically different all the candidates were. Like I said, I’ll get into Wednesday’s forum next week and look in some detail at the way different candidates answered different questions. And some people clearly performed better than others. But overall, at both this forum and the public safety one I went to last month, you were hearing pretty similar answers to most of the questions from all of the candidates.
This one wasn’t like that at all. I mean, Ignacio De La Fuente kept hammering on growing the City’s tax base and economic development in response to like, every question, while Nancy Nadel was all about affordable housing and raising the minimum wage and inclusionary zoning and providing health care for the uninsured and all those sorts of things and how the City has been too focused on improving things for property owners and if she was Mayor, her focus would be on the 60% of Oaklanders who do not own property. Dellums, for the most part, just didn’t say anything. Model city, model city. Oh, and that we’re going to be terrorized by bird flu any day now and that the Golden State Warriors should be renamed the Oakland Warriors and that gas is going to be $10 a gallon soon and therefore nobody will want to live in the suburbs.
On the question about crime, Ignacio De La Fuente was all about how we have to admit we have a problem and need more police and crime has to go down and how the Neighborhood Law Corps is so great. And Nancy Nadel went on this long thing about how the first thing we have to do is figure out how to separate all the different types of crime and then get the State to reform the prison system.
And then there with the question about branding, Nancy Nadel complained that it’s Jerry Brown’s fault Oakland has a bad reputation because he was trying to make Oakland look bad on purpose and that the media is really mean and we need to change our logo to something that has people on it instead of a tree. And then Ignacio De La Fuente was just like, we can improve Oakland’s image by actually dealing with our problems and improving the quality of life here. Dellums, of course was just like, model city.
I don’t know if it’s better or worse to have a bunch of candidates who seem to broadly agree about most things, and then you get to pick the one you think would best be able to implement them versus a few choices with clear ideological differences. I suppose that if you disagree with what pretty much all the candidates we have now are saying, then that definitely sucks for you. One thing I’m definitely sure of. Debates are a lot more interesting to watch when there are clear ideological differences between candidates.
I don’t know. I suppose I don’t really have any grand conclusion about what I learned from watching the debate. I did make me remember why I used to like Ignacio De La Fuente so much, which was nice since I have found him recently to be kind of one-note and whiny. Mostly I just thought it was kind of a fun little break from our depressing current situation to go back and kind of think of how things could have been.