Hey folks. I know I said I would get all my endorsements up on Monday, and well, obviously that didn’t happen. I’m sad to say, it isn’t going to happen today either. I have come down with, like, pneumonia or something, and feel like complete hell. So I’ve been spending my time sleeping instead of writing. I’m going to do my best to get all my Mayor posts up today, and then I’m going to aim for at least one more set of endorsements tomorrow, then another batch on Thursday.
Now that the logistics are out of the way, let’s get started.
Deciding who I was going to support for Oakland Mayor was a very difficult decision for me, and one that took me a long time to reach. For those who are not already aware, I am supporting Don Perata for Mayor. I’m sure people have lots of questions about why, and I assure you that I am going to get to it. But I don’t feel like I can give a complete explanation of why I believe he is the best of the field without also talking about why I don’t think the other candidates are. So please just be patient. I’ll get there.
Out of Touch
From the beginning, I was never thrilled about the idea of Jean Quan being Mayor. I strongly disagree with her on many issues. In particular, I vehemently disagree with her position on inclusionary zoning, a policy I believe is bad for Oakland’s future development and growth, as well as counterproductive to the laudable goal of maximizing production of affordable housing. It bothers me that, although it is clearly time for Oakland to move on, Jean Quan has been so resolute and single-minded about this one tool in the large affordable housing toolbox that she refuses to even discuss other housing related policies. This childish attitude is detrimental to the City.
Additionally, I have been consistently frustrated over the years with Jean Quan’s dismissive attitude towards the legitimate concerns people have about issues like crime, high taxes, and the burdens placed on business in Oakland. Whether it’s running around bragging that crime is down when it’s actually up or responding to legitimate fears about rising violent crime rates with flip statements like “People get robbed everywhere, even in San Ramon,” or laughing off a proposed doubling of the fee to apply for a cabaret permit with a snide comment like “They can afford it. Cabarets make a lot of money,” Jean Quan just never seems to acknowledge that people have real reasons to be unhappy with they level of service they are getting from this City.
Quan has been a staunch advocate for things like youth programs and violence prevention programs and domestic violence awareness, and I commend her for that. Social justice is important to me, and I appreciate her work on these issues. What bothers me is that with Quan, it always seems to come at the expense of everyone else. The reality is that times are tough for everyone. And you don’t have to be completely destitute and living in the ghetto to have trouble making ends meet. Her relentless support of more taxes, and her totally dismissive “cup of coffee a day” or “just a tank of gas” attitude about imposing them on people all the time is, I think, really out of touch with how much of a burden all these taxes add up to on a lot of people just trying to get by in this city. Taking more money from residents is just not the direction I believe Oakland needs to go.
A hard worker
But then, as I was looking at the field all summer, I could not ignore the fact that Jean Quan appeared to be working for this way harder than anyone else. Although she wasn’t able to raise all that much campaign money, she seemed to be very smart about the way she used it, saving it all up for mail at the end of the campaign. So even though I don’t think she’s demonstrated much of a sense of fiscal responsibility on the City Council (more on that below), the way she was running her campaign seemed to indicate that she can be tight with a penny when she really wants to.
And you know what? I’m one of those people who works really hard at things. And so when I see someone else working really hard, I respect that. I think there’s a lot to be said for just really wanting something and being willing to just drive yourself into the ground to get it. And so I felt that just based on her determination, I owed it to her to give her another chance. So I tried to put all those nagging concerns that I talked about above out of my head and open my mind to the idea of Jean Quan being Mayor. At the very least, I figured, I could count on her to work hard in that office, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for our current Mayor. And in the end, I see the void of leadership in Oakland right now as a much bigger problem than the threat of inclusionary zoning.
Back to where I started
That lasted a couple of weeks. I crashed right back into realizing that there was no way could I support Jean Quan for Mayor at a Mayoral forum I attended in September. The first question was about what opportunities for job growth in Oakland and creating jobs for Oakland residents. Jean Quan spoke about the need for job training and preparation for young people in Oakland (which I agree is important), but with respect to how we’re going to make sure those jobs exist, she basically said we didn’t have to do anything!
Oakland is going to have jobs over the next decade. ABAG says that Oakland and San Jose and San Francisco will continue to grow in jobs. But the question is who is will get those jobs. There are three great possibilities of clusters of jobs that they’re going to be in Oakland. My colleagues will talk about the eight sectors the Chamber has looked at — transportation, communications, health care, the food industry, the tourism industry. Those jobs are going to be here.
And here we are, right back to that dismissive attitude that I talked about above. I don’t think there’s any guarantee that jobs are going to be in Oakland. Yes, all those industries have potential here. We are well poised for business attraction in a number of sectors. But you can’t just assume they’re going to come. You have to work to bring them. You have to create a supportive environment for the businesses that provide them. And Jean Quan just seems so completely unconcerned about how we’re going to do that. Listening to it just reminded me of all those reasons I was against her in the first place. It’s great to be an advocate for the downtrodden. But you can’t just assume that everything else is going to fall into place on its own.
Not there on the budget
In the end, though, all of these issues are secondary to the budget. I don’t know if people realize what a crisis the City is in. But it is really bad, folks.
And Jean Quan just is not good with the budget. Oakland’s budget is unsustainable. While Quan loves to blame the deficit on the economy in like, every single one of those absurdly long newsletters she sends out, the fact is that Oakland has had budget problems for years.
Quan is fond of talking about how she believes Oakland should have a five year budget. That sounds great and everything, but the fact is, we’re already supposed to have a two-year budget, and as well as know, that has been completely out the window for the past two years. The Council is constantly meeting to cut the budget and making a new cut to this program or that. It has been band-aid after band-aid non-stop for two years. At one point, we were basically operating on a two-week budget. And Jean Quan makes the budget! So I just cannot imagine why anyone would expect it to be any better with her as Mayor. We’ve seen how she handles the City’s finances. She does it by basically not dealing with them.
Quan appears to be operating under the delusion that eventually the economy will get better, and then we just won’t have anything to worry about anymore. But that’s not true. The City of Oakland has not been operating on a sustainable budget the entire time she has been on the Council. There are deficits basically every year. Even she says so!
When Oakland was in the middle of the biggest tax bonanza it is likely ever going to see, bringing in a storm of transfer tax revenue, not only, did the Council, with Quan leading the way, not put any money away for when times got worse, they managed to spend almost all of the reserve that already existed. And when Jean Quan was asked about how they could have possibly let that happen, did she acknowledge that spending like that was a mistake? No! Instead, she dismissed it, saying “It’s not like the money was stolen.“
The one time in the past eight years that the City did have a suprlus, did Quan advocate using it to pay down debt, which would be the fiscally responsible thing to do? Of course not! She spent it.
A history of fiscal irresponsibility
And this, of course, is not the first time this has happened on Jean Quan’s watch.
Who can forget January 2003, immediately after she joined the City Council after 12 years on the School Board, when OUSD suddenly discovered that they were in such deep financial crisis due to overspending that they were literally going to run out of money to pay people. You know what happens when a government body can’t pay its bills? Bankruptcy. The only reason OUSD was able to avoid bankruptcy was because Don Perata got the State to bail them out to the tune of one hundred million dollars.
It wasn’t news that the School District’s finances were badly managed. They knew. Or, at least, they should have. They were warned. In 2000, the Board received a comprehensive audit of the District by the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assessment Team (ironically, the Board only consented to the audit because of pressure from Don Perata, who also secured the funding for it), in which OUSD failed every single category, including finance, where it scored a whopping 4 on a scale of 10. The report even went out of its way to note that “the district [...] could face financial peril because it may have overstated student attendance records”. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.
Did Quan make sure the School District followed up on the urgent recommendations of the audit? No. In fact, the School Board ignored most of them, and in some cases, did the opposite of what they were told.
And now, not only does Quan still refuse to acknowledge her role in OUSD’s crisis, she has the audacity to try to blame it on Don Perata! It’s truly incredible. I mean, people make mistakes, and if you have a long record of service, it is pretty much inevitable that you will have made some bad calls at some point. But a real leader is willing to admit when they’ve done something wrong, and learn from their mistakes.
Jean Quan has not done this. Instead, she seems determined to repeat the same mistakes all over again, this time with the City. And that’s the kind of leadership I can live without.