So I’d been holding onto a draft version of yesterday’s blog for over a month, and only ended up finally posting it at the forceful urging of a number of friends. I thought that the reason I couldn’t bring myself to post it was because I just wanted so badly for it to be really good and damning and persuasive and that I just couldn’t let go because it would never be good enough. But by the time I hit the publish button, I realized that it wasn’t about those things at all – the reason I waited so long to make an elaborate case against Nancy Nadel was because I didn’t really want to. Not because I didn’t believe in what I’d written (I do), or because it wasn’t all true (it is), but because I just don’t care about it anymore. Last winter, this election for me was about replacing my incredibly ineffective and unresponsive Councilmember. But I realized yesterday that over the last few months, it hasn’t been about that for me at all. It’s about getting someone into office who I really, really, really believe in.
Sean Sullivan sent me a really nice e-mail last October, saying that he’d read some of my work on Novometro as well as here on the blog, informing me about the new Covenant House opening in Jack London Square, and saying he’d like to meet for coffee to talk about issues facing downtown and West Oakland. My immediate reaction was that I obviously couldn’t possibly have anything useful to say to the guy who runs a homeless youth shelter about what Oakland needs! I wanted to write a really good response, so like I’ve done with so many of my wonderful readers, I decided to wait to respond until I had more time, and ended up up just waiting too long, to the point where it would have been straight up embarrassing to write back, and eventually I just archived the message and stuck it in my substantial bank of things to feel guilty about.
Then he contacted me again back in January, informing me that he was running for City Council, and invited me again to meet. I wrote back right away this time! I had been desperately looking for someone good to run against Nancy Nadel, and at the time, it was becoming increasingly clear that the person I had been really hoping would run wasn’t going to do so. I showed up (late!) to our meeting just crossing my fingers that the guy would be at least reasonably competent.
It was immediately apparent that I needn’t have worried. As we spoke, I saw quickly that Sean was smart, informed, and most important, practical. I was particularly impressed during our conversation with his nuanced grasp of Oakland’s problems and the solutions we really need to be pursuing. Even with the Councilmembers I like, I often feel that there is little attention to the subtleties of the issues before them or concern for implementation. I saw that we shared a similar, although not identical perspective, and I particularly appreciated that unlike many people I find myself talking to about Oakland politics, he didn’t simply parrot my own talking points from this blog back to me. (He also showed genuine concern for the very real needs facing the District, although he isn’t unique among local politicians in that respect. I believe, many people tell me naively, that everyone on our City Council and everyone running really does believe they’re doing what’s best for the people they represent and wants to help. The problem is that they’re often really misguided in their attempts to do so.)
I wanted to make this post a super case for Sean that would persuade everyone, but then I realized that I don’t know everyone’s issues, and it would be pointless to try and cover them all. So instead of telling you why you should vote for Sean, I’m going to talk about why, specifically, I am.
Sean just, I don’t know…gets it. Specifically, he just gets it on the following issues:
- Affordable housing
Some people assume that because I oppose inclusionary zoning, I am not interested in affordable housing. That couldn’t be further from the truth (and I’m glad that there’s at least one person who realizes that). I oppose inclusionary zoning precisely because it will stymie our efforts to create affordable housing in a meaningful way and because data shows that it will reduce the amount of funding available for affordable housing.
I’ve sat around and watched the Council take no action on the affordable housing issue for years because they’re all too busy with their petty fights about inclusionary zoning. They bicker and delay and squabble and because they can’t make a decision on IZ, they sit around and do absolutely zilch. Instead of sitting around talking about ways to get people making $80,000 year into re-sale restricted condos where they cannot fully realize the benefits of homeownership, Sean has spent the campaign pointing out that there are plenty of real, non-restricted units available in Oakland at a price you don’t find anywhere else around here and talking about how we can get people into them. Our First-Time Homebuyers program has helped some people, but it really doesn’t provide anywhere close to the level of assistance that similar programs in other cities do, and it is in dire need of attention and advocacy.
I further appreciate that Sean is not wedded to the idea that caring about housing only means caring about getting people to buy homes. Supportive housing, transitional housing, emergency housing – these are things that matter and that currently do not have a strong advocate on the City Council, and Sean will provide that.
Sean cares deeply about food access and food security, and has demonstrated his commitment to the issue already through his work with HOPE. I find it immensely frustrating that there is currently no champion on the City Council for food issues.
Food security and food access is a huge problem in Oakland, and in District 3 specifically, and Sean is the only candidate running in any District who’s bothered to make the issue a part of his campaign. Oakland’s disturbing food system assessment (PDF!) was published more than two years ago now, and the Council has done absolutely nothing to address food security issues since then. Sean’s platform includes a number of incredibly low-bar actions that will provide immediate results, like working with community groups to provide nutritional education and an outreach campaign to increase food stamp/EBT participation. Sean clearly understands the urgency of these issues, and gets that getting access to food in West Oakland isn’t about picking up the phone once every couple of years, or writing a check of taxpayer money to someone who sounds well-intentioned, then forgetting about it. I get that West Oakland isn’t a wealthy community, but neither is Fruitvale, and they have plenty of places to buy food. They have grocery stores in East Oakland. Getting one in West Oakland takes hard work and persistence, and a real devotion to the issue, and Sean can and will provide that.
Sean appreciates the need for a diverse economy. Sean just gets this in a way that I don’t see from anyone currently on the Council, or anyone else running for Council. Bringing opportunity to Oakland isn’t just about retail jobs, or industrial jobs, or green jobs, or whatever the vogue term of the moment may be. Different people need different types of jobs. Retail and service industry jobs provide opportunities for young people new to the workforce, students, and others who need or want flexibility or supplemental income while pursuing other things. (The elitist attitude on this issue displayed by the current Councilmember is infuriating! In response to an e-mail I sent her a few years ago where I talked about how I was a cook, and hated that I had been having to work in San Francisco, and how excited I was by the new opportunities for work in this industry appearing in Oakland, and specifically downtown, as we add residents, she wrote “Of course restaurants benefit from housing. But I don’t want to create lowpaying restaurant and retail jobs.”) Sean, I guess because of his work at Covenant House, understands exactly why and for whom these types of jobs are important.
But unlike some other Councilmembers, who I feel sometimes take it too far and act as if service industry jobs are all we can hope for (which makes me kind of feel like they’ve given up on the possibility of making serious progress in this city), Sean also understands the need to bring family-supporting jobs as well. He has a refreshingly (and uniquely) realistic understanding of the reasons behind our business attraction problems, and is committed to doing something about it – through incentives like a restaurant business tax holiday, improving the performance of our enterprise zone, infrastructure improvements, and by actually listening to people about how we can help through a Small Business Commission. Sean’s business and job attraction platform accommodates needs today while building on itself with an eye towards our long-term future.
I especially appreciate that while he is an advocate for industrial and green jobs, he, unlike so many others, does not fall into the trap of ignoring the importance of office jobs. The highly politicized CBD zoning update process often seems entirely geared toward limiting residential development in a few small sections of downtown, and the parts relating to commercial development, which is generally much less controversial (and to me, much more important) were created without consideration of the demands of the market, the type of employers we want to bring here, or the need to maximize job density in transit hubs. 100,000 square feet of office space accommodates 400 jobs! It isn’t responsible to arbitrarily limit that. Sean Sullivan, bless him, gets this enough to show up at the Zoning Update Committee, which hardly anyone cares about, and speak on the issue. That’s not something you do to get votes. You do it because you care.
- Bringing people together
Sean talks all the time about treating people with respect and about bringing people together rather than fueling battles. Most people in this city, and certainly most of those involved with local politics, share the basic same goals. But so much potential progress in Oakland is slowed because we can’t get over these abstract battle lines that people have drawn and that help nobody. And when you look at his supporters, I think it becomes really clear that Sean really can move us beyond this.
His amazing work at Covenant House has yielded a significant amount of grassroots community support, because people have seen firsthand the energy, devotion, and results he can bring to Oakland. Although a newcomer to politics, he commands enough respect from veterans to earn the endorsement of two of the current Councilmembers (the same number as Nancy Nadel!). Pat Kernighan and Desley Brooks don’t share the same position on many of our most controversial issues (like Equal Access or inclusionary zoning, for example), but they both endorsed Sean because they know they’ll be able to work with him on shared goals to bring productive change. (Funnily enough, the only recent major issue of contention I recall them voting together on was the industrial land use policy, where they both took a more protective position of industrial land than Nancy Nadel, who has tried repeatedly to make Sean’s alleged opposition to industrial preservation an election issue.) Pat Kernighan, Desley Brooks, the OPOA, OakPac, Kathy Neal, Darrel Carey, Nancy Reiser, Carl Chan – this is not a set of names you expect to see on the same list. That Sean has support from such a broad cross-section of the community, and from interests that are so frequently at odds with one another, speaks volumes about his ability to bring people together and move us past the unproductive barriers we’ve created for ourselves.
It all comes down to the fact the he’s practical. Sean doesn’t approach issues from a black or white, us or them perspective, which is the way that far too much of Council business is currently conducted, and is a big part of the reason we can’t get anything done.
Watching the other Council races, I’ve realized just how incredibly lucky District 3 is to have someone like Sean Sullivan running. Anyone working or volunteering for any campaign will be happy to explain to you, and complain to you, at length about how impossible it is to unseat an incumbent in this town (the short version: complacency and pay-go). And it’s true. It really is. You’d think that the general sense of frustration in this town right now and the poor record of several long-term incumbents, things would be easier this year. But in every other race, the challengers don’t impress me. Even Patrick McCullough, who I have endorsed, is only a viable candidate because I believe he will work harder and deliver more for Oakland than the current Councilmember whose performance I find very poor. I certainly wouldn’t be endorsing him if he were running in District 5 or 7. Clifford Gilmore may have fared better for me if he were running against Nadel, but I found him generally to be incredibly uninspiring. But I would be happy to see Sean replacing the incumbent in any District. I don’t think there’s any shortage of incredibly smart, hard-working, caring people in Oakland, but there’s clearly a real dearth of them who want to run for City Council, and the more I watch the Council debates for other Districts, the more I see what a true treasure we have in Sean Sullivan.
Getting someone this good, this smart, this competent, practical, hard-working, energetic, caring, implementation-minded, and thoughtful to run for Oakland City Council is like winning the freaking lottery and District 3 voters would be fools not to leap at the chance to elect him as their representative. Three months ago, Sean was someone I decided to support because he was an alternative to Nancy Nadel. But since March, he’s become someone I’m eager to pour every last second of my free time into volunteering for because he truly inspires me and gives me hope that we can finally, finally, get this City moving in the right direction and make real, honest-to-God progress. Sean doesn’t share my position on every issue, and not even on every issue I think is important, but I know that I’ll never find a candidate that does. I endorse Sean Sullivan, absolutely wholeheartedly and unequivocally, and when I mark my ballot for him on Tuesday, I will do so with a sense of pride and hope and a total lack of reservation that I have never before felt when voting for anyone.