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Voters give Oakland a new councilmember, new transit plans, and an old fight

Last Tuesday, voters set a course for Oakland’s future. Certain races have something to tell engaged Oaklanders about voters’ wishes, the effectiveness of different kinds of campaigns, and about the current and future policymaking boards that govern our city and our transit service. The passage of Measure OO (and failure of Measure NN), Rebecca Kaplan’s big victory over Kerry Hamill, and a host of pro-transit votes, were the key choices facing voters this cycle.



Measure OO vs the rest of the budget

My only disappointment in the local ballot measures was the narrow passage of Measure OO, also known as Kids First 2. As I wrote at the time, Measure OO did not meet the ballot deadline and the City Council was not under a legal obligation to place the measure on the November ballot. They may have been compelled to call a special election for it, but of course that would have been a better bet than the November election. Now the city is going to do a special election anyway, and they’ll be under great pressure to compromise with Kids First and give them at least some money from the strapped budget.

This potentially gigantic hit to the city budget is the City Council’s fault for not doing a special election in the first place or placing a competing measure on the ballot (not a compromise, a measure that would just do what the Council already did but trump KF2, a common legislative tactic). Now OO is in a good position, even though it wasn’t the voters’ highest priority on Election Day. Measure NN, to raise taxes to pay for police, received thousands more votes yet is a failure. Neither NN nor OO did much of a campaign: a friend of mine received a four-page glossy mailer promoting NN after Election Day, and its slogan sounded like it was translated from an Asian language (“Get Involved! Today Oakland!”). OO sent a mailer only to poll voters, and the No on OO campaign sent a mailer only to absentee voters. In such a low-energy election, the Council’s actions framing the ballot would have been decisive.

Kaplan vs. Hamill

I think a lot of Rebecca Kaplan’s big victory can be attributed to her preparation for the job of running Oakland. Ms. Kaplan outperformed Kerry Hamill at endorsement interviews and forums, and won allies in blogs and among the politically-involved people who judge endorsement interviews. This election may not prove the power of local opinion-makers, but their almost-unanimous backing of Ms. Kaplan certainly undercut the support Ms. Hamill had from elected officials. In the end, Ms. Kaplan’s impressive endorsement list made her a very safe choice for the average voter.

Of course, more voters were exposed to Rebecca Kaplan’s supporters because Kerry Hamill just didn’t do nearly enough to win the seat. She admits she only had the money to wage half a campaign, and couldn’t mobilize enough volunteers to match Kaplan’s access to the Democratic Party Headquarters. I never received mail or a call from Ms. Hamill at anytime in this year-long campaign.

Elections are not necessarily about issues, but Rebecca Kaplan did identify and articulate some priorities that are attractive to certain interest groups, like supporting dense transit-oriented development, implementing the Conley Report, sprucing up downtown, and improving public transportation and bicycling. These things can mean different things to different people: condo developers as well as medicinal marijuana dispensaries see opportunities in a more successful downtown; labor unions and businesses like her call to increase revenue with more business; and with a holistic view of transportation, there really is something for everyone.

As one wag observed, Kerry Hamill’s defeat shows that Don Perata cannot install a puppet on the City Council by not campaigning or raising money for her. It also reinforces how difficult it is to run a come-from-behind campaign in Oakland. Alone in the booth, if they had no other information, voters decided that an AC Transit Board Member was more qualified than a School Board member to be promoted to the City Council, and frankly, they’re right. Voters also endorsed AC Transit’s performance more directly on down-ballot questions.

BRT vs KK, Peeples vs Roy, Measure VV

Voters in Berkeley overwhelmingly defeated a measure that was framed as a way to stop Bus Rapid Transit service on Telegraph. A far larger majority shot down the anti-bus measure than endorsed Tom Bates or the winning incumbents and new councilmembers. 77% is almost unheard-of, and is such a sweeping majority that it cannot be interpreted as anything but a strong rejection of NIMBYism, at least as it applies to transit improvements.

I draw several conclusions from the vote. First, it shows that the angry and active minority of citizens who do not agree with most City Council decisions are not representative of many voters (Tom Bates’ reelection is more evidence of this). Second, the tactics and arguments of proponents, mainly to do with the alleged harm of Bus Rapid Transit, fell flat. I really don’t know whether most people read the Berkeley Daily Planet, but either they don’t or they don’t agree with its editorial direction. The rest of the media is fairly hostile to BRT as well, but voters clearly are not. Finally, the No on KK campaign (which I was a part of) did an excellent job shaping a simple message, getting the support of local leaders, and communicating with voters in many media. But the margin was totally unexpected, and can’t be interpreted as anything but that voters want the Berkeley City Council to move forward with BRT.

Chris Peeples also won a huge margin in his reelection effort against Joyce Roy, who had made some noise in the media. She wrote a strongly populist ballot statement criticizing AC Transit for everything imaginable, but failed to convince more than 35% of the voters. The successful passage of an additional parcel tax to compensate for state cuts to AC Transit’s funding was another endorsement of AC Transit’s recent direction.

Last week’s election set the tone for Oakland’s future. A new City Councilmember, a new set of budget constraints and political fights, and new opportunities to improve transit are in store for the city. And with the historic election of a very promising President, Oakland like other cities across the country can look forward to more attention and aid from the federal government. Right now I’m writing President-elect Obama a letter suggesting a way he can help Oakland and the world: appointing Ron Dellums Ambassador to South Africa.


Posted in actransit, berkeley, citycouncil, elections, kaplan, measurekk, oakland, transportation.

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6 Responses

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  1. Max Allstadt says

    DTO, your suggestion that Dellums become Ambassador to South Africa is a brilliant win-win scenario!

    I would love to add my signature to that letter, and I bet that hundreds of other Oaklanders will do the same. Spread the word! Cape Town, here he comes!

  2. V Smoothe says

    I can’t decide which NN mailer was more unpersuasive. Was it the glossy one that arrived late, with its sad clip art, photo of Berkeley, and utterly bizarre text? Or was it the postcard size Halloween-colored Chamber of Commerce mailer, printed on that super cheap and weird feeling paper they use for missing child flyers with a couple of hand-drawn looking houses and a handful of vague phrases (“safe streets” “a better oakland”) scattered randomly across the front? Tough call.

  3. dto510 says

    I think the mailer that arrived after the election was probably the least effective.

  4. V Smoothe says

    Hmm, good point.

  5. Becks says

    I don’t know, the Halloween colored one might have been even more unpersuasive, as it could have actually persuaded voters to vote against the measure. The one that arrived after the election, on the other hand, couldn’t have had any effect, negative or positive.

  6. Walk Oakland Bike Oakland says

    It was indeed a good election for Oaklanders – atleast in terms of leadership and lower carbon travel. Rebecca Kaplan gave very strong, thoughtful responses to WOBO’s candidate survey, Ms Hammill didn’t return it. Hopefully she won’t suffer the same, crushing Obama-like “can you please solve this problem for me now” issue.
    The resounding defeat of KK (really? KK?) clears the way for bus rapid transit on Tele/E. 14th – a huge boost to a long, long stretch of the O. Will there be the political and staff leadership to advance this project asap?
    Silly mailers!