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Island Talkback: Dan Wood on Paradegate

Submitted by on 1, July 9, 2010 – 8:41 am11 Comments

By Dan Wood

In last week’s Fourth of July Parade, non-incumbent political candidates were told that they would be unable to express their candidacy in any way, thanks to a legal opinion issued by City Attorney Teresa Highsmith just two weeks before the parade. Council candidates Rob Bonta and Tony Daysog both self-censored their parade entries in order to stay in the parade.

This last-minute decision, and the lack of any accountability for its origins, reflects very badly on the City of Alameda and its government.

The most immediate reaction many people had about this was the idea that free speech was being stifled, ironically, on a day celebrating our nation’s independence — and, indirectly, our freedoms. The issue of free speech has come up here before; when an El-Cerrito-based anti-gay group participated in 2003, they were allowed to enter because denying their entry would be un-American, even if we didn’t appreciate their message. In the Contra Costa Times, Teresa Highsmith is quoted as saying “A group may be banned only if its message advocates violence or constitutes a hate crime.” And Mayor Johnson said “I don’t want to censor the parade but want to keep it as a celebration, a community event.”

Times have certainly changed.

The City Attorney’s rationale is that political advocacy does not serve the “theme or purpose” of the parade, and that “City funds cannot be used to advocate for a candidate or ballot measure.”

Now hold on just one minute. Let’s take a look at these two arguments.

The Fourth of July Parade has a “theme” that a political candidate conflicts with? Since when? I have been watching or participating in the parade for over a decade, and I have seen entries both military and pacifist, advocates of Presidential impeachment and Presidential candidates, Republican and Democratic groups, and, yes, political candidates. (Although I don’t have any pictures or recollections specifically of city office candidates, I did find a picture of another candidate in my personal photo archives. Do you have any photos of council candidates?) Let’s not neglect to mention that the incumbent officeholders, often up for re-election, get prime spots in the parade to wave at and shake hands with potential voters.

What could have prompted Ms. Highsmith to pick this year, 2010, to issue this legal opinion, if political advocacy and candidacy has been an integral part of the parade through the many years that she has held this city office?

For the second point, isn’t the Fourth of July Parade actually run by an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization? This is not a city-run event.

Or perhaps Highsmith was talking about the recent donation made by Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant of $10,000 to the parade committee. The timing of this heavy donation with the legal ruling comes at a very odd time. Could it be the thinking that since the city made such a big donation to the committee, city management seems to be able to dictate what is appropriate content for the parade? And could this heavy donation be so pleasing to the parade committee members that it would be better not to raise a stink about this first-amendment-defying decision?

The real question, where the scandal lurks, is who is behind this ruling. On the various Alameda blogs, speculation is rampant. The most likely motive for this quick decision is political profit; namely, to put candidates Tony Daysog and Rob Bonta at a disadvantage. Who has the authority to direct the City Attorney to spend taxpayer-funded time to work on such a project? The city charter says she “shall not commence any action without permission of the Council or written instruction of the City Manager.” But according to Mayor Johnson, in an television interview, it was the parade committee who ordered the opinion. So let me get this straight: A non-profit organization can direct city staff?

I called the city attorney’s office to verify Johnson’s claim but my call has not yet been returned.

On the other hand, as reported in The Island last week, Highsmith said the letter was prompted by a member of the City Council.

Blogger Lauren Do submitted a public records request to find out who initiated this opinion letter and received the following response: “The City Attorney’s office has advised that there are no public records that are responsive to your request.”

Somebody is lying. Uncovering the lie will expose the motivation for the entire fiasco.

We need an investigation of the roles and connections of the city attorney, the interim city manager for making the $10,000 donation, the mayor and incumbent City Council members who would have something to gain by their opponents being stifled, and the parade committee leadership, to find out the real motivation for this nonsensical ruling. I hope that some of the members of the City Council, or outside forces like the ACLU (on the grounds of the free speech issue) will flex some muscle and find out who is behind this. But more importantly, to restore free speech at our beloved Fourth of July Parade in the years to come.

Got a burning issue? Let us know by contacting us at michele@theislandofalameda.com.


  • Neal_J says:

    Totally agree that an investigation is warranted.

    Per above, “according to Mayor Johnson…it was the parade committee who ordered the opinion.” Is the head of the Parade Committee still the Mayor’s campaign manager?

  • Dennis Green says:

    OMG! Another Conspiracy Theory. Why don’t you hotheads give it a rest? I mean, let’s be reasonable. The Mayor’s 4th of July Parade has been political since 1995, when we parade judges gave First Prize to the Lesbian Cookout Society, while a controversy over Mayor Ralph signing the Gay Freedom Proclamation was being ginned up by Central Baptist Church. But so what? Mayor Ralph declared himself that day “Mayor of all the people, not just those who voted for me,” and the next week signed the proclamation, alienating many of his former supporters.

    But all this wringing of hands over Daysog and Bonta? Just two more recycled political hacks coming back for more. If you imagine that the parade will determine the results of next November’s election, you will buy into any conspiracy theory that’s abroad. Meanwhile, the real scandal, with over 400 pages of evidence, is underway. Sorry, but I think your priorities, values and suspicions are way misplaced.


  • Jayne Smythe says:

    Well, I don’t get how Daysog and Bonta can’t make a political statement, but the NRA can. What the NRA folks was trying to prove, I don’t know. Shooting off their blanks all over the place, making dogs crazy and kids cry all up and down the street. What was up with that?!

    Our uniformed soldiers and vets, God bless them all– but notice, none of them were shooting off rounds! If anything, this dust up goes to show how inconsistent the treatment is; the committee shoulda said no to the NRA bunch, while it was saying no to Daysog and Bonta.

    Overall, I agree with Dennis: this is a lot of bruhaha over nothing.

  • Husky Gurrrrl says:

    Mr. Green: Whereas you raise a good point that this is a tempest in a teapot, I think this is indicative of a larger, more pressing problem: that city hall is involved in cloak-and-dagger, behind the scenes machinations against their “enemies” real and imagined. Ms. Johnson is an old hand at this and apparently has recruited or joined with Ms. Gallant at backstabbing, smearing and trial-by-speculation politics. For what gain? Who knows. I can’t imagine there’s big bucks in this, which is the usual motivation. It’s really sad that these two are doing for – I dunno – bragging rights in a small city. Maybe that’s why most of us *didn’t* vote for Ms. Johnson in the Alameda County Suprvisors election. She’s petty and small at small-time politics.

  • Dan Wood says:

    Here’s an update. I heard back from the parade committee chair, who told me that they did not ask for the opinion from the city attorney.

    By the way, I hate it when people use the term “conspiracy,” like a commenter did, to try and shut off any further discussion that an investigation is needed.

  • AlamedaDude says:

    Good job DG!!!

  • Mark Irons says:

    Dennis, in the takes one to know one category I would expect you to put your finger on the recycled hack or a hot head too, but not if your bias gets in the way. You never pass up an opportunity to regale the public with your past accomplishments, “back when I was on the parade committee”.

    The first amendment is just more hack politics, I suppose.

    Back when I was in the Green Party (not a Dennis Green BBQ, but a real political party) and we were in the parade, we carried signs for Ralph Nader. It seemed right to be able to do that and I never thought about government subsidy via the parade because the essence of the parade and the holiday is about freedom of political expression.

  • Miriam says:

    Either the Mayor or the chair of the parade committee is not telling the truth or one of them is very confused. Here is what the Mayor told KPIX:

    This is not petty, it is about basic freedoms. Censoring political candidates is unacceptable in a free society.



  • Dennis Green says:

    Gee, pardon me, Mark, for referencing my own personal experience, but I find it more reliable than merely having knee-jerk opinions. I’m not sure how many of the commentators on this thread have ever worked directly in politics, with these politicians. “Armchair politics” is a favorite American sport, but can’t compare to the real thing. I’ve worked with Mayor Bev, on various committees and commissions, and have always found her wanting. I did not vote for her for Supervisor. I haven’t worked directly with Gallant or Highsmith, but people I know and respect who have think rather highly of them both.

    Was Gallant, for example, playing cronyism with her off-island pals with the re-branding thing, or attempting to avoid a long history of on-island cronyism played by past City Managers, who often rewarded contract work to firms unqualified to do the work, but with connections? I think the latter far more likely, considering the sad history and outcome of the AUSD website.

    I suspect that the usual partisan differences over SunCal, the schools, the League of Women Voters, Lena vs. the ICM, etc. are generating this latest flap more than freedom of speech issues. Political advertising gets limited all the time, for example laws against stapling posters ti City-owned utility poles, etc. My detector detects a lot of righteous steam in this discussion, more than real substance. Bang-Bang You Shot Me Down!!!

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Legal Ruling? What legal ruling? Is there a court opinion I’ve missed? This has always been the Mayor’s 4th of July Parade. Resurrected from near death by Mayor Chuck Corica. And the brunt of the work by volunteers has made this the 2nd longest parade in the USA. Anyone who challenged the City Attorney’s “opinion” could have taken it up with the City Attorney, Committee or sought a TRO in court. That would not have been hard for Bonta who is a member of the Bar. Guess it’s better to create fodder for the blogs by doing nothing and whining about it after the fact.

    All this fog that people are trying to blow into the issues is amazing. Why did TAM/aka SUNCAL’s insider, hire a Business litiation SF firm that charges at last take $900 per hour plus expenses, to defend her if she did nothing wrong? Did she go to bid? Hire locally? Talk is cheap. Apparently blogging is even cheaper.

  • Helen Jefferson says:

    Next time you made wide statements: check the facts.

    You are 100% incorrect in your statement that the NRA was shooting off guns. The six “out of work cowboys” as their signs read had nothing whatsoever to do with the NRA. I was on the NRA float and all of us were uncomfortable being in front of this display. As a Lifetime Member of the Alameda Humane Society I too was angry that they were oblivious to the distressed dogs; I was more upset by the dog owners who didn’t leave the parade with their dogs who were visibly upset.

    If you want politicians playing a bigger role in a July 4th parade leave the island: find another venue. It’s totally inappropriate and diminishes the reasons behind the celebration.

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