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Decision 2010: Election cheat sheet (City Council race)

Submitted by on 1, October 26, 2010 – 4:55 am3 Comments

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Here’s the second in our series of Decision 2010 election cheat sheets for local races. Today’s piece offers a rundown on candidates for two (and possibly three, depending on who’s elected mayor) open City Council seats. Monday’s piece on mayoral candidates is here; we’ll talk about school and hospital board candidates later this week. And we’ve got more on the candidates, including their responses to our candidate questionnaires, links to their websites and more, on our Decision 2010 page.

Oh, and a quick note: If you’re mailing in a ballot, you should plan to put 78 cents’ worth of postage on it to get it to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. So don’t forget those extra stamps!

Eight people are running for City Council: Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Rob Bonta, Adam Gillitt, Tracy Jensen, Beverly Johnson, Jeff Mitchell, Jean Sweeney and Lena Tam.

Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft: Ezzy Ashcraft, an attorney and arbitrator, told The Island that she thinks strengthening the local economy would be her most pressing task if elected. And she said she’d bring a collaborative presence to the council – something that is distinctly lacking now. She’d seek to bring more jobs and housing onto the Island, something she said she has worked to do in her current posting on Alameda’s Planning Board, which she is serving as president. At Alameda Point, she’d have the community develop its own plan to shop to a developer, and have the city manage long-term leases; she envisions a transit-oriented, mixed-use development with offices and commercial space, a mix of housing types, retail, schools, a library, open space and more. And she’d seek to negotiate with employee unions to rein in pension costs. In addition to the Planning Board, Ezzy Ashcraft has served on the city’s Economic Development Commission and the Health Care District Board that governs Alameda Hospital, and she also co-chaired the 2000 Measure O library bond campaign. On the campaign trail: Ezzy Ashcraft has been endorsed by the Alameda Journal and the East Bay Express, Peninsula Congresswoman Jackie Speier and a host of local notables. Who’s paying for her campaign: Ezzy Ashcraft’s campaign, which has pulled in and spent about $48,000 so far, has been largely self-financed, though she has received $5,000 from Perforce Software founder Chris Seiwald and $1,000 from Bladium Sports & Fitness Center.

Rob Bonta: Bonta, a deputy city attorney in San Francisco, believes that enhancing and preserving Alameda’s public services is the most pressing issue facing the Island, and he touts his experience on the Health Care District Board – which, he said turned around a longstanding deficit at Alameda Hospital – and on the city’s Economic Development Commission as keys to dealing with the issue. He said the city needs to find new and creative ways to generate revenue, and to make it easier for people to do business on the Island. And Bonta said the city needs to bargain effectively with employee unions to manage future pension liability. At Alameda Point, he’d consider a range of options based on financial soundness, job creation and traffic mitigation. On the campaign trail: Bonta has been been endorsed by the Alameda County and city Democratic clubs, the East Bay Express, a host of construction trade and other unions and a long list of local electeds. Groups who oppose Bonta’s candidacy have accused him of supporting SunCal, though he said he voted against Measure B, SunCal’s development plan and contract for the Point, and that he wouldn’t bring them back to town. Who’s paying for his campaign: Bonta, who has collected more than $57,000, has been criticized by opponents for raking in a host of donations from off-Island, though he has said the money came from friends, family and colleagues. (One recent $500 check came from Theo Epstein, the general manager of the Boston Red Sox.) Bonta also picked up a $2,500 check from Perforce Software’s Seiwald.

Adam Gillitt: A businessman who offers social networking, print and web design and other creative services, Gillitt is a newcomer to Alameda’s political scene who said he jumped in the race because he’s concerned about government mismanagement and a lack of a citizen voice on Alameda’s City Council. Gillitt said the redevelopment of Alameda Point is the city’s most pressing issue, and that he’d work closely with citizen and community groups to come up with a plan to move forward on; he said he doesn’t think houses need to be built at the Point now, and that he would instead seek to reuse the buildings that are there to generate income for the city. He said he wouldn’t cut public employee pensions and that he would use his professional skills to make the city more transparent (one focus area: increasing the city’s data storage so it can retain e-mail for longer than 30 days). On the campaign trail: Gillitt has tangled with the local Democratic club, which he accused of attempting to exclude him from their endorsement process, and also with local bloggers whose positions on candidates and issues he disagrees with. Who’s paying for his campaign: Gillitt’s campaign hasn’t reached the $1,000 threshold that would require him to file disclosure forms.

Tracy Jensen: Jensen is a senior services administrator in Oakland who has been on the school board for the past eight years. She said getting the council to work together as a team is the city’s most pressing issue. Jensen said she would seek to set up a public-private partnership to redevelop Alameda Point, similar to the one San Francisco has set up for Treasure Island, in order to foster a “slow-growing mix” of small business, retail, residential and light industrial at the Point. On the economic front, she said she would seek to expand on the existing business base at Alameda Point and to provide incentives for businesses to be “greener”; on pensions, she said she’d communicate openly with public employees in an effort to change benefits for new hires. And she said she’d work to preserve linkages between the City Council and school board. On the campaign trail: Jensen has secured an endorsement from the Alameda Journal. Who’s paying for her campaign: Jensen’s last campaign filing showed just shy of $900 in contributions.

Beverly Johnson: Johnson, an attorney who has served as Alameda’s mayor for the past eight years, is circling back for a second term on the council. Johnson and her campaign haven’t yet responded to several requests to respond to a questionnaire from The Island asking why she’s running and what she would do if elected, though she has said she believes this election is about SunCal, the developer the city hired in 2007 to redevelop Alameda Point and then fired in July. On the campaign trail: Johnson has said SunCal’s reps told her they would get involved in the election if they weren’t allowed to stay on at the Point, and Johnson believes recent television ads and a mailer attacking Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, contribution checks from an affiliate of the developer and mailers attacking Johnson and Vice Mayor Doug deHaan and Councilman Frank Matarrese for their support of Gallant – which were sent by a nonprofit group whose donors are secret – are proof the developer believes they can get back on the Island, a charge Johnson’s opponents have strenuously denied. Who’s paying for her campaign: Johnson has collected around $24,000 for her council run, with a little more than $17,000 of that coming from her failed supervisorial bid (for which she received $10,000 from Harbor Bay developer Ron Cowan) and a DBA associated with her campaign.

Jeff Mitchell: Mitchell, a journalist and communications consultant, said he’s running to restore openness and transparency at City Hall. To that end the former Alameda Journal editor, who also serves on the city’s Sunshine Task Force, said he’d seek passage of a comprehensive sunshine ordinance and look for fresh senior city staff who he said would embrace his mission of openness – and make City Council meetings, which often run into the wee hours of the morning, more accessible to public input. Mitchell said he thinks the main issues facing the city are the redevelopment of Alameda Point and fiscal sustainability. At the Point, he’d seek to hire a new master developer who could implement a plan similar to the one Peter Calthorpe designed for SunCal – with a plan to manage the traffic the development would generate. On the fiscal sustainability front, Mitchell said he’d consider a two-tiered system offering fewer benefits to new hires and that he’d look at bonds to pay off existing retiree obligations. He said he would also seek to create a more business-friendly climate at City Hall. On the campaign trail: Mitchell has been hammered by opponents – specifically, Gillitt and Johnson – for work he did for San Francisco PR man Sam Singer and SunCal after the developer lost Measure B (which he said he voted against) and his opposition to a campaign finance reform ordinance Johnson had supported. Mitchell has countered that he was honest about the relationship he had with the developer (he disclosed it on his campaign blog in August) and that convinced SunCal to sign project labor agreements with local unions and to donate $20,000 to the Measure E school parcel tax campaign. Who’s paying for his campaign: Mitchell has loaned his campaign about half the roughly $3,000 he’s raised so far; the rest has come from small contributions – none of which exceed the contribution limit the campaign finance reform ordinance would have set.

Jean Sweeney: A retired schoolteacher, Sweeney is perhaps best known for finding the contract language that allowed the city to purchase the former Alameda Belt Line property for just under $1 million. She also serves on the Restoration Advisory Board, a civilian board that oversees cleanup activities at Alameda Point. Sweeney said keeping the city solvent and developing Alameda Point in a way that helps accomplish that mission are the most pressing issues facing the Island; she said businesses will come if the city has its financial house in order. Sweeney said she would support creating a city-sponsored local development corporation to redevelopment the Point, and that she’d seek to focus on bringing clean industries (she said she thinks 900 homes on the Point is “just right”). And she said everyone will have to work together to resolve concerns over unfunded future pension liabilities. On the campaign trail: Sweeney is one of several candidates who got contribution checks from SunCal affiliate Argent Management in an envelope with a bogus local return address. Sweeney, who was a stanch opponent of SunCal’s who appeared at countless city meetings to voice her concerns about the developer, said she cashed the check but that she returned the money when she figured out where it was from. Who’s paying for her campaign: Sweeney has taken in about $9,500 from local residents, with many of the contributions from local preservationists and vocal Measure B opponents.

Lena Tam: Tam, a manager for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, is running for re-election after serving one term on the City Council. She told The Island she wants to maintain Alameda’s quality of life by funding schools, public safety services and transit-oriented development and providing jobs and housing at Alameda Point. A former hospital board member and local League of Women Voters president, Tam said she thinks city leaders need to listen to residents and to work together to manage the city’s priorities. At Alameda Point, Tam envisions a master-planned development with retail and commercial development, parks and open space and a mix of housing types; she said the community needs to talk about how much of each should be built there. On pensions, Tam said she’d consider restructuring the city’s bond obligations to cover existing obligations and work with the unions to address new hires. And Tam, who said she’s advocating for open, transparent and honest government, was behind the creation of the city’s Sunshine Task Force, which just okayed a draft sunshine ordinance. On the campaign trail: Just prior to the start of campaigning, Tam became the subject of a leaks investigation in which she was accused of sending confidential information to SunCal and Alameda’s firefighters union. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said she didn’t have enough evidence to pursue a case, and Tam’s supporters have characterized the investigation as a “witch hunt” designed to drum Tam out of office for asking questions about Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant. But detractors have said city officials were right to pursue the investigation. Opponents have also more than hinted that Tam – who was SunCal’s strongest defender on the Council – might bring the developer back to town if re-elected, a claim she has vehemently denied. She was also featured in a positive mailer offered by Taxpayer Network, a nonprofit group whose funders are unknown (Tam said she was surprised by the mailer). Who’s paying for her campaign: Tam has raised just shy of $32,000 for her run, which includes $2,500 from the local firefighters union, $1,000 from Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, $500 each from Oakland City Attorney John Russo and state Assemblyman Sandré Swanson. She also received $500 from Mayer Brown, the law firm that employs Robert Hertzberg, a former state Assembly speaker who worked for SunCal after they lost Measure B; Tam said the money came through a friend of the family who works for the firm.

3 Comments »

  • Hi Michele:
    A few clarifications to the above.
    1. First, my campaign has always been designed to be grassroots-focused and centered around the basic idea of restoring transparency and openness to a local government that no longer cares about the input of its citizens. If we don’t first stop and hit the “reset” button, nothing else in the long run will matter. I have confidence that the many thoughtful Alamedans out there get this and will support my campaign on Nov. 2. If not, I will be disappointed but I do have a life and I’ll be happy to get back to it.
    2. Yes, I’m a communications consultant and, yes, I briefly worked for Sam Singer on his SunCal account. And, yes, during the short time I consulted with Sam’s firm, I was proud to get the Island’s many labor families a project labor agreement. Ask anyone in the labor movement and you’ll find out what a big deal PLAs are. I was also proud to have convinced the company to provide $20,000 to the Yes on Measure E committee.
    3. It’s also important to point out that I stand opposed to SunCal having any further dealings with our city. As you point out, I did vote No on Measure B — and would do so again in a heartbeat. And, while Bev Johnson and Jean Sweeney trotted down to the bank recently to deposit their $250 SunCal contribution checks, I just returned mine to Irvine with a nasty note on it saying their money wasn’t welcomed or appreciated. Where was their own campaign finance oversight and due diligence? And, yes, I do find it unfortunate that Bev Johnson can somehow justify taking $10,000 from local developer Ron Cowan. Shameful. (I won’t even get into the very real possibility that she’ll likely abandon her office, if elected, in order to run for the State Assembly in 2012.)
    4. Related to the Sunshine Task Force, let me point out that Bev Johnson tried twice this summer (while she was in the middle of her $100,000 witch hunt against Lena Tam) to kill the Task Force — a panel populated by great Alamedans like Gretchen Lipow, Dr. Tom Charron and Rob Wonder. Folks ought to really ask her about that. Again shameful. Going forward, I’m happy to report that the Task Force has recently completed work on a comprehensive Sunshine Ordinance which will be presented to the City Council soon.
    5. Finally, let me specifically clarify your piece on the issue of my stance on campaign finance reform for Alameda. I’m looking forward to the Task Force taking up the issue at its November 10 meeting. But before the pro-Bev Johnson revisionists get ahold of this, let’s remember that the mayor’s would be proposal for campaign finance reform came out of nowhere in June. There was no chance to conduct public hearings — hearings that Johnson herself scoffed at during that meeting. And, it is with irony that Johnson would already be in violation of her own rules (if they had been adopted.) No, my position — like that of the council majority that overruled Johnson and deHaan at the time — was that campaign finance reform rules are too import to rush and get wrong, that the public should have a real say in their creation and that the best place to draft such an ordinance would be under the auspices of the city’s Sunshine Task Force. Thankfully, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I hope folks will remember to attend the Task Force meeting on Nov. 10. All public input is sincerely welcomed.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    Jeff, dude.

    Your contract with Singer/SunCal ended just as you started your campaign for City Council. You were also on the Sunshine Task Force WHILE you worked for SunCal. And your campaign is financed mostly with your own earnings ($38K) that came from whom?

    Funny how these direct mailers from the Taxpayers network so closely mirror your own campaign literature, and contain information that you have direct access to.

    You admit your connections freely, here, while questioning the ethics of others using information fed to you by SunCal yet again:
    http://mitchell4council.com/2010/10/21/campaign-press-release-three-seeking-office-take-suncal-contributions/#respond

    Really, it’s you, Jeff, who should have dropped out of this race a long time ago if you had any ethics whatsoever, or interest in transparency or the best interests of Alameda.

  • Christopher Tyler says:

    I couldn’t imagine how in the world anyone would vote for Beverly Johnson. But, I actually think the voters will vote her in.

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