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The Island comments: Arizona’s aftermath

Submitted by on 1, January 17, 2011 – 12:01 am17 Comments

It was the lull between Christmas and New Year’s, and Jon Stewart was on the radio. It was a repeat of an interview with the late-night funnyman about his then-pending “Rally to Restore Sanity,” and Stewart was addressing the extreme climate that has developed around political speech.

“I think we always have to remember that people can be opponents, but not enemies,” Stewart said, as our car pushed against the monotonous gray stretch of highway and bare-fingered trees toward the airport, and home. He blamed the media for failing to help people tell the difference between the two.

“The culture of corruption that exists in the media doesn’t allow us to delineate between enemies and opponents. And that’s where we sort of fall into trouble,” he said.

Stewart’s rally came at the close of what many local political observers deemed the nastiest election season on record, which included a flurry of “educational” mailers targeting some local candidates and essentially baseless labels being applied to others. And that winter day would end with the City Council’s decision to place Alameda’s top two city staffers on leave, a move that would inspire more heated rhetoric.

The line between enemies and political opponents is one that gets crossed here on the Island with a regularity that I find troubling for a community so small. Nationally known talking heads may swipe at each other and the politicians they chatter about from the comfort of their respective TV studios, but there’s little chance they’ll run into each other at Walgreens.

At a bare minimum, the vitriol has at times been gross enough to drive people away from public participation: Facing someone who disagrees with you on a parcel tax measure or development proposal or political candidate is manageable, but when someone says they hate you for your point of view and starts badmouthing your family, that’s another thing entirely. Here on the Island, there are people who fear for the viability of their business or even their personal safety because of political stands they have made – and the personal attacks they have endured as a result.

Whether a climate that seems to reward personal attacks led to the tragic murder of six people in Tucson on January 8 and the shooting of 14 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, no one can honestly say. And as Stewart fumbled for meaningful words to say in the aftermath of the attack, I thought about things here at home. As the cloud of ugliness that hangs over civic affairs here continues to darken and people seem increasingly unwilling to respect simple differences of opinion, I find myself wondering: How long before something like that happens here?


  • Richard Bangert says:


    You’re scaring people when you say things like this: “I find myself wondering: How long before something like that happens here?”

    Political discourse did not cause the killings in Tucson. Mental illness caused it. The man could have just as easily targeted his math teacher because he thought he was being controlled by numbers.

    The most reasoned discussion of the tragedy took place on CNN’s State of the Union program Sunday hosted by Candy Crowley http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/state.of.the.union/

    • Richard: In response to your comment – honestly, I’m scared. I have reported in a number of places, and I have never been somewhere where political discourse escalated to a level that is so nasty and so personal – and there are many, many examples of where this has crossed over to a point of discomfort and even fear for the people who have been subject to some of this stuff. So I guess I feel the need to ask: Why is this okay? And where does it end?

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    Michele: the best cure for preventing it happening here is to report the news impartially, not to serve only one side, as you seem to so often do. Just one example is your list of community “News and Views.” They represent only a small minority of Alameda views, and has not been edited or updated in years to remove inactive sites, or sites that duplicate each other, like the CADC, In Alameda, Blogging Bayport and Stop Drop and Roll, which are all voices for Lauren Do and John White, (who you now let blog here). Where are links to sites that represent opposing views?

    If you want to create a healthy, open atmosphere, where you feel safe, allow for safe open discussion. Currently you have established a site where one minority group which has muscled its way into prominence and tries to dominate the conversation, and dismisses anyone who brings up any other relevant facts with ad hominem insults, as you have seen with your attempts to modify your comment policy.

    I agree with Richard- the shooting in Arizona was carried out by a mentally ill individual, and people are jumping to blame political discourse when, in fact, he planned and pulled the trigger, political discourse did not.

    You are doing Alameda no service by wringing your hands over Arizona if you don’t act to make your site an accurate representation of the news and views of ALL of Alameda. Stand up and be for something, Michele. Either be completely impartial and represent everybody, or fly your flag and pick a side. You’ve gotten by long enough dancing around the edges and picking and choosing, that’s why you’re scared.

    • david burton says:


      One small step towards civility would be to address each other by our proper names. John’s name, as I’m sure you are aware, is John Knox White (Knox not being a middle name, but part of his last name). Your disagreements with John are well known and I’m not in any way suggesting that you should not make your views know; I’m just hoping that part of the discourse might include addressing each other in polite terms. Thanks.

  • Lauren Do says:

    Thanks for this editorial Michele. It’s important to remember that even though we all disagree, we still are community members and neighbors. We can critique someone’s position on a particular issue, but it doesn’t necessitate the level of vitriol that has become almost normal in the political discourse both locally and nationally.

    And thanks for doing your part, Michele, by reporting the news as accurately and objectively as possible. While, as humans, we all have our biases and that is sometimes hard to separate — given that you actually live and participate in the community that you cover, I think you do a damn fine job.

    While I’ve made my opinions about local political issues widely known, I know that past experiences have made me wary about sharing a whole lot of personal details about my own life because of what you discussed above.

    And, to answer your question to Richard Bangert, or maybe a question posed to everyone who participates in Alameda political discourse, it’s not okay. It’s not okay to be reluctant to participate in the political dialogue because someone might try to destroy your personal livelihood. It’s not okay to be afraid of joining in the political discourse because someone might turn their attention to your family members because they disagree with you. It’s not okay and we should recognize that and try to take steps to ensure that the political climate in Alameda one that may be lively and engaging and possibly heated at times, but never gets to the point where people become turned off to the point of tuning out.

  • david burton says:

    Richard’s point, that the shooter’s mental illness, is the ultimate “cause” of the incident is true, but there is one important detail to keep in mind.

    I heard a report this week about an in depth study that was done on all of the assassins, and would be assassins, in the US of the last 60 years or so. The author(s) of the study interviewed every one of the perpetrators they could (if living)and the driving force for most, if not all, was fame. And, what better way to gain fame than attacking a figure of some notoriety or controversy?

    The point I take away from that is that the relentless verbal/written attacking of someone, possibly combined with publishing details of where that person lives, COULD make that person an attractive target for an unstable person looking for recognition. That seems like a good reason to make a better effort at being civil in our relations with one another; that and the old golden rule that most of us were taught growing up.

  • Kate Quick says:

    While I make no correlation between incivility and the Arizona attack, I do think we have experienced a very poisonous atmosphere here in Alameda where lots of people seem to think it is “cute” or “really scoring” to conduct personal attacks, use sexual slams, reveal information about the opponent’s personal lives or livelihoods to damage them, etc. It is not only not civil, it is demeaning and disrespectful of another human being; something we are not called to be.

    Additionally, the flinging around of false “facts” to harm others is dishonest and manipulative. Once you have made a statement in public that suggests that someone is a bad person, true or not, it puts them in a position to have to refute it or suffer irreparable damage to their reputation. A lot of people have not been trained to separate fact from opinion, and when they read lies stated as facts, they don’t discern that difference. We have had far too much of this lately, and we need to be sure of the ground we stand on before we rush to judge or make false claims that damage others.

    Conspiracy theorists, negative thinkers, curmudgeons, go away! Rational folks, truth speakers, and people who like to work cooperatively and collegially with others to solve our community’s problems, stick around and make yourselves better known!

    • elliott.gorelick says:

      How about the oft repeated statement by many that Adam “beat up” on an old lady. Kate, I haven’t seen you jump into the discussion to suggest that people tone down their remarks. Certainly there was some sort of altercation, but the gleefulness that people repeat the story and jab at Adam about it is unseemly. Now maybe he would act the same regardless, but why would you expect him to tone down the rhetoric when constantly being poked with that.

  • So let me just jump back in here for a minute, because I think what I’m hearing is that there are some folks who feel like they’ve faced personal attacks as a result of their honest efforts to keep this town running while others – whose commitment to our Island is just as honest – feel like their views have been marginalized and dismissed. True? And if so, how can we break this cycle and get to a place where we may disagree, but we can still respect everyone’s commitment to making Alameda a good place?

    • elliott.gorelick says:

      By condemning those who make these kind of attacks. Leah Williams made false complaints to the DA and the Board of Pharmacy in an attempt to personally destroy me because she lost an election. Noone publically said a peep about how disgusting that was.

      • elliott.gorelick says:

        Also, there is a real culture of arrogance that pervades Island politics. While I don’t endorse every tack of the Action Alameda supp0rters, it is impossible to ignore that it is a reaction to the cliquishness that is “official” Democratic politics in this town. If you are not in that clique then good luck; you will be either ignored or criticized. It’s insulting in a way that is as uncivil as any string of four-letter words.

        • Jack B. says:

          For whatever it’s worth, I totally agree. The aura of superiority can be maddening.

          • elliott.gorelick says:

            Well, apparently Lauren Do took umbrage at the idea that there might be a clique and went on attack. I called her a “jerk” which, in retrospect, I think was rash ( because others recoil at such language). Nonetheless, she owes me an apology that will not be forthcoming.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    I think my foray into politics is a good object lesson as to why most people choose to look the other way than to stand up and say what they think and try to make a difference for one’s town and neighbors. My interest is in Alameda’s well-being, and I took considerable time and my own money to try to try to contribute and get involved at a deeper level. My return in ad hominem attacks when I try to discuss issues speaks for itself.

    As Elliott points out, the “official” Democratic organ of this City and its members are the central cause of our community’s division.

    If you really want an answer to “how can we break this cycle and get to a place where we may disagree, but we can still respect everyone’s commitment to making Alameda a good place?” then we need to return the discussion to the general public, and not allow it to be controlled by the select few of the CADC under the guise of representing Alameda.

  • Ron Salsig says:

    I started covering Alameda politics in 1986, and quickly landed a staff position on the Times Star. There were many reporters covering Alameda back then, our newsroom bustled. There were some citizens who were outspoken, even with personal attacks. But they were informed, on a daily basis. In a way, their discourse was healthy. I love the way the citizens of Alameda become involved with local politics. That is true health. The Times Star died on June 13, 1996. We were all called into the foyer and told we were fired. Today citizens in Alameda are less informed. That is where stereotypes fill in, when real information becomes less available.

    Michele is a seasoned reporter who felt a duty. She is our lifeline. I have never seen her write a news story with any kind of bias. She does this as a citizen, not for personal gain. She deserves our respect, and admiration. If you must attack her, attack the substance of her stories. Not her personally.


  • elliott.gorelick says:

    Ron, I wasn’t attacking Michelle. She was fair to me in the reporting of the complaints. I was talking about the leading lights of the community who stood silent as this woman (Leah Williams) tried to get me kicked out of school, denied the professional license I have spent 4 years and over 100,000 to obtain, and investigated for fraud by the DA. Their reaction has been silence. If you think I am exaggerating then you can ask Michelle. I believe she refrained from reporting all of that out of a deference to me and a reporter’s assessment of how relevant it was.

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