Emeryville will be faced with an important decision on Tuesday and many have observed that this election may represent a paradigm shift in city politics: a shift to a progressive majority in our City Council for perhaps the first time. This election may represent the end of what I’ve referred to as “The Developer Era” of Emeryville Politics, an era divided by ideologues that contend our city has sold out to developers … and self-described pragmatists that think it was a necessary measure to rebuild our city after an exodus of manufacturing jobs and EPA brownfield cleanups. I have no idea who’s going to win on Tuesday, but I can’t help but wonder about a few things that could be major factors in Tuesday’s Election.
The Battle to be Emeryville’s New “Kingmaker”
Pacific Park Plaza resident John Gooding and his Quadric Group consulting firm have historically held the role as Emeryille’s “Kingmaker”. Fundraising and support by Mr. Gooding has generally punched your ticket to a seat in the Council Chambers I’ve been told. Gooding has taken a step back this election it seems and has not taken a clear stance on any candidate by providing matching funds to Donahue, Martinez and Bauters. This election, resident advocacy group R.U.L.E. (Residents United for a Livable Emeryville) is making a push to claim this title.
R.U.L.E. is putting forth two candidates (Dianne Martinez & Scott Donahue) in an attempt to seize a council majority along with Mayor Asher (endorsed and supported by R.U.L.E. although never an “official” member I’ve been told). Outgoing Councilmember Jennifer West (A former R.U.L.E. member herself) and Mayor Jac Asher have been incessantly beating the “Scott & Dianne” drum through their personal blogs, email lists and even robocalls. I’ve been reminded several times that R.U.L.E. endorsed candidates WIN elections (All but one candidate, Shilen Patel in 2007). The Election of both Scott & Dianne may cement R.U.L.E. as Emeryville’s new Kingmaker.
Slate Voting vs. Bullet Voting
The Martinez/Donahue camp have aligned themselves and pooled their resources together to form a “slate”. Something I’ve never been privy to but explained that it has a history in Emeryville. It’s an effective Political and marketing strategy for two candidates with the same views. The implications are that if you align with one, you should align with both and mindlessly check the boxes of both candidates. Maybe I’m “old school”, but It’s my belief that each candidate should win or lose on his or her own merits and stand on their own (This is not the POTUS!).
The counter to the slate is called “Bullet Voting“. Although there are two available candidate slots, you are not actually required to vote for two candidates and the best way to ensure that your candidate wins a seat is by only voting for one candidate. This could be a factor in the upcoming election.
Early Endorsements by City Council
The cutoff for submitting your declaration to run for council was back on August 13th. Despite this, the Martinez & Donahue Slate had already secured the endorsement of four Councilmembers. Now, you wouldn’t hire someone for a job without interviewing all the candidates, right? So why would you endorse someone without knowing who all the candidates were and what their qualifications are? Part of this appears to be blind allegiance, some of it encouragement and at least part of it was to thwart another attempted bid by exiled former Councilmember Ken Bukowski.
It’s clear to the casual political observer in Emeryville that the endorsement “Bandwagon” was a preemptive maneuver to thwart Ken Bukowski’s political bid. Most of us agree that Ken still has a role in Emeryville Politics but is more effective as a consultant. Ken comes with quite a bit of political baggage and he’s dissolved many of his alliances over the years. It’s clear that Ken has “worn out his welcome” as a Councilmember and the other members did not want to work alongside him. In the end, Ken decided to run despite these objection so the early endorsements were for naught.
Now technically, Councilmembers are allowed to endorse as many candidates as they want (A bit of a cop-out in my opinion), but only Ruth Atkin has exercised this by endorsing Bauters as well. Outgoing Councilmember Kurt Brinkman was the only Councilmember to show restraint and wait until the cutoff before evaluating and ultimately endorsing only Bauters.
Now it’s hard enough to get people to run in this city (minimum wage to get beat up on Political blogs and at public comment period? Where do I sign up!). It’s clear that at least part of the reason for the early endorsements was encouragement. Finding qualified Councilmembers is no easy task so agreeing to endorse them so they can add this to their candidate statement and give them a running start is a big first step.
Can John Bauters play Catch-Up?
John Bauters entered the race later than the other candidates while he waited for some personal & professional circumstances to unfold that would impact his availability and commitment to running a campaign (He and Ken both filed on the last day). Since then, John has been playing catch-up but appears to be making up ground … but is there enough time left? Every time John has had the opportunity to speak amongst the four candidates, he’s come out the clear and decisive winner amongst people I’ve spoken with. His late entry into the race meant conceding some key endorsements including the coveted Democratic Party Endorsement.
Bauters has actually out-fundraised the other candidates as of the latest FPPC 7/1 – 10/18 filing period and actually has many more total contributors to his campaign with nearly all of them coming from individual donations. By contrast, the Donahue & Martinez slate actually have a higher number of contributions from PACs and other special interests or campaign committees when compared to other candidates. All the candidates have roughly the same number of contributors originating in Emeryville: Bauters with 15, Martinez 14 and Donahue with 13 (Source: FPPC Form 460).
Emeryville’s anemic Voter involvement
In 2011, Emeryville has the second lowest voter turnout in Alameda County behind Union City. The City has tried to remedy this by switching to an even year election cycle that historically gets a higher voter turnout (and apparently saves the city money).
The reasons for this are unclear but theories involve our large rental population (who statistically vote less), and the idea that we are a victim of our own success (There just isn’t anything to get too riled up about!). For a population of over 10,000 people, elections in this city can be decided by the smallest of margins. In fact current Mayor Jac Asher won her Council seat in 2011 with only 924 votes cast for her (Atkin receiving 839 and Davis 822).
Will Negative Campaigning have an impact?
For some, John Bauters has been a breath of fresh air. Others point to his relatively short tenure in our city (Two years) for their lack of trust. There’s a side of the Emeryville political establishment who’s reaction to the emergence of John Bauters has been “Who invited you? Get in line Buddy!” and treated him with a high-degree of skepticism. There seems to be an inherent mistrust amongst some core Emeryville residents of anyone who hasn’t been a resident for eons (Perhaps this is another reason for our low involvement?).
Detractors of Bauters have pointed to his campaign funding coming from outside of Emeryville when in fact the most recent 7/1 – 10/18 FPPC filings indicate John has more Emeryville donors than the other candidates (John is in fact a midwest native and a majority of his family & friends live outside of California. John also works in Sacramento as a Public Policy Director so naturally many of his contacts are from there). I’ve even heard whispers of John being portrayed as someone who doesn’t in fact live in Emeryville and I personally find this deplorable. I’ve personally been to his residence at the Besler Building and there’s absolutely no indication of any nomadic behavior.
Will the R.U.L.E./Tattler connection help … or hurt the Scott & Dianne Slate?
I’ve attended a handful of R.U.L.E. meetings and can attest that they are a fine group of people with good intentions … but they represent a very narrow spectrum of Emeryville residents and their numbers are few (Less than 30 it’s been estimated). For a group that preaches transparency, they are conspicuously not a very transparent bunch and finding information about who they are and what they stand for is no easy task. They have no web presence (A Facebook page with 18 Likes that hasn’t been updated since 2011). In fact, one of the main sources of information about them is through the political blog, The Emeryville Tattler. Whether it is in fact perception or reality, some residents equate editor Brian Donahue’s views to be representative of R.U.L.E.’s views and this may come at the cost of a larger base of members.
I’ve referred to the Donahues as Emeryville’s version of “Camelot” before because of their deep and historic involvement in advocacy for our city. Candidate Scott Donahue’s brother is Emeryville Tattler Editor Brian Donahue and Scott is married to Secret News Editor Tracy Schroth. Emeryville needs their involvement and I’ve personally advocated for Brian many times (Most recently when he was removed from Nextdoor.com for violating their policies). I consider Brian an advisor and an ally, but his strong opinions and tactics have made political enemies. The thought of Brian pulling the strings in Emeryville politics is “a scary thought” I’ve been told anonymously.
What will Ken Bukowski’s impact be?
Ken has been vocally passive about this election. He hasn’t sent out a single mailer, sought endorsements or even put up a candidate website (part of this because of apparent unpaid FPPC fines from 2011). In fact, the only reason Ken apparently ran was to insure the issues were discussed and the election was not handed over to the two R.U.L.E. candidates. Ken still has some loyal followers from his many years on council and the name recognition, but which way will they vote … and which candidate will it help/hinder?
To understand the complex dynamic of Emeryville politics means understanding the lengthy battle that’s been waged over development. Battles mostly waged by a small but vocal resident minority that have generally been on the losing end. These lost battles have created a tension and mistrust in our city between residents and developers. Emeryville is just now reaching a critical mass of engaged residents that can defend the interests of residents.
This is the first Election that I’ve witnessed through the lens of the editor of Emeryville’s #1 news site (According to Google Search rankings) and I don’t take this responsibility lightly. I want my readers to know that I advocate for residents first and foremost and I have no allegiances to any politicians. I’ve met, chatted with all of them and I think they presume that whatever they say to me is on the record unless otherwise stated. I’m not going to gush over them when they do their job and I’m not going to be overly critical of them when they do something I disagree with. This is what I want the voice of The E’ville Eye to be.
That being said, let’s take a fresh voter poll:
(NOTE: If you are unable to vote, it may be because you are sharing an internet connection with someone whom has already voted).