John Van Geffen: This Election’s “Change” Candidate – or Protest Vote?
In a crowded field, one Democratic candidate has arguably distinguished himself as the “Change” candidate of this election. John Van Geffen has stood up to and even called out the existing council and their supported candidates for their ideological approach to problem solving and attempt to push regional issues in our city instead of focusing on resident priorities.
“If you want Emeryville to continue being called a ‘Guinea Pig’ by the national media, then vote for the three candidates being supported by the entire council* because they will continue [this]” he noted at the recent League of Women Voters Candidate Forum referring to candidates Medina, Patz and Bauters. “A vote for me is a vote for having a city council that’s going to attack issues that affect Emeryville residents and Emeryville Businesses. I’m going to put our people, our businesses and our development first, before I start trying to tackle the entire Bay Area’s problems.”
Winning is a bit of a long shot for Van Geffen though and even if he does win, he’d be only one of five voices. Would Van Geffen’s voice of dissent make a dent in the sometimes groupthink mindset that our council seems entrenched in?
A recent Emeryville homeowner with a young daughter, Van Geffen began mulling the idea of politics while on paternity leave. “Me and my wife started walking the neighborhood and I started realizing how disconnected we are as a city. Why does this path abruptly end here? Why can’t I easily get there?” Van Geffen decided to throw his hat in the political ring to “find a way of getting involved that would ensure my voice and values are heard.” he noted in his E’ville Eye Candidate Questionnaire.
“I look at politics a bit differently than the other candidates I think” he noted over coffee at Rudy’s Can’t Fail. “Being a ‘public servant’ to me means you’re there to literally ‘serve’ your constituents, not impose your own personal ideology. Our Council seems more interested in the message than understanding any actual impacts.”
Van Geffen is running a self-funded campaign and is free from special interest money that generally comes with a tacit understanding of access and influence. Being self-funded has its drawbacks though. There is no money for glossy mailers or robocalls. And since he hasn’t exactly ingratiated himself to Emeryville’s political elite, there will be no major political party endorsements. Van Geffen did get an important nod recently from The East Bay Times.
Van Geffen is a political outsider without any alliances with any existing councilmembers and getting a dose of how politics works in this city and our region. “Once you declare your candidacy, you realize how much nepotism there is in local politics. I interviewed with the ACDCC (Alameda County Democratic Central Committee) only to notice that some of the decision makers are the same people on the Sierra Club … and The League of Conservation voters and the Alameda County Labor Council, etcetera …”
Mayor Dianne Martinez is of course throwing all her weight behind the candidates that will help her fulfill her political goals as an elected member of ACDCC. A role where she effectively gets to hand-pick which Emeryville candidates they endorse (Martinez is not a voting member until 2017 but she can as an alternative and still wields influence). Not surprisingly, Van Geffen was not given strong consideration for this critical endorsement. With a ballot as dense as this years’, few voters have time to research local candidates and will often mindlessly check the box recommended by the party they trust.
Many small businesses have rallied around Van Geffen for his promise to champion their plight and work toward a regional minimum wage. “I really like that he is already willing to act on behalf of small biz before he’s even elected.” noted Scarlet City Espresso co-owner Jen St. Hilaire after listening to John at the Little City Emeryville Town Hall. “I feel like this shows he is not just ‘all talk’ and is serious about representing our voices if he gets elected.” Van Geffen has also promised to advocate for stronger renter protections.
Van Geffen was the only candidate to speak out in opposition of our council’s “Fair Work Week” ordinance that was deemed the highest priority by our council. “When you go out and actually speak to residents, you hear what their priorities are. Bike-ability, public safety, traffic … not being a model city for experimental legislation. I agree in principle with many of them, but these are regional problems that we can’t tackle alone. Nobody I’ve spoken with was even aware of Fair Work Week”.
Van Geffen has a tough road a head of him. He doesn’t have a neighborhood ‘base” like an Engel. He doesn’t have the endorsements of a Bauters, he doesn’t have the PAC money of a Medina or the political resume of a Patz. Van Geffen does have the “relatability” factor in a city with an emerging young, professional and educated population in our city. Van Geffen is the consummate “guy you’d like to grab a beer with” candidate.
Van Geffen appears unfazed by the stress that a candidate should be feeling about this time. “I have a pretty existential view of the world” he says calmly. If things don’t work out for Van Geffen on November 8th, he’s committed to staying active and helping further the role of residents and small businesses in our city. “My family has planted roots here in Emeryville”.
* CLARIFICATION: The much referred to “Council Majority” of Martinez, Asher & Donahue are all backing Christian Patz, Ally Medina and John Bauters (not the “entire” council as John references above). Councilmember Atkin has only endorsed candidate John Bauters.