OAKLAND | Feb. 28, 2012 | As the race for the 18th assembly district heads for the final stretch to the June 5 primary, Joel Young’s ability to focus on both sides of any question is becoming more common.

At a forum last week sponsored by the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Young showed an uncanny predilection for saying everything while actually saying very little. He threaded the needle on an all-cuts budgets, alienating Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, supporting high-speed rail along with the positives of charter schools.

Peralta Community College Trustee Abel Guillen also attended the event. Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta, another candidate, had a representative participate in the forum. Bonta spoke to the club earlier before leaving to a scheduled council meeting in Alameda.

Going into the 45-minute forum, Young indicated on a questionnaire he was favorable to making further cuts to the state budget. Both Guillen and Bonta checked “no” on the same questionnaire. At the Humanist Hall on 27th Street in Oakland, Young appeared to contradict that answer. A club member asked whether he would follow a past pledge by Swanson against approving an all-cuts budget even though it risks losing power within the Democratic caucus. “Sandre has been a mentor to me. I have no problems doing that,” answered Young.

Whether or not Swanson accepts Young as a “protege” any longer is up for some question among Oakland insiders. Young has still been heard trumpeting the support of Swanson’s for his candidacy. After initial support from the termed-out Swanson, his backing for Young significantly dropped after allegations surfaced last year concerning Young and an ex-girlfriend who charged he hit her in the face last March. At the time, Swanson was readying his own run for State Senate against Sen. Loni Hancock. He dropped out last month.

Later in the program, Young openly challenged Swanson’s ability on one of his own Oakland-specific pieces of legislation. When asked how he would recoup millions for the struggling Oakland Unified School District lost to the state following a takeover a few years ago, he appeared to offer how he could do better.

“I think the bill was very convoluted because it had such an elimination of debt it went straight to the suspense file in the assembly,” said Young. “I would look at what Sandre Swanson did with AB 609. I would propose it a little differently. I would probably segregate the relief of debt versus the issue of fines associated with county irregularities with state takeovers.”

Young’s love for Swanson immediately followed by an apparent passive aggressiveness towards the man he hopes to the replace in the assembly also filtered through to other subjects.

On the issue of high-speed rail in the state, Young took both sides. “We need high-speed rail,” he said. “I certainly think it could be transformative, however, as a transit operator, the thing that really concerns me about it is the fact of where are the operation dollars going to support that? We could have a great high-speed rail that doesn’t go anywhere because we can’t afford to operate it.”

When Guillen answered a question regarding the usefulness of charter schools in Oakland–also taking both sides of the issue–Young followed suit. “Like Abel said, there are a lot of problems with some charter schools in our community, but there are some charter schools that are doing well and we should try and replicate that in our school districts.”

Even when Young attempted to make a joke about working with Republicans in Sacramento punctuated with his own loud guffaw, it appeared to fall flat. “I think I work with several Republicans on my AC Transit board quite well,” he said before pausing, “that was a joke.”