ELECTION ‘12//OAKLAND COUNCIL DIST 3 | Who said ranked choice voting puts a damper on campaign fisticuffs? Battle lines became more visibly drawn Thursday night in West Oakland as the six candidates for the City Council’s District 3 began searching for the best ideas to fix the perennially underutilized section of the city.
Similar to a candidates forum two weeks ago at City Hall, the themes of putting people back to work and keeping them safe in West Oakland continue to be major issues. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s controversial “100 blocks” plan was also spotlighted as the beleaguered mayor sat in attendance at the Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church on 12th Street. Four of the six candidates appeared to hedge their bets on the efficacy of the program. Damon Eaves, however, called it a “gimmick” and referenced what he calls the historic “Oakland Agenda” of high crime poor relations with police. “When you call the police, they don’t come.” he said. “As long as people are getting killed, people won’t want to move here.”
Lynette Gibson-McElhaney was less skeptical of the mayor’s plan. “We can’t thrive with tyranny and threats to our lives,” she said before asking for the help of the public, instead. “We want your help to end the violence and what can you do to help? We’re not going to service our way out of this. We need to create work and hope.”
“We all have something to pick with the mayor or [Councilwoman] Nancy Nadel,” said Alex Miller-Cole, who said the corner of Market Street and 24th Street has never been safer because of the 100 block plan. “We all have to give the mayor, city administration time. Nobody should criticize if you don’t have a solution.”
In many ways the issues and potential windfall for West Oakland with the future development of the Army Base brought some of the night’s most pointed and passionate comments. “I believe the marginalized deserve first dibs on those jobs,” said Nyeisha DeWitt. “I believe giving back is our first priority and essential if you want to be in this community.”
Eaves signaled a similar message, but his comments—likely the most controversial of the night—might make local labor unions pause. Eaves alluded to the history of unions excluding blacks from membership and forcing many of them to formed their own construction companies. “Those are the groups that should be getting first crack at jobs at the West Oakland Army Base,” Eaves said to some audible murmurs in the audience. “Am I right? That’s just the way it works.”
Sean Sullivan said West Oakland needs a feeder system for viable future employees. “We need to make sure people are trained apprentices and certified so the developer has no excuse not to give those jobs to West Oaklanders.” Citing the Port of Oakland’s proximity to China’s revved up economy, Derrick Muhammad, also a Longshoreman, said the opportunity to expand the port will give Oakland’s break boat cargo facility “more viable and more competitive” along with creating more jobs. “Time is money and it’s an advantage for Oakland,” he said.
With about 100 days before the Nov. 6 general elections, which feature the use of ranked choice voting in this six-person race, the possibilities of crucial coalitions are hard to detect. However, figuring out who is far less than enamored with each other is easy. In fact, Eaves may have pushed the limits of decency when he attempted to delineated differences between himself and DeWitt and Muhammad, who revealed they were high school dropouts before later attaining degrees in higher education.
“So [Nyeisha] dropped out of high school with Derrick,” said Eaves as he rose from his seat and mistakenly referred to Gibson-McElhaney, instead of DeWitt, before correcting himself. “You’re all a lot braver than me. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.” The comment elicited some groans and may have been the impetus for DeWitt sticking around longer to refute the jab. She had previously alerted the audience she would leave the forum early to visit of friend whose child was to be buried the next morning.
The personal and political difference between Miller-Cole and Sullivan, however, have long been evident. As a local activist asked each candidate to pledge support for a voter registration drive next month, Sullivan offered 18 volunteers from his campaign. Not to be outdone, Miller-Cole immediately offered 20 volunteers. When asked afterwards about the rancor between the two, Miller-Cole said. “I hate that asshole and you can print that.”