Kaplan, De La Fuente Focus On Increasing Public Safety At First Public Face-Off

PHOTO/Shane Bond

ELECTION ‘12//OAKLAND COUNCIL//AT-LARGE | Sometimes highly-anticipated prize fights start with both contenders hopping around the ring and no punches thrown. A feeling-out process until the fisticuffs begin. Well, hopefully, that is.

In the first face-to-face meeting on the campaign trail for the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council Wednesday, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, the current holder of the seat and Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, both stuck repeatedly to well-honed talking points surely to be heard from here to November.

Kaplan, De La Fuente.
PHOTO/Shane Bond

“We’ll succeed when we get the jobs in, and the guns out,” Kaplan told the sparsely-attended forum at the Kaiser Auditorium. Kaplan repeated slightly different riffs on the themes of reinvigorating Oakalnd’s economic engine, in part, by taming its stubbornly high crime rate.

The forum, sponsored by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce also featured candidates Carol Lee Tolbert, a former Oakland school board member, and business owner Theresa Anderson-Downs. The event, though, lacked any of the increasingly volatile exchanges found recently at city council meetings. Both Kaplan and De La Fuente kept it disarmingly cordial.

De La Fuente, who chose not to run for re-election after 20 years in his District 5 seat including the Fruitvale District in favor of challenging Kaplan, consistently addressed his embrace of public safety. However, some critics charge his support in the past for police layoffs belies a different story when it comes to his stance for safer streets. “All the rhetoric in the world isn’t going to stop people dying in the streets,” said De La Fuente. “What we are facing on the streets of Oakland is priority number one.”

On the issue of the city’s professional sports teams, Kaplan and De La Fuente differed, if not, in terms of their priorities for retaining the A’s, Raiders and Warriors in Oakland, with Kaplan being more optimistic. “Let’s face it, the A’s don’t know the way to San Jose,” said Kaplan, and adding the current Coliseum City proposal will bring shop owners, bars and restaurants to the city along with fans and conventioneers to the area, said Kaplan, while also creating jobs.

De La Fuente was less sanguine saying he would only turn his attention to the Coliseum once crime in Oakland is sufficiently quelled. “I learned from my mistakes,” he said, referring to the botched return of the Raiders in 1995. “They are in the business of making money,” De La Fuente said, believing the public sector should no longer have a role in financing stadiums.

For two of the biggest names in Oakland politics, both Kaplan and De La Fuente appeared nervous before Wednesday night’s forum. While the other candidates were speaking, De La Fuente was seen on numerous occasions seemingly entranced in deep thought while rhythmically rubbing and gripping his hands near his face.

There is no doubt the stakes are high in this race. Kaplan, one of the city’s more popular council members and viewed as a rising star in local politics, would certainly diminish her stature by being unseated. Many also speculate De La Fuente will use the at-large seat, if gained this November, as a springboard for the office he most covets—mayor in 2014.

The field’s far lesser known candidates, particularly Anderson-Downs, sounded a far more contradictory tone to the more experienced and nuanced platforms of the two sitting council members, who stood firmly for increasing the city’s police force. On numerous occasions, Anderson-Downs advocated the opposite, saying the focus should be on children and schools rather than adding officers and increasing their benefits.

Tolbert said her top priorities included public safety, development and focusing on public schools. When she advocated for attracting big box stores to Oakland, however, one member of the audience unleashed a loud hiss. A fifth candidate for the at-large seat, Mick Storm, did not attend Wednesday’s event.