Ignacio De La Fuente, Rebecca Kaplan
PHOTO/Shane Bond

ELECTION ’12//OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | The Oakland At-Large council race roused caustic barbs between political major leaguers, incumbent Rebecca Kaplan and District 5 incumbent Ignacio De La Fuente, as they butted heads over public safety issues at a candidate forum in Chinatown’s Asian cultural center last Wednesday.

The most aggressive accusation emerged from De La Fuente who accused Kaplan of marching with the Occupy movement which he claims to have decimated Oakland businesses and threaten public safety. De La Fuente touted that he was the “only vocal person on the council,” that spoke against the actions of Occupy as they “smashed windows and destroyed businesses. It is these sorts of things that make us look bad locally and internationally.”

Kaplan denied such accusations, firing back at De La Fuente, “My opponent makes things up. I was never part of the Occupy encampment. There was only one councilmember that was and she’s campaigning with him and the fact that he would make this up is a concern.” The councilmember that Kaplan was referring to was Desley Brooks who spent a night in the Occupy Oakland encampment during the fledgling days of the movement and one of the leading advocates for cutting police officers in 2010 along with De La Fuente. It was an unlikely alliance between two incumbents who once were at odds with one another prior to 2010. De La Fuente has tried to brand himself a man who lavishes the importance of public safety which Kaplan utilized as a peculiar position considering his action in laying off 80 police officers two years ago.

De La Fuente argued for giving police the tools necessary to perform their jobs such as gang injunctions and curfews. He defended the lay offs because he argues if they did not then they would have to cut down on senior centers, BART and recreation centers. De La Fuente also argued for political support for police from the top and to stop “caring more about the people who are committing the crime rather than those who we are suppose to protect.” “The lay offs didn’t even save us any money because we had to stop collecting Measure Y money for a year,” responded Kaplan. The Measure Y program is a parcel tax that provides $20 million a year for violence prevention programs, police officers and fire services.

The deficit issue in 2010-11 resulted in the city’s inability to appropriate funding for 739 police officers as the legislation required and thus the City stopped collecting Measure Y Funds. But in the fall of 2010 Measure BB was passed which reinstated funding for Measure Y. Kaplan also added that crime in Oakland decreased by 15 percent in both 2009 and 2010 prior to lay offs in the police department. De La Fuente was critical of parcel taxes, advocating for working with what they have and giving police tools to perform their job more efficiently rather than implementing more taxes.

According to De La Fuente Oakland has some of the highest taxes compared to other cities in the Bay Area. Furthermore, both Kaplan and De La Fuente want to change the country’s perception of Oakland which has seen recent revitalization in Jack London Square and along Broadway where new restaurants, clubs and bars have sprung up in recent years initiating a new look and feel for the perennially and economically strapped City which was recently named one of the most violent city’s in America.

The candidate debate was a stark departure from the candidates’ previous meeting at the Kaiser auditorium the week prior where Kaplan and De La Fuente avoided personnel attacks and stuck to talking points on gang injunctions, public safety and economic stimulus. While the former meeting revolved around various issues this past debate was all about public safety as the Asian community’s questions asked about what is being done to crack down on crime. Half way through the forum over half of the crowd had left to which the host told candidates that they were concerned about their safety while walking home or to their cars.

After the debate De La Fuente quickly left the forum while Kaplan hung around speaking with people in the audience. She told The Citizen personally about her surprise about the Occupy accusation, “I have no idea what that was all about because I’ve never participated in the Occupy movement.” The other two lesser known candidates were Carol Lee Tolbert, former Oakland public school board member, and Mick Storm, a software engineering manager. Tolbert appeared at the last meeting where she advocated for the importance of Oakland’s businesses and deal with crime to increase public safety. Storm on the other hand offered a case during the forum laying out statistical analysis concerning public safety projects that failed, such as a recent radio system for the police that he says cost too much and didn’t do much. “There is a lot of money to be spent, it just isn’t being spent right,” said Storm.

His advocacy brought recognizable praise from Kaplan, who physically showed her admiration for Storm’s arguments. Much of Storm’s advocacy didn’t depart too wildly from Kaplan’s although he took issue with a question about Oakland’s financial circumstances and its comparison to Stockton’s recent bankruptcy. “I disagree with the context of that question. Most of Stockton’s problems were based on the housing market when the mortgage crises happened. It was affected way worse than Oakland as a result,” said Storm. Storm isn’t accepting any money because he thinks money should be taken out of politics.

Shane Bond is a regular contributor to the East Bay Citizen.