FINAL WORD ON 2012//ESSAY | This was the year East Bay politicians learned there was always a second chance for their errors. Not because they deserved that uniquely American second act at redemption, but because the political establishment has no mechanism for saying no to them. Whether it was Mary Hayashi stealing clothes from Neiman Marcus in October 2011 and then expecting us to believe it was benign brain tumor that made her do it, Bill Lockyer being accused by his wife of supply her with illegal drugs or Jesus Armas secretly fucking his colleague on the Hayward school board, nothing it seems could convince any of our public officials to ride off into the sunset. Instead, they stuck around like that deadbeat roommate you thought you had kicked out of the apartment two months ago.
Hayashi stole $2,450 in high-priced clothing, pleads no-contest to a lesser charge during the first week of the year and still thought she could win Nadia Lockyer’s vacated seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. How could she think that? Well, nobody in in the State Assembly admonished her or asked her to resign and party leaders in Alameda County were too afraid to confront her. There is no Republican Party in the county to apply pressure on her, so, she continued on until she began flirting with the idea in May of running for supervisor. She didn’t get much support from local elected leaders, but few firmly told her she was crazy because they also believed she could win and feared her wrath. Ultimately, voters got the message and delivered a shocking third place finish for Hayashi. But, guess what? Hayashi is still a likely candidate for the state Senate in two years. Even if she loses again, the winner of that race will have to expend of large portion of their own war chest to do it.
If the party establishment is too afraid to speak truth to power when it comes to Hayashi, it surely won’t make a peep when it comes to Bill Lockyer. Somehow, through the harrowing arc of nasty addiction afflicting his wife, Billy Boy got off scot-free when, in fact, his actions from literally buying a seat on the board for his wife, who was already dealing with substance abuse during the 2010 campaign, to his filing for divorce this summer while she was at her lowest point back in rehab makes him not only cad of the year, but a serious recommendation for naming the award in his honor.
Sure, Bill Lockyer is something of a laughingstock nowadays. But, those in Sacramento doing the laughing don’t do it in front of him. He is still feared and like Hayashi and all the rest, nobody will tell him no. So, he trots on thinking he can run for state controller in 2014—the last known statewide office outside of governor he has not served. At the same time, we again fail to listen to Nadia screaming for help this summer when she told a reporter it was Bill Lockyer who helped in part feed her addiction for illegal drugs a few years back. Oh, you mean, when Lockyer was the state’s top cop as attorney general? Yet, the media reported the accusation and conveniently dropped it in the wastebasket when nobody was looking.
Hayashi, Quirk, Armas, Heredia, Swalwell in 2011.
Hayward’s now-former school board member Jesus Armas is no different when it comes to avoiding the consequences of his actions. You would think the presence of a sex scandal among the people elected to protect and educate your children would be cause for cutting your loses, but not Armas and not the public officials in Hayward who looked away. Why? Because Armas is more than a former city manager and school board member, he’s the fixer. He’s the guy who brings the deals together and divvies up the spoils of the public’s treasury in a manner that keeps in mind there is no honor among thieves. In some ways, Armas’s credentials for fixing dilapidated Hayward’s school system appeared sterling. He should have been the guy who had the bureaucratic resume to turn it around, but Armas clearly showed that being the face of the school board was not the best place for the man who effectively prospers in the shadows. As a consultant for the city or school board, he could get away with banging whoever he wanted, but as school board president, such actions became everybody’s business. You may think he didn’t get a second chance, but he has and will continue to do so. Armas may have lost his seat on the school board, but did he really? The architects of Hayward gleaming City Hall built the dais in council chambers to accommodate seven council members, but the school board contains only five members. Let’s just call Armas the school board’s invisible sixth member doing what he does he does best, making the deals happen. He lost his ability to lead, but his power to make himself money at the city’s expense is undiminished.
“So, why did the East Bay political establishment blow up in 2012” is easily the most asked question I get. I have done a lot of thinking about it. Is it just an anomaly or the beginning of a trend? I believe it is the latter. What occurred is what I call the “The Theory of the Three Families.” Without asserting criminality, the East Bay’s power structure over the past 30 years has loosely featured control of Oakland by Don Perata, further south Bill Lockyer ruled the roost and somewhat overlapping those areas and the South County was Pete Stark.
They all ruled their kingdoms well. Of course, not without scandal, but the cynical view of government says good deals beneficial to the public cannot be made without a bit of political skulduggery, or, as Obama says, “government is imperfect.” The upshot of the Perata/Lockyer/Stark dynasties was everything ran smoothly. The three dons picked and choose the winners and losers and everybody played by the rules in hopes of staying on their good sides. However, the problem with political leaders who maintain power based upon their own personalities is one day they suddenly get old and eventually die. What will Apple become without Steve Jobs? What will the power structure in the East Bay become without Perata/Lockyer/Stark calling the shots?
I think 2012 proved to be a preview of what is to come and it will not be pretty. Perata has been battling Cancer, Lockyer has personal problems no 70-year-old man should have and Stark was deposed last November by a young up-and-comer. The old hierarchy is in its last days and more consumed with their mortality than keeping order. This is why Lockyer can hoist his wife to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and have it blow up spectacularly a year later damaging himself and his legacy. Did Lockyer gain power three decades ago because of stupid ideas like putting his drug addicted wife in public office? It was a proposition destined to fail. Stark did not become a noted congressman because he literally gave his rival the guns to shoot down his legacy. But it happened.
What will come next will continue to shock us and will involve every punk politician with a smidgen of ambition attempting to rise to the top of the new world order by force. One amateur after another will gain control for a short time before being taken down. This is personified by Swalwell, a ridiculously unprepared and laughably animatronic congressman who is already viewed as weak even before he takes the oath of office next year. Predictably, Ellen Corbett and others who still ascribed to the tenets of the old order, have designs on overthrowing Swalwell, the new don with the leadership profile of Fredo Corleone. In fact, the most dire circumstance arising from this regional upheavals is the assumption its next leaders will not be the sort of Democrat most of us are accustomed to, but a middling moderate with troubling shades of conservatism. Swalwell didn’t just beat Stark last month, he did it with the help of the Tea Party and moderates in the Tri Valley. Swalwell may initially vote no different than Stark would have in Congress, but his election on the backs of conservatives did a great deal of collateral damage to the Alameda County Democratic Party. With Swalwell as their pied piper, conservatives won seats on the Pleasanton and Livermore City Councils while leading the charge in defeating Measure B1, the all-important county transportation initiative.
I can’t tell you how this will all play out in the end. The people who will eventually take control of the situation may not even exist yet and the same shenanigans that plagued 2012 will continue, I can assure you. However, the key to our future rests solely on heaping loads of accountability on the public officials we have now. If they can get away with violating the public’s trust once or twice, these assholes will assuredly try a third and fourth time. Political power in this region must not rest in the hands of a few people, but in yours, the citizen of the East Bay.