CHAPTER 7 | In the fall of 2012, San Leandro Councilmember Jim Prola was gearing up for a likely winning re-election campaign against a relatively unknown and unremarkable member of the city’s school board when he received a phone call from Bay Area News Group columnist and editorial writer Daniel Borenstein. The paper was in the midst of interviewing City Council candidates in San Leandro and, Prola, one of the most consistently liberal council members in the East Bay, was missing. In addition, Prola is also one of the busiest public officials in the region and often the city’s sole representative at events across the East Bay. In fact, Prola was at one such event when Borenstein called again and left a nasty message. However, Prola is one of the few elected officials who is wise to Borenstein’s tricks and right wing editorial slants and after playing phone tag throughout the afternoon, the councilman decided to blow off the Bay Area News Group editorial board consisting of one—Borenstein. Days later, BANG endorsed Prola’s opponent and two other San Leandro council candidates who also stoked populist anger towards city employee pensions. The paper noted “Prola couldn’t find the time in his busy schedule.” All three endorsed candidates were defeated in November. Prola’s calculation the BANG editorial board is merely a one-trick pony that bases its backing solely upon whether a candidate will pledge to reform city employee pensions is a move other liberal candidates should follow in the coming weeks. You don’t need their endorsement and in fact there is evidence their right wing bias is so out of whack with the liberal Bay Area that no matter how well they make the argument, lefty voters will simply turn the page to the comics section, assuming they actually read the increasingly irrelevant paper.
Daniel Borenstein, above, has only
one trick–pension reform.
A few months before meeting with candidates in San Leandro two years ago, Borenstein issued his most infamous endorsement, this time in the Oakland 18th Assembly District race, when he touted Joel Young’s superior knowledge of the state’s finances. “Young, an attorney, demonstrated the greatest understanding of the complexities of the state budget and the challenges of key policy issues, including, most notably, public employee pension funding,” said the editorial. However, there was no mention of Young’s considerable sins, including allegations made in a lawsuit he smacked his girlfriend in the face. In fact, at the moment Young, Rob Bonta and Abel Guillen were meeting with Borenstein, Young’s candidacy had imploded to the point he was willing to tell anybody everything they wanted to hear, including busting pensions. Borenstein fell for Young’s rhetoric back rub, but the voters didn’t.
Further south in the 20th Assembly District, Borenstein backed Bill Quirk primarily on the Hayward’s City Council’s stern position versus its city employees. “We opt for Quirk in part because of the more effective leadership he and his city have shown controlling employee benefit costs.” In the city’s council race, Borenstein again based his endorsement only on pension reform and ridiculed the candidate up for re-election, Francisco Zermeno, for not telling him what he wanted to hear when it came to pensions. “While each of the four candidates we endorse disagrees with us on at least one of those issues, they each demonstrate solid analytical skills. And that’s what we’re looking for. It’s also one reason we did not endorse Francisco Zermeno’s re-election. His comments indicated he was unwilling to recognize the need for more painful cuts that will be necessary to keep the city solvent.”
Similar to the Young endorsement, there were other dubious selections made by BANG without any pertinent information outside of pensions. In the same Hayward City Council race, Borenstein gave glowing praise to Greg Jones, a former Hayward city manager, for his superior budget acumen. “That’s why we were particularly impressed by the financial expertise Jones would bring to the City Council,” said the editorial. “It would be refreshing to see elected leaders who understand the intricacies of budgets and can navigate the complexities of public employee retirement benefits.” Jones, you see, is a conservative, who routinely hides behind the banner of “no party preference.” It’s not the only thing Jones was hiding at the time.
The editorial noted Jones is married to Anna May, a former Hayward council member and that’s where the problems began. If Borenstein, a reputed defender of government transparency, had a functioning reporter on the scene, he would have been outraged that the pension buster he was endorsing actually circumvented sunshine laws in Hayward when he entered the extramarital affair with May and neglected to tell the City Council. In the meantime, Jones and May gallivanted around town and even attended closed session meetings together while hiding their secret romance. Jones came close to termination, according to some former council members, when the council and staff confronted Jones. He later resigned.
These are the perils voters face when paying mind to endorsements from the Bay Area News Group, no matter how you see the city employee pension debate, it’s only a very small piece in a set of often complicated questions facing each city. Yet, Borenstein never focuses on any issue but pensions. Why? Because the Bay Area News Group is paying dearly for its mass layoffs of years past and low morale. The resulting brain drain has left an enormous gaps in its institutional knowledge when it comes to East Bay government and politics. In short, Borenstein relies on the pension issue because it’s the only thing he knows more about than the candidates he’s interviewing. Furthermore, if you’re a candidate unwilling to tell Borenstein you’ll stick it to city employees, you should just stay home. You won’t win with him, but you will likely win come Election Day.
|Asm. Rob Bonta|
A UNITER, NOT A DIVIDER “There’s only eight percent of Republicans in the district. I need to work with Democrats,” said David Erlich, the Republican opponent to Assemblymember Rob Bonta in the 18th District. However, he didn’t offer any daylight on which issues he would stray from the GOP platform. “If people don’t work together, nothing works,” said Erlich, a San Leandro resident. He urged wiping away ideological name tags, instead referring to both Democrats and Republicans as simply “Americans.” Bonta is using the appearance of a Republican challenger to his own benefit. In an email to supporters, he used Erlich’s candidacy as a Republican to pitch for additional contributions to his large campaign war chest. In reality, Bonta had over $300,000 in his re-election account, as of Dec. 31, while Erlich didn’t even file a campaign finance report.
CANDIDATE APATHY? In both Hayward and San Leandro, you can’t come close to enticing viable candidates to run for mayor. In the case of Hayward, three members of the City Council are on the June ballot, but after a controversial labor vote last month, the Service Employees Union International could not recruit a suitable challenger, despite red-hot vows to do so. In San Leandro, Mayor Stephen Cassidy seems vulnerable; not for his policies, but for how he continually alienates some residents, his colleagues and city staff with dictatorial tendencies. Just like his time on the city’s school board, it’s difficult to find council members who personally like Cassidy. Termed out Councilmember Diana Souza is a likely opponent, but otherwise, there’s no candidate in sight who could utilize the city’s ranked choice voting and make life difficult for Cassidy. There has even been quiet pushes to recruit former mayors Shelia Young and Tony Santos into the race, if anything, to complicate the RCV tabulations, which returned a surprise victory for Cassidy in 2010. However, neither seems to have any interest in returning to City Hall. Last week, Santos said he would challenge Cassidy to a rematch of their 2010 race, if only the ex-mayor was younger.
Hayward council candidate
Sara Lamnin may have the union’s
strong backing this June.
HERE AND THERE This week, SEIU Local 1021 confirmed Hayward City Council candidates Sara Lamnin and Rocky Fernandez are the two candidates identified by the union to unseat Councilmember Marvin Peixoto, but the union has not yet made an official endorsement, it said…A member of the Alameda County Green Party said it is not sure whether it will direct resources to Oakland mayoral candidate Jason “Shake” Anderson. They are still determining whether he is viable candidate…Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has been saying since at least December she expects a stadium deal with the Raiders by the end of summer. With a few sports columnists strongly asserting this week the Raiders are leaving for Los Angeles (likely being fed Raiders talking points), her continuing faith in a deal had better happen or she risks a difficult setback in her re-election campaign smack in the middle of the final stretch to November…It’s possible no other Republican candidate come out of last week’s state convention in better shape than 10th State Senate District candidate Peter Kuo, who not only caught the eye of party leaders who placed his race on the party’s watch list this June, but he thinks he has a path to place in the top-two by way of converting a number of no party preference voters to his side…The five candidates for the open 10th State Senate District race are scheduled to meet at a candidate’s forum, April 9, Fremont City Hall, 6 p.m. Expect a wild one, folks.
|Rep. Eric Swalwell|
ONE MORE THING Rep. Eric Swalwell apparently is showing no remorse for poor ethical standards contain in my article in the East Bay Express. It was revealed two weeks ago, Swalwell hired the daughter of one of his largest campaign contributors to work in his congressional office. Bill Watkins and his family, including the Swalwell staffer have contributed over $25,000 to Swalwell since 2012. The breach of ethics elicited no response from the rookie congressman, but he took to Twitter in an attempt to make a point, albeit, in a passive aggressive manner, rather than answer my questions directly. Swalwell retweeted this comment from a constituent referencing the staffer named in the article, “I’d like to thank Ms. Watkins in your #Hayward office for her prompt and efficient handling of my request today. #GoodWork.” Nevermind, the article made no reference to whether Kelly Watkins was an exemplary employee or not, but detailed yet another instances when Swalwell offered donors a quid pro quo arrangement, first with developers in the Tri Valley, and now with taxpayers money.