|The large field of Oakland mayoral candidates before the start of the #Oakmtg-sponsored forum Aug. 21 at City Hall. PHOTO/Steven Tavares|
OAKLAND | MAYOR | There were few fireworks during a two and a half hour Oakland mayoral candidates forum last Thursday hosted by the grassroots #Oakmtg Twitter hashtag group and even less new information on the candidate’s positions. However, one brief statement from Joe Tuman may have attracted the most positive response from the online community and represented the most poignant moment of the night.
After Oakland Mayor Jean Quan trumpeted her mayor’s summer job programs had put a record 2,100 youths to work, she then suggested it was a factor in lowering crime in Oakland. At a forum, when just three of the mayoral candidates were randomly picked to answer each question, unfortunately for Quan, Tuman was in the trio chosen to respond and he was ready to pounce on Quan’s assertion.
“We in this city often times equate children with violence, forgetting, more than likely, they are the victims of violence more than perpetrators,” said Tuman. “The vast majority of the violent crime in this city is done by adults, not children. To suggest the 2,100 jobs that we’re talking about is responsible for the decrease in violence again promotes a myth that children are responsible.”
The Twittersphere agreed with Tuman’s rebuttal. “Tuman’s comment about not blaming kids for crime is dead on,” said @FruitvaleLocal. Davida Small tweeted, “’Violent youth’ should not be an acceptable phrase bandied about so casually.”
REGRETS? One audience question put Quan on the defensive when it asked how she would have handled the Occupy Oakland protests of 2011 differently. Not much differently, said Quan, except she would not have cleared the encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza while away in Washington, D.C. The answer elicited a brief guffaw from the audience. Later, Quan added, the aftermath of the protests positively affected the police department. It changed how they train their officers to handle protests in Oakland and over 40 officers have been disciplined since, said Quan. “That made a difference. We have learned from that, but violence is not acceptable,” she added, whether from protesters or the police.
VIEW FROM ABOVE Following the forum, I spoke to two Oakland residents who sat next me in the gallery. Both white (a older man and a younger woman), they said they were both totally undecided voters. And while they had been following the mayoral race, Thursday night was the first time they heard the candidates in person. Here are their first impressions: On Joe Tuman: both thought he had good ideas, but they felt like he was “not a nice person.” On Courtney Ruby: both came away from the forum very impressed by her background in trying to reform city government. However, the gentleman asked, “Is she electable?” On Jean Quan: they sensed she was disinterested throughout the forum. Lastly, neither likes ranked choice voting.
SOUND BITE KING For some unknown reason, we don’t subject our political candidates to proper debates in the Bay Area. It’s a strange omission and one that greatly favors incumbents and those with money to spend. However, a full-fledged debate where journalists probe into the candidate’s arguments and challengers have the opportunity to confront their opponents is a great levelers of the playing field for underfunded candidates. On Thursday, little known Oakland mayoral candidate Saied Karamooz may be the poster boy for how a candidate without much financial heft can do more damage with his biting rhetoric than any $15,000 barrage of mailers can achieve. Karamooz was the first to shell Oakland Mayor Jean Quan during the #oakmtg forum when he charged her with repeatedly misstating facts in public. Later, he labeled Quan’s youth summer job program “a bad joke,” but it was during his closing statement that Karamooz may have uttered the quote of the night when he called for change in Oakland government. “The fact is these coin-operated politicians don’t run on promises of mediocrity or abysmal results. Yet, election after election it’s all we get.”
KAPLAN STRONG While the #oakmtg forum moved along briskly, some candidates seemed on cruise control, while others lacked energy. However, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was energetic, exuberant and clearly prepared to pour as much information into each response as possible. Not only did she sound positive about Oakland, but she was also in a giving mood, detailing a future administration that offers free citywide wifi, longer library hours and a major retail and sports complex at the Coliseum. In fact, giving low information voters in Oakland the impression they might have free wifi is something they will remember. That is, if they ever get themselves to the polls in November.
WHATEVER HAPPENS? In her closing statement, Mayor Quan made a comment that seemed wistfully ominous. “It’s an incredible honor to be the first woman and the first Asian American mayor in Oakland,” said Quan. “Whatever happens, it’s been an amazing honor to serve this community.” You can read into the statement however you choose, but it hardly exudes confidence for her re-election this fall.