City manager scandal hovers over Alameda council race

Alameda City Council candidates, left to right, Jim Oddie, Tony Daysog, John Knox White, Robert Matz, and Stewart Chen.

STORYLINE The balance of the current progressive Alameda does not appear in jeopardy this election year, but the fallout from the city manager’s scandal highlights a clear split between the block of five candidates in the field. Two at-large seats on the five-person City Council are up for grabs. The field includes Councilmember Jim Oddie, who is up for re-election for the first time, and the open seat vacated by Councilmember Frank Matarrese, in order to run for mayor this year.

MEET THE CANDIDATES Councilmember Jim Oddie was elected in 2014, grabbing the second seat in the three-race. Since then he has burnished progressive credentials when it comes to labor, minimum wage, and affordable housing, among other issues. His early stance on rent control (he was for it, but in tempered tones) has evolved into being the most vocal proponent of renters’ rights in the field. An independent investigator’s report last spring, though, found Oddie likely violated a City Charter provision against council interference with the duties of the city manager. In his case, sending a recommendation for a union-backed candidate for the open fire chief position to the city manager, and using city letterhead. Oddie also serves as district director for Assemblymember Rob Bonta. Ex-Alameda Councilmember Tony Daysog, who lost his seat in 2016, is banking as the reason for his return, on a perception that City Hall is riven with ethics problems. Daysog has risen like a Phoenix numerous times before. He’s served on the council during two separate occasions, mixed in with a run for mayor, Congress in another district, and so on. In turn, Daysog is well-known in Alameda politics and also known as a hard-working campaigner. He draws from many of the same moderate-to-conservative voters who also support Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer. But, whereas, Spencer’s antics are a bit Trumpian, Daysog has more depth in the vein of Speaker Paul Ryan. Former Planning Board member John Knox White is well-known within Alameda’s political circles. Like Oddie, Knox White is the other clearly progressive candidate in the race, but without baggage. Going back to his service on the planning board he has supported new housing in Alameda, and has long been a strong supporter of alternative traffic policies and modes of transportation. By day, he works for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Knox White also believes the island city should take a regional lead in dealing with sea-level rise. Stewart Chen served two years on the City Council starting in 2012. In 2014, Chen lost out in a close three-person council for two seats, with the top two finishers and Chen roughly winning one-third of the vote. Up until the last campaign finance period, Chen led the entire field in fundraising. He has spent a disproportionate amount of his war chest on social media and ad buys in the local Asian American media. Robert Matz is an Alameda attorney, a first-time candidate for local political office, and a bit unknown. As the campaign has gone on, he has morphed closer to matching Daysog’s rhetoric that City Hall is amok with dishonesty and special interests running the show. Matz has also highlighted his outsider status, while focusing on the city’s unfunded liabilities.

“That was an interesting answer considering the attorneys for Alamedans in Charge are the same attorneys that he had for his lawsuit.” -Oddie, at a forum, responding to Daysog saying he is unaware if he had met with the group behind the landlords-backed Measure K, which also filed Daysog’s lawsuit hoping to change the measure’s ballot statement.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE
Finance Alameda council
PAST RESULT (2014, 2 seats)
1. Matarrese 11,103 (36.30%)
2. Oddie 10,231 (33.45%)
3. Chen 9,113 (29.79%).

OUTLOOK The breakdown in this race is pretty clear. There’s two seats available and only two progressives. If you believe that Alameda’s electorate is clearly on the trajectory to a long-standing progressive majority, then Knox White and Oddie are without a doubt deserving of your two votes. Knox White looks headed to winning first place. If not, it’s almost certain he finishes at least second. Like Bonta and Malia Vella before him, Knox White seems like a future star in East Bay politics. What happens next is anyone’s guess. It comes down to this: What do Alameda voters, no matter their political ideology, know about Oddie’s charter transgression? Second, what do they think about it? The worry for Oddie is that regular voters have some recollection and that it was something bad. If so, they will quickly disregard voting for him. If Oddie loses it will be because he chose to avoid talking about the charter violation and left island voters with these scant pieces of negative information. What he was accused of doing really isn’t the worst thing in the world and could have been chalked up as a dumb move. Case closed. But Oddie has money and many mailers touting his case. The smart thing he’s doing is strongly advocating for his base, the public safety unions. There’s way more people in Alameda who side with the unions than not. The Daysog and Chen dynamic in this race is interesting. Both are Asian Americans, but Daysog’s base appears to be older, white voters, whereas as Chen is tapping into the growing fundraising and political power in the East Bay’s Asian American community. Daysog was seemingly plotting his campaign the day he lost his seat in November 2016. During that race he won a healthy 20 percent of the vote. If he isn’t successful next month, he can blame the fact that he hasn’t widened his base like maybe Chen is trying to achieve. Here’s the cold hard facts: Daysog topped out at 20 percent two years ago. In the meantime it’s very possible Daysog lost 5 percent of his supporters just from natural causes.

VOTER GUIDE
LEFT Knox White, Oddie
RIGHT Daysog, Matz

PREDICTION
1. Knox White
2. Oddie
3. Daysog (winner only if Ashcraft wins)

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