The Campaign Column: ‘Tis the season
The Campaign Column: ‘Tis the season
Updated at 5:16 p.m. Thursday, October 30 in BOLD
With Election Day less than a week away – and formal campaign finance disclosure deadlines safely behind us – independent groups are unleashing tens of thousands of dollars to fund a mountain of last-minute mailers touting (or trashing) local candidates and ballot measures.
A pair of mailers that make some pretty bold claims about the accomplishments of some City Council candidates – and a piece attacking council candidate Frank Matarrese – caught our attention over the past week, prompting us to conduct a quick fact check.
A mailer paid for by the Los Angeles-based Golden State Leadership Fund PAC, a veritable dumping ground for cash from unions, Pacific Gas & Electric, Indian gaming tribes and others - one tribe donated $100,000 earlier this week, online records show - credits Councilman Stewart Chen with helping the city improve its credit rating, create jobs at the in-development Alameda Landing shopping center, increase the size of Alameda’s public safety forces, open a housing complex for low-income Alamedans with disabilities and acquire a grant for a planned Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.
The second campaign piece that caught our eye is a letter from Alameda Firefighters Association president Jeff DelBono says candidate Jim Oddie “helped save Alameda Hospital.”
“As district director for our local State Assemblymember, and as a member of the Hospital’s Management & Finance Committee,” Jim Oddie guided the hospital through difficult times to keep the ER open – protecting our community hospital for the future,” the letter says.
A third piece, which attacks Matarrese, exhorts voters to “protect Alameda’s term limits” from the onetime councilman. It’s from a group calling itself the “Alameda County Business and Technology Consortium 2014,” which lists its address as that of an Oakland accounting firm that does political work.
The committee is listed in the state’s campaign finance database as “In Support of Jim Oddie for Alameda City Council 2014, Stewart Chen for Alameda City Council 2014, Lena Tam for BART Director District 4; Alameda County Business and Technology Consortium 2014. No contributions or expenditures were filed as of Tuesday afternoon.
Chen, who joined the City Council in December 2012, was not actually a member when the body signed off on the funding and property transfer necessary to build Jack Capon Villa, the housing complex for developmentally disabled Alamedans. He wasn’t on the council when it approved Alameda Landing or Target. City staffers were responsible for applying for (and winning) grants for the new Jean Sweeney park, and also, arguably, the budget and other changes needed to raise the city’s credit rating.
Council members did sign off on grants for police and fire department staff, though a city official quoted by a blogger who delved into campaign claims on Chen’s website said the money was used to backfill existing positions, not create new ones.
Chen did, however, draft a resolution affirming the city’s support for a wildlife conservation area on Alameda Point property recently handed over to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This is just a reaffirmation of what we believe in and what we agreed to in 1996,” Chen said in March 2013, referring the 1996 plan that details how the base will be reused. “I’m not against the VA moving to the Point. I just want (them) to know where we as a community stand.”
When asked about the veracity of the mailer’s claims, Chen demurred.
“(In) 21 months on the City Council and I can honestly say that I (have) given my full devotion to serving the people of Alameda,” he wrote in response to our questions about the mailer’s claims. “I diligently prepared and studied all the agenda items before each Council meeting and I actively participated in the healthy discussion before casting my vote. I am proud of my voting record and can honestly say that all my votes were for the good for the community.”
Oddie, meanwhile, did serve on Alameda Hospital’s finance and management committee between 2010 and 2012, in what he characterized as an advisory and oversight role. But he only showed up for three of 10 meetings in 2012 for which minutes were posted online, and had been off the committee a good six months before hospital managers announced they were negotiating what was being hailed as a life-saving affiliation deal with Alameda Health System, in June of 2013.
Oddie’s boss, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, helped broker a deal that kept Alameda and San Leandro hospital workers out of Alameda County’s pension plan. Unions representing the workers, who became Alameda Health System workers after affiliation and transfer deals closed, said they would consider other, cheaper benefit plans. And while other staffers who worked the deal couldn’t be reached for comment this week on Oddie’s hand in it, a key player in reaching it vouched for Oddie’s efforts in a letter to a local newspaper.
Oddie said he obtained signoffs for the deal from employee unions and both Alameda and San Leandro hospitals and from Alameda Health System, whose leadership he had to bargain with to win approval for workers at the two hospitals to keep their existing pension plans.
Staffers with Bonta’s office and the office of Alamo Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, who co-authored the bill, couldn’t be reached for comment this week. But Jordan Battani, a former Alameda Health Care District Board member who was instrumental in closing the hospital affiliation deal, vouched for Oddie in a letter to the Alameda Journal endorsing his council run.
“Jim worked tirelessly behind the scenes to obtain the approval of multiple stakeholders to support the passage of Assemblymember Bonta's AB 1008,” Battani wrote, referring to the pension bill.
As to the Matarrese hit piece: Matarrese stepped off the council in 2010, due to term limits that prohibit council members from serving more than two consecutive terms (though in a bit of irony, Chen – who’s pictured on the hit piece with Oddie – could theoretically serve 10 years straight since his first term was as a two-year fill-in for Bonta, who left the council for the Assembly in 2012). But Alameda’s rules permit council members to run again after a term off the dais – rules Tony Daysog took advantage of for his successful 2012 run.
Oddie, incidentally, said he has no idea who funded the hit piece and said he’s “extremely disappointed” by it.
“I condemn all such negative tactics, and immediately call on those who used my campaign photo and logo without permission and authorization to cease doing so,” he said.
Over the weekend, the political action committee that funded the Chen mailer reported that it spent $14,000 opposing Matarrese’s council candidacy – more money than Matarrese has raised to run for office, our colleague, Alameda Sun editor Dennis Evanosky, pointed out when we chatted about campaign finance earlier this week.
Chen e-mailed us Thursday to condemn the attack mailers. He said he wasn't contacted about them and if he had been, he would have refused their message.
A second mailer attacking Matarrese and urging voters to cast ballots for Chen, which falsely implied Matarrese isn't playing by the city's term limit rules, hit mailboxes on Wednesday, while a third attacking Matarrese for his change of heart on development at Alameda Point arrived Thursday. They were funded by the Golden State Leadership Fund political action committee, which has spent more than $35,000 to support Chen and oppose Matarrese.
"I have worked hard to instill in each and every member of my campaign committee, friends and supporters that negativity in a campaign is the same as bullying and I will not condone that type of behavior on any level," Chen wrote. "I am outraged by this action; whoever the Golden State Leadership Fund PAC may be I believe that there was no reason to stoop to the level in this campaign and in this city.
"We in Alameda respect open debate and respect the right to disagree without being negative," Chen added. "I stand by fairness and I reject these attempts to be negative against Mr. Matarrese."
With six days to go, we’re sure it ain’t over yet.
Voting with a bullet: A few weeks ago one of our loyal readers forwarded us a letter to the editor printed in the Alameda Sun which encourages those casting ballots this fall to engage in “bullet voting” – the practice of voting for fewer candidates than permitted in a race with multiple open seats.
The letter writer claims that voters can “do more good” for preferred candidates in, say, the City Council or school board races – where there are three candidates running for two open seats – by not casting a second vote which, by this logic, could help put a less-favored candidate over the top.
Even the political in-crowd is getting into the bullet voting game: In an “election recommendations” e-mail to friends and followers, Planning Board member John Knox White said that he, too, plans to “bullet vote” in the council race.
“(I)f you love (Stewart) Chen or (Frank) Matarrese, then add them as your second vote, but I encourage you to consider that doing so knowing your vote may cost (Jim) Oddie a seat,” Knox White wrote.
We checked with Alameda’s resident political numbers expert, school board trustee Mike McMahon, and he seemed skeptical that the concept would gain enough traction at the ballot box to affect the results in November. (McMahon is also one of three candidates in a two-seat race this fall – for the school board.)
“How is it possible (for) any candidate to have 60 percent support of any large body of voters that the other 40 percent would not even consider voting for?” McMahon asked. “It would take perfect voter discipline for the remaining for the 40 percent to vote for the remaining candidates. And that does not happen.”
Election results from Alameda council races show that voters do select fewer candidates than they’re entitled to. In 2010, voters cast 44,688 of the 56,846 ballots they could have cast for two open council seats sought by eight candidates (a handful of ballots were cast for write-in candidates). Two years earlier, when four candidates ran for two seats, only about a third of voters who cast ballots picked two candidates to fill those seats.
But McMahon said he thinks that there are other factors at play.
“Suffice it to say each campaign has it ardent supporters who will bullet vote but the vast majority of voters do not,” he said. “Some will always for two regardless of how informed, while others bullet votes and still others skip the race if they do not feel they know enough to vote.”