Democratic Club endorses Ezzy Ashcraft, Cambra after candidate forum

Democratic Club endorses Ezzy Ashcraft, Cambra after candidate forum

Heather L. Wood

Videos by Donna Eyestone

The Alameda Democratic Club’s mission in 2012 is to “re-elect President Obama and other Democrats.” But on Wednesday night, the group turned its sights toward the contest for Alameda City Council. Five Council hopefuls presented their platforms to a full room at Alameda Hospital, responding to questions prepared in advance by moderator and club president Jim Oddie.

Candidates on the panel included attorneys Jeff Cambra, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Jane Sullwold; urban planner and former City Councilman Tony Daysog; and chiropractor Stewart Chen. Gerard Valbuena Dumuk, a firefighter, was unable to attend due to a work conflict, and Joana D'Arc Weber did not respond to the club’s invitation. The candidates are vying for the seats being vacated by Councilmembers Beverly Johnson and Doug deHaan, and the one that will exist if Vice Mayor Rob Bonta succeeds in his bid for a seat in the state Assembly.

After the forum, club members voted to endorse Ezzy Ashcraft and Cambra for council and also to endorse Measure D, which would require voter approval for future park land swaps and sales.

Oddie first asked the candidates to share their plans for redevelopment of Alameda Point “given the lack of redevelopment funding and infrastructure costs estimated to be in excess of $600 million.”

Ezzy Ashcraft wants to wrap up negotiations with the Navy before pursuing a combination of open space, residential and retail uses at the Point. She thinks that zoning flexibility will allow the city to avoid “being at the mercy of a master developer.” Sullwold favors a phased approach in which the Point’s adaptive reuse area is developed first. All of candidates expressed a commitment to build affordable housing at the Point, but left specifics for another day.

“What will (the affordable housing units) look like and where will they go? I don’t know. We need to make it an attractive package to a developer and go from there,” Sullwold said.

Daysog, who served on the City Council from 1996 to 2006, suggested that federal funding be used to support Point development. In particular, he suggesting the city pursue the federal historic preservation tax credit and the EB-5 immigrant investor program, through which foreign national investors can obtain United States residency by creating jobs for U.S. citizens. Cambra proposed using existing infrastructure to generate rental income for the city. Chen focused on the issue of toxic materials at the Point, admonishing that “we can’t market Alameda Point if we don’t clean it up.”

Oddie also asked the candidates to tackle Alameda’s unfunded public employee pension costs. The candidates agreed that future retirement system reform for new employees is unavoidable, but specific proposals were lacking. Ezzy Ashcraft, the daughter of a union president, pointedly cautioned that “there is nothing to be gained by attacking unions,” and reminded the Democratic audience that some of the most vociferous opponents of union organizing are also opposed to women’s rights.

The third question of the evening addressed deferred maintenance of the city’s public facilities. Daysog asserted that he “will not raise taxes on individuals to pay for municipal services,” instead advocating tourism promotion and other “out-of-the-box economic development” to solve the budget crisis.

Most of the candidates voiced an opinion that further expense reduction is next to impossible.

“We’re at bare bones, we have 489 employees in the city. There is nowhere else for us to cut,” said Chen.

Calling Marina Village and Alameda South Shore Center “ghost towns,” Chen stressed the importance of revenue generation to address the budget shortfall. “If we don’t bring the money in,” he said, “we can’t fix it.” Cambra agreed, saying, “I don’t believe we really can cut more.”

Sullwold called the city’s unfunded liability “scary,” and offered redevelopment of the Point as one way to kickstart revenue. She suggested that the city find more cost-effective ways to pay for core services like public safety and street maintenance. Non-core services – even some that “make Alameda a wonderful place to live” - will have to go, she said.

“We can’t do everything all at once,” Sullwold said.

The candidates’ closing statements revealed a wide spectrum of backgrounds and community involvement. The son of working-class parents in the Philippines, Chen shared a bedroom with six siblings before moving to the United States as a teenager. He cited his support of marriage equality, equal rights and reproductive choice as examples of why he deserved the club's endorsement.

Cambra is a member of 14 separate civic organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Rotary Club and the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Festival. Ezzy Ashcraft has 16 years of community service experience, recently volunteering as a voting rights protection attorney during the 2008 presidential election. Daysog described his advocacy on behalf of gay, lesbian and transgender families, adding that Alameda is “light years away from where we were in 1994, both economically and socially.”

Sullwold said that her efforts to preserve the Chuck Corica Golf Complex when the city had plans to turn it over for private development demonstrates her commitment to democratic principles. She added that she makes a point of voting every year to cancel out the vote of her husband, a registered Republican.

“I encourage him to be out somewhere else on Election Day,” she joked.

Following the City Council candidates’ forum was a statement by Chris Peeples, incumbent candidate for AC Transit Board director-at-large, who club members also chose to endorse this year.

After all candidates left the room, Democratic Club members had the chance to speak before the club voted on endorsement. Outgoing Councilman Doug deHaan expressed his personal support for Daysog and Sullwold, while other Democratic Club members urged the membership to back Cambra, Ezzy Ashcraft or Chen.

One member objected to what she sees as pervasive insensitivity to the plight of retired public employees.

“I would just like to say that it’s exhausting to hear public employees being beaten up,” she scolded. “Without my state pension, I might be a bag lady.”

Comments

Submitted by Irene on Fri, Sep 14, 2012

Throughout the campaign season, see what all the candidates are saying about Alameda Point on http://alamedapointinfo.com/.