Endorsements a boon for campaigns

Endorsements a boon for campaigns

Michele Ellson

The Alameda Education Association has endorsed a number of local school board candidates over the years. But after a contentious year in which Alameda’s teachers and district leaders clashed over contract proposals and spending, their union is planning a full-on campaign for the three candidates they’ve endorsed.

“I think we were involved (before), but I think we plan to be more involved in this campaign,” association president Gray Harris said. “I think it’s time have some new voices on the school board.”

Alameda’s public employee groups will have broad involvement in the upcoming City Council and Board of Education contests, offering critical support to their chosen candidates. Harris, for one, said she’s hopeful the race will yield school board members who will consider input from different groups, including teachers.

“We’re looking for someone who is going to listen to us and the community and make more informed decisions,” said Harris, who took pains to point out she’s not slamming any members of the current school board.

Harris said the teachers union will “probably (do) some phone banking and some precinct walking” for their chosen candidates, and union leadership is considering sending mailers to support their campaigns. The association is supporting Jon G. Murphy, Barbara Kahn and incumbent Trish Spencer

“I know we’re doing a kickoff, and campaigning on their behalf,” Harris said.

The International Association of Firefighters Local 689 held “cluster interviews” of City Council candidates Tuesday in conjunction with Alameda’s Police Officers Association and the city’s police and fire management unions; group endorsements are due out within a week. The firefighters union’s political director, Jeff DelBono, said he is working up a plan to standardize its involvement in this and future political campaigns, but that he anticipates the union will knock on doors for the candidates it supports and pay for some campaign mailers.

The firefighters union first became involved in local races in 2010, when it was locked in a struggle with city management over a new contract and efforts to both downsize and outsource local department functions. Viewing involvement in the campaigns as “the only way to have a voice,” the union set up a political action committee that spent over $30,000 on the City Council and mayor’s races. (The committee is separate from the union’s general fund, DelBono said; members can choose whether or not to contribute, though he said all of the union’s members did.)

DelBono, who said his union is seeking candidates who support the community’s public safety and who have “working family values,” said he doesn’t anticipate that the union will spend anywhere near the amount of money its committee injected into the 2010 races. Harris said the teachers union is not planning to give money directly to candidates.

“I don’t see an all out attack on working families from these people,” DelBono said of the current crop of council candidates.

To be sure, public employee unions won’t be the only entities working to convince voters to pull the lever for the local candidates they endorse. Groups like the Alameda Democratic Club and the local branch of the Sierra Club also offer benefits to the candidates they support.

The Democratic Club runs a newspaper ad and sends a campaign mailer for the candidates it endorses, in addition to posting their campaign signs in the window of the local Democratic campaign headquarters that is opening this weekend at Alameda South Shore Center, the club’s Mike McMahon said.

The Sierra Club, which offers a seal of approval its endorsed candidates can display as a sign of their support for Alameda’s natural heritage, publicizes the candidates’ views in its in-house publications and makes its membership mailing lists directly available to candidates, said Bill Smith, a local club leader. (The club is still interviewing City Council candidates and expects to make it endorsements in mid-September.)

“In Alameda for the last nearly 20 years we have sent out a letter to our members explaining why we endorsed each candidate and highlighting the environmental progress made by our elected officials in Alameda since the last campaign,” Smith said.

Those efforts may be effective in influencing voters – and the candidates themselves. For example, the candidates the firefighters union supported in 2010 – Marie Gilmore, Rob Bonta and Lena Tam – all won their races.

Smith said that when he first became involved in the endorsement process, the Sierra Club had a difficult time finding even one candidate who supported the club on its core environmental issues. But this year, “nearly ever candidate's positions on environmental issues make them eligible for serious consideration.”

“The Sierra Club has helped bring about a sea change in attitudes towards Alameda's natural heritage,” Smith said. Local issues of focus have included the creation of recycling programs, environmental restoration and open space at Alameda Point, local transportation plans, land use and development issues and government transparency.

But the potentially defining difference unions could make in this year’s local races is the manpower they can provide to advocate for candidates door-to-door.

“I think if we believe in somebody, our guys need to be motivated to go out and talk to them. In a small town like Alameda, that’s what makes or breaks campaigns,” DelBono said.

Harris said the teachers union is just getting its campaign plans off the ground, with the assistance of the California Teachers Association, of which it is a part. And the union is hoping its involvement will bring changes to the school board this fall.

“I think it’s just time for people who really want to put students and classrooms and teachers as their priority,” Harris said.


Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Thu, Aug 30, 2012

Like many Alameda voters, I consider endorsements along with candidates' stances on many diverse issues. And I will vote for the candidates who will, as I see it, be the best possible public officials to lead and represent Alameda.

Having been involved in interviewing local candidates for the Sierra Club, I have some additional insight into their views, but my other community priorities and values sometimes come into conflict with the Sierra Club's priorities and endorsements. Resolving those conflicts for myself takes time, thought, and research. (Who said voting was easy?)

It all comes down to making the best possible choices based on what we know about the individual candidates, their positions, their campaign contributors and supporters, their funding sources, and--most important of all--who has the best combination of experience, talent, personality, and skills to contribute wisely and effectively to leading and the legislative process.

I am still working on making my individual choices for the November 6 election. It's worth the effort, and I will use the endorsement information along with other sources to make the best decision I can for the future of the City of Alameda, Alameda County, California, and our nation.

Submitted by socjustice038 on Thu, Aug 30, 2012

Nielsen Tam for Re-Election for Alameda School Board, he has the qualifications, and the resume, and the convictions to hold onto his seat, i will make sure of that, and it is evident around the community, regardless.

Submitted by socjustice038 on Thu, Aug 30, 2012

Definitely, from what I see, there will be a lot of young voters voting at least in the School Board races in November, and I hope we can have your endorsement for Nielsen Tam for Re-Election, Jon. He has done so much for the community. The Community is why it is the community it stands today.

Submitted by Christopher on Sat, Sep 1, 2012

I don't see any benefit to having tam on the BOE. What I think we need to do is realize that AUSD administration needs to be controlled and the way to do that is to not have AUSD Administrators or ex-administrators, or those who rubber-stamp what ever the administrators want with out examining what it will cost financially, in the class room, or how it affects community support for our schools. Not in 20 years have I seen this community loose so much faith i our schools and in those running them.