On the campaign trail, Oakland mayoral wannabe Ignacio De La Fuente bills himself as a hands-on guy who knows how the city works, and who has practical solutions to fix the city's problems by making the place more accountable. Meanwhile he paints the frontrunner, ex-Congressman Ron Dellums, as an unrealistic, wide-eyed dreamer who talks about things that a mayor can't do anything about, like universal health care and ending poverty.
But now De La Fuente is heisting a page from the Dellums playbook by running on education. It's not that uncommon for big-city mayoral candidates to make noise about improving the schools, but that's because voters always rate education as one of their top concerns in opinion polls. The truth is that mayors have no control over school districts, which are separate legal entities.
Of course, in 2000, Mayor Jerry Brown won the right to appoint three people to the school board, which turned out to be an exercise in futility. Brown has since focused his attention on the two charter schools he helped create. But when a politician is out stumping, someone almost always asks about the schools, as several folks did at a recent house party De La Fuente attended in Rockridge. Now, in Nacho's defense, can you imagine him responding: "Sorry, I can't do anything about education"? That would sound lame, even though it's true.
Instead, the candidate boasted that his first staff hire as mayor would be a deputy mayor of education, a promise he repeated at a subsequent fund-raiser. Afterward, Feeder asked De La Fuente what this education czar's job duties would be. He replied that the czar would raise private funds for the schools, persuade corporations to "adopt a school," work with the district superintendent or, as it stands, state-appointed dictator Randy Ward to find ways the city can share resources with the district, and set up low-interest loans for teachers who are first-time homebuyers. While laudable, these ideas don't target the classroom, which is the district's domain.
Dan Siegel, a lefty Oakland school board member who has endorsed Dellums, called the education czar idea a political gimmick. He says mayoral contenders just say whatever people want to hear. "They're really bullshitting because they don't do [what they promised] after the election," he adds. Still, you gotta give Nacho his due. Workaholic that he is, he says he's met with forty principals and even a few headmasters of private schools to pick their brains. While his work ethic is fine, De La Fuente could use some help with his powers of recall: Feeder asked him to name the headmaster of Bentley School, whom Nacho said he'd recently visited. Pause. Nope, he couldn't remember the name. Bentley headmaster uh, uhhh, oh yeah, Rick Fitzgerald! confirms he met with the candidate for about 45 minutes. Asked for details of their conversation, Fitzgerald also suffered a memory lapse. He explained that because he didn't take notes "it would be impossible to say what we specifically talked about."
Pounding on Pombo
Just two years ago, the Democrats couldn't even find anyone willing to run against Republican Congressman Richard Pombo of Tracy. Energy consultant Jerry McNerney surfaced at the last minute to run as a write-in in the 2004 primary, and barely qualified for the right to have Pombo clobber him in the general election.
Now, with the filing deadline for this year's primary just over a month away, three Dems have already thrown their hats in the race: McNerney, pilot Steve Filson, and electrician Stevan Thomas. And last week, the GOP's walking oxymoron, liberal Republican Pete McCloskey, announced that he, too, would challenge Pombo.
"He's vulnerable," explains Lisa Tucker, Filson's political consultant. "He's been the stealth congressman who all of a sudden has had this bright light shined on him."
You may still not know Pombo's name, but suffice it to say that as the Bay Area delegation's only Republican, he's the local congressman with the most juice. From his perch as chairman of the House Resources Committee, Pombo drafted a bill to sell off national parks and has pushed hard to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Also tainting him are his close ties, political and personal, to deposed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Last month the Los Angeles Times reported that Pombo undermined a federal investigation of timber tycoon Charles Hurwitz, a probe DeLay had condemned.
McCloskey conceded he doesn't have much of a chance to beat Pombo, but the Democrats sound optimistic. The question is, which one will survive the primary? Rep. Ellen Tauscher of Walnut Creek is pushing Filson as a moderate who has a better chance of beating Pombo in the general election. But the more liberal McNerney has generated grassroots support, winning over Howard Dean Democrats. So who knows where this is all headed, but at least we'll have a contest this time around.
Market Hall Rebellion
The City of Rockridge. Say it out loud. Has a nice ring, eh? At least it does to some fed-up residents of the upscale North Oakland neighborhood where you're unlikely to find a fixer-upper for much less than $600K. A charged debate has broken out in recent weeks on the neighborhood's Internet crime-watch chat group over whether Rockridge should secede from Oakland -- kinda like Montclair pretends to have done, except officially.
"It's an extreme measure," admits neighborhood resident Kurt Scherer, "but there are a lot of people in Rockridge who'd like their fair share of services."
Driving this online debate is concern over a recent spate of robberies in the area, including a well-publicized home invasion, combined with a perceived lack of concern by City Hall, and a lack of police officers to scare away the bad guys. City crime stats show that the number of robberies in Rockridge jumped from 35 in 2004 to 111 in 2005. One resident posted this message to the chat group last month: "[T]alk of secession may wake up the politicians and get them to take public safety more seriously."
Not all the locals think secession is a good idea. Far from it. "I don't think that's the way to solve problems -- by opting out," argues Susan Montauk, chair of the Rockridge Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council. Montauk adds that while robberies are way up, other types of crimes aren't. Stats compiled by Councilwoman Jane Brunner's office show that burglaries and assaults were down in 2005 from the year before. Montauk says that perception of crime is up, ironically, because of better communication about misdeeds on the crime-watch site she moderates.
Whether the secession idea goes anywhere remains to be seen. Scherer says the debate hasn't gone beyond the Yahoo chat site. But any Rockridge residents who'd like to vent can attend Brunner's forum with Police Chief Wayne Tucker, 10. a.m. Saturday at Peralta Elementary School.
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