A planet all her own: Four years ago, then-incumbent AC Transit Board member Joel Bischofberger totally ignored his sole opponent for the southern Alameda county seat, a bike-riding granny named Nancy Jewell Cross. Bischofberger assumed that voters knew what political insiders knew: that Cross was -- how to put it politely? -- eccentric. That, he now acknowledges, was a "fatal mistake."
Why voters elected her still isn't entirely clear. Cross didn't even bother to write a ballot statement, didn't have any campaign cash to speak of, and was also running (unsuccessfully) for the BART board at the same time. Bischofberger had suffered no major scandals while in office, so how, exactly, did Cross pull it off? Some people theorize that feminist voters, knowing nothing about the candidates, simply marked the box next to the one with the female name. Others speculate that Cross benefited from being the first name listed on the ballot.
Now Bischofberger is back to restore balance to the political cosmos -- and plenty of people are happy to help him. Since being elected, Cross has proved herself great entertainment for reporters but an embarrassment to her colleagues. Bus drivers complained that she abused her new authority by ordering them to stray from their driving routes in order to take her places. A Hayward landlord who rented a room to Cross accused the transit director of biting her hand. Cross also called San Leandro mayor Sheila Young "Hitler" after Young asked her to remove her muddy bike from the council chambers.
None of Cross' fellow board members have endorsed her reelection bid. Board president Chris Peeples even challenged the veracity of certain portions of Cross' ballot statement, including her claim that she had experience as regional developer for Clean Air Transport Systems, an organization AC Transit employees believe doesn't really exist. District bureaucrats, usually careful not to anger board members, openly dis' Ms. Cross. Rumor has it that they have posted a sheet counting down the number of days she has left in office.
A couple of weeks ago, Cross raised the hackles of her colleagues yet again by introducing herself at a Metropolitan Transportation Commission meeting as "representing AC Transit." District General Counsel Kenneth C. Scheidig assures 7 Days that Cross was not authorized to speak on behalf of AC Transit at the MTC meeting, or anywhere else for that matter because, he says, "she's on one planet, and we're on another." -- Will Harper
A re-markable campaign: Who is the "Anti Landlord"? Both sides of the debate over Oakland's Measure EE, the ballot initiative that would prevent property owners from serving thirty-day, no-cause evictions on their tenants, would love to know. Last week someone using that moniker sent out an e-mail missive urging EE backers to literally put the writing on the wall -- with Magic Markers: "To counter the landlords' commercials, tenants must write 'YES ON MEASURE EE' everywhere & anywhere. Buses, Bathrooms, BART Stations, Elevators, Bus Stops, Jail Cells, Automatic Tellers, seats at movie theaters, and inside their apartment buildings where visible to all the tenants."
The unlikely nature of what the sender described as an "unofficial, unauthorized, unsanctioned, secret plan" revealed the e-mail as a hoax, but just in case, the Yes on EE folks quickly dispatched a letter reassuring supporters that they don't support ad hoc graffiti. Still, given the fierce battle over the initiative, it's fun to speculate on the politics: Did the e-mail really come from some fringe Just Cause supporter, or did a landlord send it, trying to make the Just Cause folks look irresponsible? Or maybe it was someone from Just Cause trying to make it look like the landlords were trying to make them look bad? The mind reels. There's only one thing certain: Whoever sent that e-mail has spent far too much time sniffing Magic Markers. -- Kara Platoni
Katz as Katz can: On a recent day, 22-year-old Cal grad student Andy Katz was pounding the pavement, trying to drum up support for his District 8 city council bid. His peppy demeanor and sheepish grin give him the wholesome air of a Boy Scout -- the type who could easily win over your grandmother.
Or maybe not. Anyone who runs as a "student" candidate faces daunting odds. While Cal students number nearly a quarter of Berkeley's 103,000 population, they are divided into districts, diluting their power as a voting bloc, and their candidates tend to fare poorly. At a recent election forum, longtime resident Marylyn Coons summed up the attitude: "Students come and go, and there is not the same long-term commitment to the city."
As a result, students invariably get their butts kicked. The single exception was Nancy Skinner, then a 28-year-old grad student, who won a seat in citywide elections in 1984. Katz, she predicts, will have a tougher time. "The UC residences ... cover four districts, so you don't have the concentration in one district," Skinner says. "Running citywide was an advantage."
Indeed, Katz's candidacy follows a fractious redistricting fight between Cal leaders, who want to create a student-dominated district, and city officials, who don't. Residents like Coons, the people most likely to vote, view students as transients, and most homeowners aren't keen on student issues such as affordable housing -- a euphemism for low property values.
In his attempt to win community appeal, Katz portrays himself as a fresh young face who can help bring peace to a bitterly divided council -- in which progressive Kriss Worthington and moderate Mayor Shirley Dean are at one another's throats.
His plea for peace might resonate with voters were it not for the fact that the young man is already being groomed for the progressive faction. Backed by Worthington -- who appointed Katz to the zoning board -- and council cohorts Linda Maio and Maudelle Shirek, Katz is vying for the seat being given up by moderate Polly Armstrong. Progressive backing has helped Katz build a war chest exceeding $22,000, a good chunk of that from folks who consider each vote for Katz a vote against his Dean-backed moderate rival Gordon Wozniak, a former nuclear scientist.
But Dean has hedged her bets by pitting her own protégé, eighteen-year-old Cal candidate Micki Weinberg, against Worthington in student-heavy District 7. Weinberg is running on a dogmatic platform for student involvement in city politics. In a recent op-ed in the Daily Californian, he cites student protesters who helped end the Vietnam War and apartheid, hinting that his campaign for change is somehow the moral equivalent -- rather ambitious rhetoric in a town where debates over coffee garner more attention than practical issues like affordable housing.
While both students cite their age as an asset, that is perhaps naive. Veteran politicos such as Tom Bates, who is running to unseat Dean, may spout the cliché that young people are "the future of politics," but the latest student candidates, it appears, are shaping up as pawns in the old Berkeley political game. -- Meredith Mandell
When City Hall calls: Oakland's Measure CC, which would extend Jerry Brown's strong-mayor powers indefinitely, doesn't have a campaign office, a campaign committee, or even an identifiable campaign. When organizations want a Yes On CC speaker for a forum, they contact Jerry, and it's generally the mayor who comes out to represent.
Still, when Pamela Drake, director of the Grand Lake Neighborhood Center, wrote Brown at his private e-mail address last month, asking him to take part in a Measure CC debate at the center, she was surprised to get a reply from Brown aide Nooshin Sadaat, sent from Sadaat's City of Oakland e-mail address. Sadaat asked how many people might show and whether any media might be there; she requested a list of the other panelists, and provided her City Hall number as a contact.
To Drake, it seemed like the actions of a political campaign. "I always thought it was against state law to run a political campaign out of City Hall," she says.
She's right. State law prohibits public employees from expending funds to support or oppose ballot measures, and this, the state Supreme Court has ruled, also applies to "the use of city time or other city resources."
Sadaat seemed familiar with the law. "That's just false," she said when asked if pro-CC activities were coordinated from the mayor's office. "That's not happening." Then why was she giving her city contacts to groups holding Measure CC debates? It's "a part of coordinating the mayor's normal speaking engagements," she responded. But 7 Days persisted: Even when the mayor is speaking specifically in favor of Measure CC? "I've got a call on another line right now," Sadaat said. "I'll have to get back to you on that." We're still waiting. -- J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
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