Fresh Face Or Old Guard? 

Jean Quan, Rebecca Kaplan, and Joe Tuman hope to defeat Don Perata on Nov. 2 and end Oakland's love affair with career politicians.

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During debates and in person, Tuman comes across as a serious, no-nonsense candidate, and he may have greatly helped his chances during the chamber debate. His opening statement drew the loudest round of applause that night.

As a government outsider, Tuman also is benefiting from the current anti-incumbent fever. And he's not weighed down by past decisions that turned out to be mistakes. He's never voted, for example, to award unaffordable pay and benefit packages. To his supporters, his outsider status is a virtue. "He won't be beholden to people," argued Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who has endorsed his campaign and has long sought to overhaul the city's budget. "If you look at the people he's running against — they've been around, but look at the situation we're in. He's not going to be business as usual."

But Tuman also is not a political newcomer. As a news analyst, he paid close attention to Bay Area politics and is aware of the financial issues that local governments face. "I'm an outsider who also knows the inside," he said during an interview at his campaign headquarters across the street from the Grand Lake Theater. As a TV personality, Tuman also has plenty of name recognition. In some Oakland households, he might be better known than Quan or Kaplan. He estimated that about half of the people he's met so far on the campaign trail knew him already. "People recognize me from TV, and so I won't have to spend a lot of money to tell people who I am," he said.

The cornerstones of Tuman's campaign are small businesses and retail development. He's run four small businesses in his career and, like Kaplan, he argues that Oakland bureaucracy makes it too difficult for them to succeed. He says he wants to ease local business taxes and increase parking, including adding free parking garages to support retail centers. "I want to start a retail boom," he said. "I intend to bring jobs here."

Tuman, 52, also wants to build a major retail development in the Upper Broadway area north of Uptown. He's been working with a retail consultant, and believes he can convince major retailers, such as Kohl's, JC Penney, Macy's, or Nordstrom to open stores there and intends to pitch them personally. He argues that Oakland may be losing $1.5 to $2 billion a year in retail "leakage." That is, Oaklanders are leaving the city to shop at major retail destinations in Emeryville, San Francisco, and Walnut Creek, costing city retailers up to $2 billion annually in lost sales and costing the city jobs and sales tax revenue.

Like Kaplan, Tuman also says he would have voted against the cop layoffs. He also opposes Measure X, believes that high pay is the root problem for the police department, and agrees that the city would be able to hire the cops it needs if it paid lower salaries. But Tuman differs from Kaplan on how he would solve the problem.

He says he would borrow lessons learned from the California State University system. When Cal State professors get within two to three years of retirement, they're asked to retire early in exchange for being hired back as part-time, independent contractors, Tuman explained. That way, the professors can begin collecting their pensions, plus earn more money as contractors. And the university saves money because it no longer has to pay professors their high salaries or their pensions, since they're technically retired.

Tuman argues that the city should make the same offer to cops who are approaching retirement and would rather work part-time — and still collect more than their full salaries when counting their pensions. The city could then replace those senior officers with rookies who not only make less money, but start out at a much lower pay scale than the current one. Tuman estimates that this system could allow the city to add 25 to 30 cops a year without having to raise taxes. "I want to repopulate the police force over the next ten to twenty years with officers who make lower salaries that are sustainable," he explained. "I don't want to lay off cops. I want to hire cops."

Tuman knows that his plan will mean more negotiations with the police union, and acknowledged that it might also require some additional retirement incentives to get senior cops to retire early. He also expects all of the tax measures on the ballot to lose, except possibly the medical marijuana tax, and says after he's elected, he plans to sit down with all the city employee unions and find ways to save the city money. "And I'm not going to let Ignacio De La Fuente and Jane Brunner lead those discussions," he said, referring to the two councilmembers who traditionally have led union negotiations for the city. "I will lead those discussions. I will be the loudest voice in that room. It's going to be my bureaucracy."

If the unions refuse to compromise, Tuman says he will begin serious discussions about municipal bankruptcy. The threat of bankruptcy could be a powerful incentive for the unions to negotiate because if it happens, then all union contracts are voided. Tuman called it "the nuclear option."

Tuman also is not shy about challenging his rivals. Of Kaplan and Quan, he said: "Jean and Rebecca talk a lot about change. But if they were really going to bring us change, then why haven't they done it already?" And of Perata and his absentee campaign so far, he said: "He's not showing up to the debates. He's not saying what he'll do. He speaks in metaphors about fixing potholes, which is sorta nice, but we have so many big problems."

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