Yet Another Candidate Enters Oakland’s Mayoral Race

I happened to mention the bakery Arizmendi in a brief post about electoral politics on Monday. The only stranger I have ever recognized inside Arizmendi is Joe Tuman, a professor at San Francisco State and a regular political analyst on CBS’s local TV and radio news. I wouldn’t typically write about a year-old sighting of a local TV personality, but little did I know when I posted on Monday that I would get a press release the next day saying that Tuman will be announcing his candidacy for Mayor of Oakland at the Lake Merritt pergola on Wednesday. For all I know this is old news to political insiders in Oakland, but it was new news to me.

What do I think about his candidacy? It’s too soon to think much of anything: my own vote is certainly up for grabs, since my feelings about the current crop of candidates range from mild disappointment to horror, but Tuman’s most compelling attribute at the moment is what he lacks—that is, complicity in the fiascos which pass for state and local government in California these days. Tuman comes off as a fairly intelligent and well-spoken guy from the little I’ve seen of him on TV, but there’s more to running a municipal government than being smart and articulate. His website’s “issues and solutions” section is, in my view, unobjectionable but thin. (Increasing the Oakland Police Department’s size by more than 50% to 1100 officers is a nice goal, but on a day when more than 10 percent of Oakland’s police force was laid off, with further layoffs looking likely in a few months, it’ll take more than vague statements about reviewing compensation packages for new hires to convince me that Tuman has any great ideas for reversing the trend.) It’s mildly interesting to listen to him discussing the possibility of police layoffs on KCBS in late June, when he was commenting on city politics in his role as a disinterested analyst while he was presumably planning his entry into the Mayoral race behind the scenes at the same time.

At this point, I feel the same way I did in December: the only prospect that excites me in Oakland’s mayoral race is the possibility (a slim one, but a boy can always dream) that I might be ineligible to vote in it because I’ll no longer live in this mess of a city. There are some things I really like about Oakland—Arizmendi and the Lake Merritt pergola are apparently two that Joe Tuman and I share—but the more I pay attention to the city’s politics, the more disheartened I get. Maybe I’ll walk the dog down to Arizmendi in the morning, then head over to the Lake to see if Tuman has anything new or interesting to say at his press conference.

8 Responses to “Yet Another Candidate Enters Oakland’s Mayoral Race”

  1. Andy K says:

    There is more to Oakland than it’s government – as you well know. As bad as City Hall can be, the thought of leaving here (and I do think of it from time to time) makes me feel sad.

  2. Joe Tuman says:

    Since I am the Joe you to whom you refer, let me respond. Thanks for your very thoughtful post. I understand how you feel. I observe this stuff (politics) for a living, and now I am in the middle of it. I’d like to talk to you about the details regarding police compensation. Next time you see me in Arizmendi’s, (maybe tomorrow) tap me on the shoulder and introduce yourself. We’ll have a coffee and unless my house is on fire, I promise I won’t cut our conversation short.

    Incidentally, I like the cheese rolls there, but my doctor thinks I should do the apple apricot muffins instead. Better for my heart, or some such nonsense.

    Cheer up about Oakland. There are good people here.

    Joe

  3. dc says:

    Joe:

    Thanks for your comment, and I’ll certainly take you up on your offer if I get a chance. I won’t be able to attend the candidates’ forum on Thursday night due to my work schedule, but I’ll be following the race with increasing attention as it unfolds, and possibly writing about it here on occasion, so I look forward to hearing you elaborate on your platform.

    I don’t doubt that negotiating revised compensation packages for some new hires, including the police, could lead to a saner, more sustainable fiscal situation in the long term. My only problem with that strategy is that it does not address the immediate crisis: whoever becomes the next Mayor is very likely to face deficits in the next few years which are even larger than this year’s, and compensation for new city employees will be mostly irrelevant because the city simply won’t be able to afford to hire any new employees, no matter how much they get paid. Planning years and decades down the road is important, and we’d certainly be in a better situation now if elected officials had done any responsible long-term planning five or ten years ago, but as the campaign proceeds, I hope to hear more about how you would address the immediate fiscal crisis as well as the longer-term problems.

    As for Oakland, I’m actually pretty cheerful about the city in general—it’s only when my attention turns toward city hall that I start to get grumpy!

    Thanks again,
    David

  4. Joe Tuman says:

    David–

    You have hit the nail squarely on the head: we are facing a string of years with massive deficits–really structural deficits, some of them brought on by the city’s ridiculous decisions to defer pension contributions for as much as 5 years. Now we have balloon payments coming due, on top of normal annual budgets which are already underfunded. In addition, pensions and overtime are only part of the problem. More accurately, they are the effects of the core issue–which in the case of police officers goes back to base salary.

    Okay, this is a longer conversation. Find me in line with muffins.

    Joe

  5. dc says:

    Joe:

    We agree that the city’s fiscal situation will get worse before it gets better, and that much of the blame lies with poor decisions made by the city in past years. It sounds like you are saying that your primary strategy for dealing with the near-term budget deficits (i.e. 1- to 3-year, before longer-term strategies and an improving economy—knock on wood!—have a chance to work their magic) would be to cut salaries and increase employee pension contributions for police officers and other city employees. Am I interpreting you correctly? Assuming, for the sake of argument, this is the right thing to do (I’m not necessarily convinced, especially vis-a-vis base salaries, but that’s a separate issue), neither the mayor nor the council has the power to unilaterally change multi-year union contracts, and we saw in the past few weeks how difficult it is to re-open a closed contract and negotiate even relatively minor concessions from the police union. I grant that the city probably negotiated clumsily, because the city does most things clumsily, but I wonder why you think you would have better luck.

    No need to respond here at length; I’m just throwing out some of my questions and thoughts, and I hope to hear more about all this in coming weeks and months, perhaps over an apple apricot muffin or even a cheese roll.

    -David

  6. unique distance from isolation says:

    If Joe Tuman’s secret plan to solve fiscal crises and save underfunded pensions is politically viable, he should be running for Governor or President… Good luck to him!

  7. ruth gutmann says:

    Oakland’s fiscal problems are “just” a small example of what ails most cities and towns, and the states where they are located. I recall that shortly after 9/11 then Pres.Bush was advised to ask for some moderate sacrifices on the part of the population. What was suggested was some special tax that was badly needed to help with the enormous funds required to compensate those who had been affected by the attack. As you know, nothing happened. We were advised to “go shopping.!” Instead Bush started the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Everything was paid for “outside the budget.”

    Here in Massachusetts municipalities are complaining about their mounting obligations to pay for health insurance and pension requirements for their workers — and they make it sound as if it was the workers’ fault! Rarely is it mentioned that Mass. chose years ago not to be part of the social security system, so that these workers will be doubly shortchanged if their benefits are stretched over more years or lowered altogether. No one has the courage to point to our unfair State income tax system: it is a neat example of the unfairness of a flat income tax rate.

  8. SF2OAK says:

    Joe,
    Looked for you again today at Arizmendi’s but didn’t find you so I bought myself foccacia and coffee. I was excited to hear of your candidacy but then I got on your website which I thought thin too. But I did leave a comment and then didn’t hear back- look you shouldn’t be answering us each individually but flesh out your thoughts/proposals – I think you recognize the problems, although 1 problem I haven’t heard addressed is the absolute lack of transparency of city hall. I think you’ve got a real shot at making your city better, especially after Quan & Kaplan have embarrassed themselves. Of course Perata is the front runner but in my mind he stands with the old way and those old ways are why we are in so much trouble today. If I were going to be around I’d invite you to our blocks National Night out party and introduce you to our block but it’s a shame I won’t be here.

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