With the latest candidate, Dan Siegel, entering Oakland's mayor's race, the field is getting more populated. It's not as crowded as it was back in 1998 when 11 candidates ran. Of course, there's still time for additional candidates to throw their hats in the ring.
Mayor Jean Quan must be saying, "Et tu, Brute?" Siegel was a longtime friend and her legal adviser, splitting with her over how the city handled the Occupy Oakland protest. He's not the only former Quan ally running against her. Bryan Parker, an Oakland port commissioner, is in the race; Quan nominated him to serve on the port commission. At least you would think he was an ally since she nominated him. Then I guess that's politics -- et tu, Brute?
Siegel is running on issues of social and economic justice, including a $15 an hour minimum wage and stopping the plans for the Domain Awareness System, the controversial surveillance center.
Political observers have said Siegel brings a leftist perspective to the campaign. Maybe so, but it made me think back to the political labels of previous candidates and mayors.
The first mayor I covered, Lionel Wilson, was the city's first African-American mayor. With his anti-poverty activism and the fact the Black Panther Party helped elect him, the public expected a progressive mayor. However, Wilson turned out to be solidly centrist and very traditional in terms of wielding political power.
Given the political history of Jerry Brown and his radio show on KPFA, a lot of people thought he would be left-leaning, if not downright radical. He ended up being a friend to developers and law enforcement.
Next, the voters who drafted Ron Dellums to run for mayor expected him to lead the city according to his progressive legacy. They weren't so much disappointed that he didn't lead progressively but that he didn't lead at all.
Jean Quan also brought her progressive politics to the mayor's office, influencing her decision to allow the Occupy protesters to return after they had been disbanded. A good number of Oaklanders have never forgiven her for the missteps she made on that issue.
As the 2014 mayoral campaign heats up, it's worth considering the relevance of a mayor's political leanings. How much do they really matter? Historically, we've rarely gotten what we expected politically. Oakland, and maybe most cities, has the kind of challenges and opportunities that seem to have less to do with a left- or right-wing approach and more to do with practicality. The tough realities of running a city smooth down the sharp edges of political principle.
Job creation and public safety are Oakland's two highest priorities, and they're interrelated. If more unemployed or underemployed Oaklanders have good jobs, the underground and criminal economy will shrink.
It's difficult to see anyone opposing progress on either front, whatever their political perspective. Of course plans for job creation can have greater benefits for businesses or more guarantees for residents, reflecting a different political slant.
Similarly, the strategies to improve public safety are often viewed as liberal or conservative. For example, liberals generally reject gang injunctions and stop-and-frisk policies and embrace community policing. I'm probably revealing my bias, but I would argue those positions are pragmatic, supported by data about effective policing.
In Oakland, we haven't had a broad spectrum of mayoral politics, and our current crop of candidates isn't so different politically. So far, their campaigns are based on their assertions they are the best person for the job.
Joe Tuman, a professor at San Francisco State, says he's not an insider beholden to the City Hall machine. (As a Chicago native, I find it a bit of a stretch to think of Oakland City Hall as a machine. And then you have the dictionary definition: S machine is designed to perform useful work.)
Libby Schaaf, a member of City Council, presents herself as a daughter of Oakland who can realize Oakland's possibilities. The city can be safe, have high quality public schools, new jobs and a transparent government, she asserts.
Parker says if Oaklanders "act with courage and unite around a common vision, this can be the moment hopefulness comes back to Oakland." His campaign website doesn't specify how hopefulness will return or even what it entails. He has, however, demonstrated what crowd funding can do; he's the political newcomer, but he leads the pack in fundraising, with more than $175,000.
Quan is running for re-election on her accomplishments -- bringing in new investment, supporting business growth and creating jobs.
As the campaign moves forward, the differences among the policies of the candidates are likely to sharpen. As far as their political labels -- left or center -- I wonder how relevant they will be when it comes to actually leading the city.