Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has made major missteps during her first year in office: Failing to support the police chief's planned gang injunctions, curfews and loitering ordinances. Asking voters for a new tax without a long-term financial plan. Flip-flopping on clearing of the Occupy camp outside City Hall.
We strongly disagreed with her on each. However, individually and collectively, they do not justify recall. Elected officials should only be removed from office midterm if they are corrupt or incompetent. Quan is neither.
Unlike her predecessor, who was perhaps the first absentee mayor of a major metropolitan city, Quan has deeply immersed herself in city affairs. Because of Ron Dellums' neglect, Quan inherited a financially teetering city with mangled accounting, exorbitant pension debts, too few police officers to control unacceptable crime, and dwindling funds for other badly needed services -- all at a time of revenue shortages for governments throughout the state.
To expect Quan to turn that around in less than a year is absurd. To suggest, as recall backers do, that she ignores the community demand for more officers overlooks the limited resources with which she has to work. How would recall backers propose to pay for additional officers?
It's not that the city lacks income. Its residents pay some of the highest property tax rates in the region. The problem is that the city has spent beyond its means for more than a decade, running up debts that now are coming due and failing to plan for those payments.
The full magnitude of the problem was hidden from public view when Quan took office. City finance officials failed to properly account for internal borrowing, optimistically estimated revenues and underestimated predictable upcoming costs.
To her credit, Quan brought in a new city administrative team to unravel the books and confront the financial realities head-on. Honest numbers provide an essential first step toward fixing the city.
We're told a solid assessment of the current finances will be presented in January. That's when the tough decisions will have to be made. They must be accompanied by reality-based, long-term budgeting. It will be painful, but it must be done. Too many years of ignoring the problem for short-term political gain have made it much worse.
That's precisely the reason recall is such a horrible idea. Our elected leaders must have the leeway to look responsibly at the long-term horizon. They must not act out of fear that failure to produce immediate solutions could cost them their careers. It's that sort of thinking that leads to buy-now, pay-later policies that bury future generations.
That's how Oakland got into this mess. The last thing we need are more promises we can't afford. Quan deserves a chance to responsibly lead the city out of its financial hole. Punishing her for trying to do that will only make the problem worse.