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Dan Siegel Announces “Radical” Agenda If Elected Mayor of Oakland, 1/9/14: video & photos
Civil rights attorney Dan Siegel announced his candidacy for mayor of Oakland on January 9 before a crowd of well over 100 supporters in Oscar Grant plaza at the corner of 14th & Broadway. Under an arc of green and gray balloons that framed the Jack London Oak, Siegel spelled out an ambitious agenda should he be elected mayor of Oakland. He wants a $15 minimum wage, public schools to develop into community centers, neighborhood gardens to flourish throughout the city, Oakland police to stop abusing citizens, and the Domain Awareness Center to be shut down. To the conventional wisdom in Oakland’s halls of power, this a radical agenda. To many in Oakland, however, it’s just common sense. (full video below)
DAN SIEGEL’S "WORK-IN-PROGRESS" AGENDA FOR OAKLAND
Anyone who has lived in Oakland for more than one election cycle knows that city council and mayoral campaigns are virtually always about being "tough on crime". (This reporter has called Oakland home for over twenty years.) As each election cycle draws near, mailboxes fill up with stacks of glossy card stock advertisements promising more police and less crime. It’s the same story every time. You’ll see countless photographs of the candidates standing next to sheriff’s deputies, police officers, and squad cars, with prominently displayed lists of any law enforcement endorsements. Other than the faces on those mailers, it’s hard to tell much difference. Sure, candidates make paeans to community policing or increased social services or improving Oakland’s public schools, especially tied to whatever relevant personal experience they may have, but those concerns are generally secondary at best. Through the years, it becomes hard not to see these campaigns as disingenuous competitions as to which democrat can look the toughest in a tank.
In his announcement on January 9, Dan Siegel turned the typical "public safety" campaign message on its head. He spoke about things that many in Oakland believe but rarely if ever hear from candidates or elected representatives.
Recognizing that the people of Oakland are concerned with safety, Dan says that his campaign is "determined to make Oakland a safe city." And then he explains what he means by that. He says people need to feel safe from the despair that comes from long term poverty and unemployment. Children need to be safe not only from street violence but schools that inadequately prepare them to lead healthy and productive lives. We need safety for tenants from unjust evictions and the gentrification that is pushing people of color further away from downtown. City workers need safety from attacks on their wages, healthcare, and pensions. Instead of complaining that public workers make too much, we should insist that everyone make at least that much. Women need safety from rape and exploitation. Immigrant communities need to be safe from attacks by the INS in their homes and workplaces. We need safety for our LGBT community from homophobic violence. We need safety for our young men of color to be free from racial profiling, gang injunctions, stop and frisk, youth curfews, and police violence. We need our people to be safe from malnutrition, diabetes, and diseases that come about from a diet rich on Big Macs and Cokes. We need safety from government spying, whether that’s by the NSA or our own homegrown DAC (Domain Awareness Center). "If we are successful in this campaign, the DAC closes the next day." To sum it up, he says that an approach centered on social and economic justice is the key to creating a safe city.
For those made cynical by Oakland politics over the years, however, there’s always the concern of an Animal Farm scenario. If such a thing happened, it certainly would not be the first time someone has lured Oakland voters into believing radical change could be had at the ballot box. In the 1990s, for instance, Jerry Brown used his KPFA radio show "We the People" to build a local constituency which he then turned toward his mayoral campaign, only to govern far to the right of his talk show rhetoric once he was in office. Dan Siegel himself acknowledges the many broken promises of countless Oakland mayoral campaigns.
But Dan's mayoral announcement went further than a unique spin on public safety. For starters, the location of the announcement itself was billed by the campaign as "Oscar Grant Plaza" — Oscar Grant, of course, being the young Hayward man who was shot in the back and killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. The plaza in front of city hall at 14th and Broadway is formally named Frank Ogawa Plaza, and is referred to as such by all city leaders, but it was unofficially renamed for Oscar Grant when the Occupy Oakland encampment claimed the space — and the new name has stuck for many people, much as DeFremery Park in West Oakland is more commonly known as Little Bobby Hutton Park to those with a knowledge of the legacy of the Black Panthers. This small nod to Occupy Oakland and Oscar Grant is not unusual for Dan. Just one week prior to his mayoral announcement, Dan was a panelist at a 5th anniversary event for Oscar Grant, and he offered frank talk about the role of police in our society as well as the recent OPD murder of Alan Blueford.
And these were certainly not Dan Siegel’s first expressions of alliance with the goals of the Occupy movement or those who fight against police brutality. On November 14, 2011, the morning of the second police raid against the Occupy Oakland encampment, Dan Siegel separated himself quite publicly from his long-time friend Jean Quan and resigned from her administration in protest. He announced on Twitter: "No longer Mayor Quan's legal advisor. Resigned at 2 am. Support Occupy Oakland, not the 1% and its government facilitators." In contrast, most of Dan’s competition in the race for mayor worked directly, or indirectly through staffers, against Occupy Oakland.
Since that time, Dan has offered his services as a legal representative for Occupy the Farm in their battles with the University of California over the rights of the community to farm on the Gill Tract in Albany. And so, before he even began to lay out his political platform on January 9, he personally acknowledged and thanked several of those in attendance including Occupy the Farm. It’s hard if not impossible to imagine any other candidate for mayor doing the same.
But Dan’s interest in community control of public lands goes back decades. As a leader in UC Berkeley’s SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in the late 1960s and early 70s, when he was also elected President of UC’s student government, he was a key organizer involved with reclaiming the space known as People’s Park.
As for the needs of current and future students, Dan said in his mayoral announcement remarks that the Oakland school system is decaying and sinking into the ground. Every child deserves a quality education, a safe school, and an opportunity to grow up and succeed in life. Dan promises that once he is elected he will meet with the Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) once a week to talk about Oakland’s children. He promises to create quality pre-school programs for every three- and four-year-old in the city, adding that quality pre-school programs have shown to be the most effective thing towards leveling the playing field between children from affluent and poor backgrounds. He goes on to say that the city needs after school programs for every middle school student, and the way to do it is by keeping every school open in the evenings and weekends for study and recreation. Their parents should be able to come in and take adult education classes. "We’re going to make these schools into community centers where people can come together and know their neighbors, and be able to take action together to help create safety." He also intends, in cooperation with Alameda county, to use schools to bring immunization and health programs to sixty neighborhoods.
This focus on the health of the people leads to another big issue on Dan’s agenda, food security. He wants to help promote neighborhood gardens and make sure that there are grocery stores throughout the city, not just in Montclair, so people can get healthy, nutritious food at reasonable prices. Currently, residents in many neighborhoods have only corner liquor stores and fast food restaurants to rely on for sustenance.
As for economic justice, Dan says it starts with an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour — matching the demand of the recent Fight for $15 and Fast Food Forward campaigns, which leapfrog Obama’s call for a $10 minimum wage. Dan says we need to get serious about development in Oakland. It’s wonderful in some ways, he says, that developers are looking to spend hundreds of millions or billions of dollar in Oakland, but what’s in it for us? He says we’re not open to development to make a few developers rich. We’ll be open for development provided that developers agree to create jobs for Oakland residents and housing that Oakland residents can afford. Half of the housing has to be low- and moderate-income housing, so that our people can continue to live here. We need tough eviction controls. We need think about how we can develop worker co-ops as a means to employ people.
Dan says that he will demand a police force that protects people’s lives, property, *and* constitutional rights. That’s a bottom line, he declares. He adds that we need to end the court oversight of Oakland’s police department and the practice of paying out tens of millions of dollars to resolve cases of police abuse. The way to do that is to have a police department that reflects the city of Oakland, that works with and respects our people, so we can have a safe community. Dan recalls an ordinance passed in 1996 that he worked on which called for community policing, having served more recently on the Community Policing Advisory Board (CPAB), and he says that it has never really been implemented. He calls for the police department to be reorganized and decentralized, rebuilding the department from the bottom up, where officers are assigned to neighborhoods and work with the community. He notes that, ironically, one of the most effective agencies for dealing with racial and gender equality, more effective than corporations or universities, has been the US military, because people give orders and take orders. Dan says it’s time to have a chief of police in Oakland with the guts to give orders that citizen abuse has to stop and that officers who engage in citizen abuse can look elsewhere for a job.
He says these things are what his administration will stand for, and will accomplish, if enough people get involved. He says we need to build and grow and empower the people of Oakland to organize themselves, to give them support to do that, so they can determine their own destiny.
Dan calls attention to some of the electoral changes taking place across the nation, from New York City to <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-c1-seattle-socialist-20131120-dto,0,7140015.htmlstory">Seattle to Jackson, Mississippi — and adds that Oakland is the most progressive, diverse, and wonderful city in the US and there is no reason that we should not be leading this movement.
The campaign has plenty of work to do to get there. It needs to grow from its core group of early supporters to a larger network of foot soldiers prepared to evangelize the message of social and economic justice for all Oaklanders. A massive voter registration drive seems required to get many of those who might benefit from a Siegel administration out on election day. There is no question that those of greater financial means, those already with a vested interest in the status quo political system, are registered and do vote. Many of those regular voters, as well as city insiders, are more concerned with squelching street protests that seek to disrupt the ongoing gentrification of Oakland than they are about alleviating historical and growing economic inequalities.
To take it a step further and put it bluntly, Dan Siegel has political enemies: Oakland police can’t stand him for obvious reasons, and the Chamber of Commerce and local business associations certainly aren’t big fans of his open calls for economic justice. Surely, his mayoral opponents will criticize or attack many of his positions as out of touch, out of lockstep with the narrative to which the rest of them gladly fall in line.
And Dan is not immune from criticism on the other side of the political spectrum. On the left, there are certainly some who hold grudges which resulted from the recent and often bitter struggles for control of the Pacifica radio network and its local affiliate KPFA.
As Dan Siegel’s campaign platform develops, open questions remain as to how he will find room for his ambitious proposals within Oakland’s limited budget. Will he be able to raise new revenues? Would he increase property taxes on homeowners as the city historically does to increase revenue or would he break new ground by demanding that corporations which profit in the city pay their fare share? And what might he trim from the budget? If he were to find savings, any savings whatsoever, from within the Oakland police department, which now consumes roughly half of the city’s budget, there will be howls of protest from the law-and-order crowd.
Apart from any new expenses that might be tied to his proposals, much of Dan’s agenda appears to be a gamble that Oaklanders are ready to step up in a more participatory way to improve their city. After endless years of top-down policy making in Oakland — with the status quo often brutally enforced by OPD — will enough Oaklanders be amenable to stepping up to volunteer their time at local schools and gardens? Can small successes build momentum?
Most importantly, how large of a constituency will stand up for the $15 an hour minimum wage? Without a doubt, local businesses, and most likely the corporate media, will unleash a relentless series of assaults on the proposal. There’s no way it can happen without a ground swell of support.
The same goes for Oakland’s city council, a group of democrats that have been drifting rightward of late, recently voting unanimously then 6-1 to support the DAC, for instance, at a time when many people are expressing outrage about the NSA’s recently exposed gathering of data on every American. Dan Siegel can’t single-handedly end the DAC by fiat, nor can he raise the minimum wage without a council vote. However, the often pusillanimous council could possibly be persuaded to act more in accordance with it’s kinder, gentler professed ideals and progressive rhetoric with a strong enough push from a mayor with significant support of the people behind him.
It is more than possible for Dan to win election as mayor of Oakland. Jean Quan won in 2010, despite being considered too leftwing by some, and despite having provoked the ire of OPD by supporting the cost-saving layoffs of eighty officers and having stood between police and protesters on the day the Mehserle verdict was announced. Quan won via Oakland’s new rank-choice voting, much to the dismay of long-time political powerhouse Don Perata.
Some like-minded Oakland residents are already skeptical of Dan Siegel’s candidacy, and who can blame them given the history of political disappointments in Oakland? A certain percentage will be unreachable, period. But Dan has to inspire and call to action as many of them as possible. Some will not buy in until they see Dan having a real chance to win election, while others may wait until after he wins, when and if real results begin to be achieved.
Simply put, Dan’s early campaign promises cannot become reality without lots of work by many people in Oakland, first to get him elected and then to work with a Siegel administration to create an Oakland that works for everyone. As he himself said at his campaign announcement event, "My theory about change is that the people make history. Not leaders, not government." Obviously, Dan Siegel cannot do it by himself and he makes this plain: "This is a work in progress. And it’s intentionally a work in progress because this campaign will succeed creating a vision and a program for change if we all participate in it."
EARLY SUPPORTERS RALLY FOR DAN SIEGEL
Campaign co-chair Walter Reilly kicked off the announcement event by saying that the candidacy of Dan Siegel for mayor of Oakland is a continuation of Dan’s lifelong efforts for economic, social, and racial justice, aligning the campaign with recent movement made by progressive forces across the nation.
Labor activist Bobby Lopez (at 0:50 into the video below) says Oakland needs deep meaningful structural change. She says that Dan is about a real safe Oakland, which at the core means stabilizing communities, finding jobs for young people, and having innovations that are driven by community and not speculator greed. She urges labor to get involved and seize this moment, uniting the interests of labor and community.
George Galvis (3:00), founder of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, endorses Dan Siegel as the "People’s Candidate." He says that if the status quo of gentrification and displacement continues in Oakland, if business as usual continues in City Hall, there will not be a place left in Oakland for many Oaklanders. The city needs someone committed to all Oaklanders and that’s Dan Siegel.
Cat Brooks (4:20), community organizer and campaign communications director, speaks to the disconnect between City Hall and those working on the ground, struggling for social and economic justice at the grassroots level. She says that Dan will be a "connector" and work with those most impacted by injustices to find solutions.
Gus Newport (5:30), activist and former mayor of Berkeley, says he is ecstatic that Dan is making the sacrifice to run for mayor of Oakland. He says that he has known Dan for 30 years and has seen him on the front lines the entire time, fighting for human rights and social justice. He says Oakland is a great city and has the potential to be one of the greatest in the world. He supports Dan’s proposals to upgrade public schools and bolster pre-kindergarten programs. He reminds those in attendance that Dan served on the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board.
Olga Miranda (9:25), an organizer with San Francisco janitors union, SEIU Local 87, asks if people are tired of seeing so much unemployment in Oakland, tired of unaffordable child care, tired of education and the city of Oakland being left behind, and tired of seeing so much inability to make a decision to better Oakland. She wants a city government that can function, where people aren’t put on hold if their house or car are broken into. She says that she has been waiting for an Oakland that can work for every family in Oakland, from the wealthiest in Piedmont to the Oakland hills to 124th Avenue. She says she is tired of workers being shafted in Oakland and children being criminalized and killed. She says San Francisco has become a city for the rich and Oakland is not taking care of its own.
Rev. Dr. Harold R. Mayberry (13:20), pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, introduces Dan Siegel by saying that he is proud and excited to lend his support to the campaign. "Oakland belongs to us," he says. "We need effective leader ship that cares, that is sensitive, not to just one element of this community but every element of this community." He says that Dan has a "vision for crime" and as a member of the Community Policing Advisory Board (CPAB) that Dan understands how community policing can work when it is effectively implemented. He says Dan understands education from having been on the OUSD board. He says, "Dan understands that if you live in Oakland, you should be able to stay in Oakland and not be driven out because you cannot afford to live in Oakland." He closes by saying that Dan brings to the table just what Oakland needs this season.
Dan Siegel (15:00) comes forward to address the crowd.
Dan Siegel Candidacy for Mayor of Oakland Formal Announcement
Siegel campaign website
THE COMPETITION FOR MAYOR OF OAKLAND
The ballot for the November 2014 election for Mayor of Oakland continues to grow. As of now, it includes Oakland’s current mayor Jean Quan, widely seen across the local political spectrum as ineffective and aimlessly pandering toward whichever way the wind blows. Quan oversaw the Oakland police department’s violent attacks against Occupy Oakland in 2011 and 2012, and she admitted to having coordinated with mayors across the U.S. on how to respond to the Occupy Wall Street movement prior to the nationwide crackdown.
Current District Four councilmember Libby Schaaf intends to take on Quan for the mayorship. Since 2010 Schaaf has represented Montclair and the affluent Highway 13 corridor in the Oakland hills. Prior to becoming a council member, Schaaf was chief of staff for former councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, was an aide to former mayor Jerry Brown, and worked for the Port of Oakland. Schaaf was a founding member of "Make Oakland Better Now!", an anti-tax, pro-austerity activist group that favors increased budgets for police. One of her staffers, Bruce Stoffmacher, was active in the anti-Occupy Oakland astroturf group "Stand for Oakland". On the home page of her campaign website, the very first specific priority Schaaf lists is "protecting our people with cops in our community."
Port of Oakland Commissioner Bryan Parker has thrown his hat into the mayoral ring. Jean Quan nominated Parker for his position at the port in 2012, but now he is running against her, stirring distrust about his motives amongst local democrats. Parker, like the others, promises to make crime his campaign’s top issue. Parker proudly announces on his website that "our message that crime and violence in our communities will not be tolerated."
SF State University professor Joe Tuman is making his second run for mayor of Oakland, having lost in 2010. Tuman is on the "Make Oakland Better Now!" board of directors. "Make Oakland Better Now!" has promoted austerity for social services and labor benefits in order to pump up police budgets and attempted to meddle in the federal consent decree overseeing the Oakland Police Department. Under "Service to Oakland", Tuman boasts on his campaign website that he worked with a committee organized by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce which partnered with the Oakland Police Department, the Alameda County District Attorney, the local US Attorney, and Operation Ceasefire staff.
Tax accountant Nancy Sidebotham says she has filed papers to run for mayor. Sidebotham was appointed by Jean Quan to the Oakland Community Policing Advisory Board (CPAB) in 2009, ran for the District Six city council seat against Desley Brooks in 2010, and was involved in the unsuccessful effort to recall Jean Quan that began in late 2011. She helped organize the "Stand for Oakland" protests against Occupy Oakland.
Patrick McCullough has run for city council in District One, most recently in 2010, having lost to first-term council member Dan Kalb, but now McCullough intends to run for mayor. In 2005, after having repeatedly called police to report "miscreants" in his neighborhood, tensions increased with a group of young men on his street which led to McCullough becoming something of a hero to some and dangerous vigilante to others when he shot 16-year-old Melvin McHenry in the arm. (McCullough used the term "miscreants" himself on a now-defunct campaign website in 2008.)
It is likely that others will jump into the fray before Election Day. It is equally likely that candidates’ positions on issues will evolve as the public responds to various messaging and candidates jockey for position. At this point, however, Dan Siegel has clearly and unapologetically staked out political territory far more inclusive and to the left of any other announced candidate for mayor of Oakland. It will be interesting to see where the candidates end up with their rhetoric and campaign promises by election day.
[Disclosure: Dan Siegel's son, Michael Siegel, is currently representing this reporter in a civil suit against BART PD over a wrongful arrest at a 2011 protest at the Powell Street station. A trial is currently scheduled for March of 2014.]