Don Gosney: In election season, it's important to take everything with a grain of salt

Radio Free Richmond

blogimage.jpgI’ve attended a number of forums this season for both the Richmond Mayor/Council races and for the WCCUSDSchool Board. What I’m seeing a lot of are candidates who are quick to point out the problems—the obvious problems that we can all see—but what I’m not seeing a lot of are solutions to those problems. So why should I vote for a candidate who has such limited vision as to only see the obvious? If I point out the obvious problems does that make me the obvious choice to hold office? 

What I’m also seeing are Council incumbents (all seven are on the ballot this year in one capacity or another) who want to take credit for everything from the sun rising each morning to the national economy being on the rebound. What worries me the most about this is that we have voters that are drinking this Kool-Aid and buying what’s being sold to them. 

At the Hilltop forum we heard one incumbent boasting of nearly 4300 new jobs in Richmond during the last four years of his administration. What he failed to do is tell us how many jobs LEFT Richmond during that same time frame. What would have been more informative and truthful was telling us the NET INCREASE in jobs. 

Of course, he also failed to point out how the worldwide economy had rebounded during that same time frame with millions of new jobs created here in the U.S. Here in the U.S. the Dow Jones Average has gone up more than 56% (6,111 points) in that four year period. Does he want to take credit for that, too? 

We had another incumbent tell us that in the past month Richmond saw 42 new businesses come to town bringing in 73 new jobs. Yes, this should be applauded but that’s only 1.7 new jobs per business. That means that most of these new businesses are one and two person companies. What kind of tax revenue can be expected for those kinds of businesses and how many of those jobs went to Richmond residents? 

DH7T0320A.jpgThese incumbents also want to take credit for the reduction in violent crime here in Richmond. As Mayoral candidate Bates told the forum audience at SeaCliff last week, there isn’t a single person sitting on the Council that has made any arrests or patrolled any of the streets of Richmond. All they can take credit for is authorizing the funds for the department and getting out of their way. So exactly what are these candidates taking credit for? 

You have candidates slinging mud—Chevron mud—trying to make themselves look good all the while trying to make their opponents look bad. And it’s all guilt by association. If a candidate doesn’t condemn Chevron then they must have been bought and paid for by the big bad oil company and are, by definition, corrupt and evil. 

Some will proudly boast that they do not take corporate contributions for their campaigns but that, too, is disingenuous. They take matching funds from the City and well over half of those funds are generated from corporate tax dollars. Isn’t this accepting corporate contributions by proxy? 

The same goes for those incumbents who receive a salary for serving on the Council. Once again, well over half of their salary is being paid for by corporations—with the bulk of that coming from Chevron. Rather than returning that money to the City, they run to the bank to cash their paychecks. Yet they claim they are independent but anyone else who allows these corporations to campaign on their behalf is corrupt. 

If Chevron runs an independent expenditure campaign for their candidates then the candidates are proclaimed to be evildoers but, as we saw four years ago, the card clubs ran independent expenditure campaigns for their candidates, then no one jumped up and down to paint those candidates as being corrupt. Where’s the equality? 

At the WCCUSD School Board forum last Tuesday night it was obvious that many of the candidates were woefully ignorant of many of the more important issues facing the District. What they did know, though, were the catch phrases of the day: transparency, failure to communicate, mismanagement of funds and even corruption. When asked, they couldn’t give any details but what should that matter? Why should it be important that before a candidate accuses their opponents of corruption, incompetence and even accepting bribes, that the accuser be required to back up their accusations? 

What is particularly aggravating are those candidates who play the race or gender card. In particular, we have candidates that are trying to make the opposition look bad because they failed to be indignant enough when a couple of homophobic citizens caused a ruckus by criticizing the sexual orientation of a member of the Council. It did not seem to matter that one of those homophobes had the Constitutionally protected right to voice his viewpoints (which I DO NOT embrace). Because her opponents failed to speak out and condemn these homophobes she seems to be painting them as being like minded and of the same caliber. It’s as if she wants to increase her own popularity by putting others down. It was embarrassing to see a candidate shopping the story to the media in the hopes of using them to drum up support for her candidacy. 

We’re receiving the normal ton of mailers with much of it being negative. In a more perfect world we’d all like to see campaigning being of the type where the candidates and their supporters sing the virtues of their candidates. We would never see the negative stuff about the opposition. 

But sometimes it’s important to know the negatives about the candidates running for office. If a candidate can’t handle their own personal finances and has filed for bankruptcy protection, wouldn’t this make a voter question whether that person would be qualified to manage the finances of the City? If a candidate allowed their chief of staff to embezzle close to $100,000 from their employer (mostly because the candidate didn’t take the time to read what she was signing), isn’t this a test of the candidate’s ability to be entrusted with the people’s business? If the candidate has a history of failing to attend meetings, not understanding the subject matter or posting to Facebook during important presentations at the Council, wouldn’t this be information the public should know about? If a candidate participates in events that are controversial and casts a shadow over the City, isn’t this something to consider before casting a vote? 

DH7T0216A.jpgWhether we like the fact that the message is negative isn’t really the point. Whether the source of this information comes from a corporate giant hated and despised by members of the community shouldn’t matter. What should matter is whether the information being distributed is true or not. There are no degrees of truth. Truth is black and white. 

It would be nice at these forums if we could hear questions of relevance so we could learn more about the thinking process of the candidates. 

At one of the earlier forums we had family members rising to ask questions of their spouses. The questions were of minor relevance with the candidate being set up with a platform from which to speak. We recently had questions about what the candidates were going to do to save Doctors Medical Center. While DMC is an important issue, the question was not relevant. First off, this Council will not be sworn in until January and DMC is set to close in the next month. By the time this Council can take action, the fate of DMC may already be a fait accompli. Plus, as Mayoral candidate Butt responded, this is not an issue under the jurisdiction of the Council. DMC has their own elected governing board and it would be improper for the Council or any member of the Council to intercede without that body’s invitation and approval. 

It’s great that we have these forums because to allows regular citizens an opportunity to see and hear the candidates in a venue outside of the normal Council meetings where there is no direct interchange between the elected representatives and the people. 

The frustrating part, though, is that there seems to be little coordination between the sponsors of these forums. We have forums scheduled head to head against each other. Just last Tuesday the voters had to decide whether to attend the WCCUSD forum at De Anza HS, attend any of the city council meetings in West County or participate in a West County Transportation Town Hall—which were all being held at the same time. 

And little effort is made to advertise these events so more of the public might attend. As it stands right now—at least for the Council forums—you have Mayoral candidate Uwahemu’s young supporters sitting in the back rooting him on and in the other back corner you have the Richmond Progressive Alliance supporters rooting on their candidates. Then you have the family members and maybe someone from the media. When you exclude those people, you have scant few regular people attending these events. 

Many of the candidates question the value of these forums. Since they’re reaching such a small number of voters and it’s taking them away from walking precincts and phoning voters, they question whether it’s worth their time and effort. They also wonder how many attendees arrive with even a small amount of room left in their minds where their voting choices might be altered. The candidates often believe that virtually everyone who attends these forums already has their minds made up. 

DH7T0117A.jpgAnd lastly, one of the things that the audience would greatly appreciate is that the sponsors start these forums on time. Like the Council meetings, there is often a drop dead time when the venue must be vacated. That leaves precious little time to conduct the forum so the public can hear from the candidates. If the sponsors delay the start by 15 minutes or more, there’s less time left for the Q&A. At Tuesday’s WCCUSD forum they allotted two hours but because they were so slow in getting started, the forum only lasted 96 minutes. 

And it’s not just the sponsors who need to treat the public with respect by starting on time. The candidates need to arrive with enough time to do what they need to do so when it’s time to start the forum the candidates are sitting at their assigned seats ready to go to work. [This is a common complaint from the public about the Council who routinely arrives late and has the public and high priced staff and consultants sitting around waiting on them.] 

The forums are a valuable part of the process but their value is being wasted. Who amongst us will step forward to make the necessary changes? Who can we count on to get the word out about the when and the where for these forums? Who can we count on to get the candidates there on time and ready to go to work? And who can we count on to ask relevant hard ball questions that will tell the voters who they can count on to meet the needs of the public?

By: Don Gosney, Richmond Resident

Showing 6 reactions

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  • mike
    commented 2014-09-29 07:04:15 -0700
    Don-I’ll bet you’re a big fan of Citizens United. I know, I know-that’s where the $$$$ is.
  • Violet Buddha
    commented 2014-09-28 15:41:26 -0700
    Don Gosney you state that “For one thing, I do not believe that Chevron owns Richmond nor do I believe that they own now or have owned in the past any of the candidates or elected officials.”

    As a Point Richmond resident, I call b.s. Who is funding all the disgusting, insulting and lying hit pieces of literature for Nat Bates targeting Team Richmond candidates? CHEVRON. Simply put, CHEVRON is funding Nat Bates, and he will do their bidding.

    Give me a break.
  • Raquel Donoso
    commented 2014-09-27 09:43:50 -0700
    As one of the WCCUSD candidates I am proud to say I have spoken often about specific solutions. They include 1. We need to invest more in acceleration reading programs so that kids that are behind have a plan to catch up and read at grade level- these are done in other districts with great success.

    2. The District needs to overhaul the Bond Oversight website and post documents that are easier to understand and review for the public. As the CEO of an organization I have a lot of experience developing materials that are community ready and friendly while being content rich.

    3. I have said often the strategic and LCAP plans need less priorities so that we can truly focus on and invest in the few changes that have been shown over and over again to have the biggest bang for your dollar. Districts that are showing the most promise are those that have fewer priorities and divert dollars to those remedies. Again as someone that has taken an organization from startup to success it was because we focused on a few bold, seemingly simple action items.

    I agree we need to talk about solutions and I am passionately committed to doing that.
  • Tom Butt
    commented 2014-09-27 08:21:40 -0700
    Just to respond to one of Don’s questions, employment. You can go to to get these statistics.

    Richmond employment reached its nadir in January 2010, when 44,000 people were employed and 10,000 unemployed. The unemployment rate was 18.5%

    The latest statistics are from August 2014, when Richmond had a labor force of 54,000, employment of 48,600, unemployment of 5,400 and an unemployment rate of 10%.

    The net increase in jobs is 4,600, and the decrease in unemployment is (18.5% – 10.0% = 8.5%)/18.5% = 45.9%. That’s almost cutting unemployment in half.

    How much the City Council or any individual had to do with these improved employment statistics is impossible to say. But it is just as impossible to say that City Council policies or individuals on the City Council have “killed jobs” or suppressed the creation of jobs, as some candidates claim.

    The only point is that the quality of life in Richmond, including employment for Richmond residents, is improving, in some cases dramatically, not getting worse.

    Of course challengers are going to argue that they could drive changes for the better even faster, but that, too, is pure speculation.

    I think what we need is more pressure on challengers to provide details of how they would do things differently, how they would influence a majority of he City Council to follow them, and to provide credible evidence that the policy changes they advocate would result in tangible improvements.
  • Don Gosney
    commented 2014-09-26 16:31:12 -0700
    It would be unwise for you to try to say that I’m admitting something I did not admit to. Putting words in other people’s mouths is a dangerous and impolite thing to do.

    What I did say was that it was disingenuous for some of the candidates claiming not to take corporate contributions to accept matching funds—or even their city salaries—if large parts of those funds were being supplied by the same corporations they work so hard to distance themselves from. Independent expenditures—by their nature—are independent. Those candidates being supported by Chevron, by Labor, by The Sierra Club or any other entity in this election are no different than those candidates that were supported by the card clubs four years ago. There’s no interaction between the candidates and their corporate supporters so why do you suppose some people seem to think this is true? Do you have evidence to the contrary or is this just your own opinion? Do you believe that Gayle, Jovanka, Eduardo and Marilyn had secret meetings with the card clubs four years ago? If you believe there was a wall between those candidates and their corporate supporters then, why would you believe that there exists no such wall today between the candidates and their corporate supporters?

    If you want to relabel Richmond as Chevrond, then feel free to do so but please don’t try to say that this is coming from me.

    For one thing, I do not believe that Chevron owns Richmond nor do I believe that they own now or have owned in the past any of the candidates or elected officials. Just because a candidate shares the same values on SOME issues as someone else or even a corporate entity, that’s not the same as being owned by that person or company. I understand that you’re not a stupid person so I’m betting that you already knew that before you wrote your comments.
  • Richard Sugerman
    commented 2014-09-26 15:46:05 -0700
    What a bunch of disingenuous bullshit.

    Seems you admit that ‘Richmond’ is actually “Chevrond” and claim RPA is taking corporate money because Chevron owns Richmond and therefore city matching funds are actually Chevron funds. That would be the definition if disingenuous.
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