Chris Crow

Nov 042012
Tony Santos, Benny Lee and Hendy Huang

Benny Lee (center) with former Mayor Tony Santos (left) and supporter Hendy Huang.

Lee’s mailer highlights bad decision-making by Shelia Young and Tony Santos

I am the volunteer campaign manager for  Chris Crow, who is running for San Leandro City Council District 4, so when I received a mailer from his opponent, Benny Lee, I was quite interested in reading it.  I was expecting he’d use the mailer to answer criticisms about his lack of concrete proposals on how to move San Leandro forward.

Instead, his mailer focused on criticizing the City for three poor decisions made in the last decade.  Surprisingly, these were all done while two of his endorsers, Shelia Young and Tony Santos, were Mayor of San Leandro.  Two of his other endorsers, O.B. Badger and Ursula Reed, were in the City Council at the time.  Tony Santos, in particular, has been Benny Lee’s mentor and they are staunch allies.

The first issue Lee brings up is a loan guarantee the City gave to a private company – with Shelia Young’s approval.  The borrowers defaulted, the lender wants the City to pay up, and we may be on the hook for millions of dollars.

Another has to do with a city street apparently under foreclosure.  Lee’s mailer is not clear on the particulars, but it shows the matter going back to  2005, when Shelia Young was Mayor and Badger and Santos were in the City Council.

Finally, the mailer points out the City could have saved millions by refinancing its pension liabilities when interest rates first fell several years ago.  He is right, but both the Young and Santos administration ignored this issue.  It wasn’t until Stephen Cassidy became mayor that the debt was refinanced.

Lee could have pointed out many other bad decisions past City Councils have made, such as having the City pay the employee’s portion of their pensions, engaging in the Faith Fellowship and Albertson’s litigations  (which combined cost the city about $7,000,000) and not handling the sex and race discrimination issues at the Police Department before getting sued.

I agree with Lee’s tacit conclusion that both Tony Santos and Shelia Young, and more recently Reed, appear to have done less than a competent job while in the Council.   But there is no reason to suspect Lee will do any better.  On his mailer he calls himself a “financial analyst” and promises to fix the city’s budget problems, but a quick look at his resume shows that his actual expertise is in IT, with a focus on financial computer systems.   His promise to search through the city budget for savings seems disingenuous when he could have easily done so already. The budget is available for download at the city’s website.

And indeed, Lee has given us a hint of the type of decisions he will make if elected.  For example, he would kick a green-energy company out of town, because he fears the lone wind turbine they want to install will give his wife headaches.  He would ban marijuana dispensaries because a friend became addicted to alcohol as a teen and then died of cirrhosis (yes, I fail to see the connection as well).  He would get rid of RCV purportedly because Chinese Americans are unable to understand how to vote.  And he would not make Police officers have to pay their share of pension contributions.  In return, the Police union has spent more than $7,500 to get him elected.

Now, given that I support Chris Crow, it’s not surprising that I’m unimpressed by Lee.  What is surprising is how unimpressed he seems to be with the people who endorsed him.

Oct 062012

The Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women’s Voters had a forum on Sep. 25th for San Leandro City Council candidates.  Candidates gave a short opening and closing statements, and answered written questions from audience members.  If anyone had any doubt that Chris Crow is the only qualified candidate for District 4, watching the videos below will erase them.

If you don’t want to listen to everything, you can sum up their positions as:

Chris Crow: Vote for me because I have a concrete plan to raise revenue, manage the budget and push economic development.

Justin Hutchinson: Vote for me because I’m married with four children and have lived all my life in Washington Manor.  Plus I’m a security executive at Target so I can give the police some tips on how to do their jobs.

Darlene Daevu: Vote for me because I have an MBA from Golden Gate University.

Benny Lee: Vote for me because I will tell you whatever it is I think you want to hear.  Just don’t hold me to it next time you see me.

Opening Statements

“What are your specific proposals for raising revenue in the next four years?”

“On police, fire, and employees’ pensions, should there be a top limit of $100,000 or $110,000?”

“What will you do to help retain businesses?”

“What is your position on Measure L?”

“With such high unemployment yet so much construction going on, would you support a program of San Leandro jobs for San Leandro people like Oakland’s recent initiative of Oakland jobs for Oakland people?”

“As an elected Councilmember, how would you assure that events like tonight have large attendance of students, especially high schools?”

“What would you do to bring the many communities San Leandro together?”

Closing Statements


Note: The candidates for all the Districts were on the same panel.  These videos have been edited to only include the answers from District 4 candidates.  The order here does not reflect the order on which the questions were asked. The somewhat tongue-in-chick summaries are mine 🙂

Sep 192012

It’s no secret that I support Chris Crow for City Council.  To many people, however, it is surprising – though I’m not entirely sure why.

It’s true, when I first met Chris in the comments area of San Leandro Patch, and later on my San Leandro Talk Facebook page, I wasn’t his biggest fan. I thought he was cocky, sort of a know-it-all, and let his enthusiasm get ahead of fact-checking or analysis. We argued a lot.

My opinion of him started changing when I took a greater interest in the Bal Theater’s struggles with City Hall. As my kids were out of town for the summer, I went to a Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) meeting where they’d be discussing giving Dillman a permit. Chris was representing Dillman before the BZA, laying down the facts and making his argument. He didn’t do the best job, I will admit, he got argumentative and “threatened” the BZA that the Bal would continue operating without a permit, if they didn’t get all they wanted. Still, I was impressed at the fact that here was someone, with no legal background, who had taken the trouble to study what is a very complex issue (zoning law) in order to help a community business thrive. As I learned more about how City Hall was trying to strong-arm Dan Dillman, and how it was basically Chris’ efforts that were keeping them at bay, my respect for Chris grew.

Over time, Chris and I have worked on many issues together. As he became more involved in following the actions of the City Council, its committees and commissions, he alerted me to many deeds that seemed suspicious or harmful to the City. I saw him research complex issues, ranging from the city’s taxing policy to its arbitrary zoning regulations, and come out with surprisingly (to me, at first) insightful analyses and solutions. Even more impressively, I saw him speaking out on issues that matter, standing up to a City staff that can be insulting and condescending, challenging the status quo, even at what seemed like a high political cost (his dismissal from the Planning Commission being a prime example). Chris is one of the few candidates, not just in San Leandro but across the allegedly liberal Bay Area, who is willing to stand up to the Police Department and call them out when they do something wrong. That takes an impressive amount of courage.

I respect a man, a person, who stands up for his beliefs and does what’s right for the community. I respect Chris.

Chris and I don’t always agree. He worked hard to pass Prop 29, a tax on cigarettes, which I opposed for being regressive. He is a big proponent of Bus Rapid Transit, as he thinks it would revitalize South San Leandro. I think it’s bad for riders. But we do agree on what I consider fundamentals: that City Hall’s primary responsibility is towards the citizens of San Leandro, that the government must be transparent and accountable to the community, that human dignity and civil liberties must be respected, and that we shouldn’t allow petty politics to interfere with the quest for the common good.

All this said, Chris is still a bit “green.”  Not to policy, which is really what matters, but to politics. I’m hesitant to fault him for that. Good politicians excel at lying well, selling themselves to the highest bidder while pretending to be “of the people.” In that sense, I’m glad that Chris is not a “good politician” – I hope he doesn’t become one.

I know, of course, that once he gets elected, Chris and I will knock heads many times. I will be his harshest critic. It will be Chris’ ability to take criticism constructively which will determine how good a public servant he makes. I have confidence he’ll be great.

Aug 292012

Supporters of City Council candidate accuse opponent of “racism”.

The general rule of political campaigning is to first build up your candidate, and only start attacking his opponent if the latter seems to be winning.   It makes little sense to build your opponent’s name recognition early on as voters are likely to remember the name but not necessarily the sin.  Negative campaigning, moreover, is not without its dangers; do it wrong and you risk alienating voters.

A popular tactic is to use proxies for your attack: people who are not officially part of your campaign so that you can deny your personal involvement.  Unfortunately, voters are smart and usually see through this and interpret any negative attack on one candidate as coming from his main opposition.

Good campaign managers know all this, and Charlie Gilcrest is good.  First time candidates, however, often believe they know better and strike out on their own.  This seems to be what happened in the case of Gilcrest client Benny Lee, who is running for the District 4 City Council seat against Chris Crow (whom I support) and Darlene Daevu.   Lee, a social conservative who registered Democrat for this race, has been very active in his Heron Bay neighborhood, but he lacks name recognition in the city as a whole.  His close association with former Mayor Tony Santos, moreover, could be a liability.

As one of his first campaign moves, Lee instigated what could only be described as a dirty attack on Crow.  Crow had posted a link on his private Facebook page,only visible to his Facebook friends, to a news story that quoted the mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist party on the poor performance of Chinese athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games.  According to the spokesman, Chinese athletes cannot compete against westerners because the latter have bigger chests and heads.  Crow found the excuse absurd and ironically commented above the link “so I suppose they really were cheating in 2008 when they took home more Gold medals than the USA or they are the sorest losers in the world.”

Lee, a Chinese-American and Crow’s sole Facebook friend with ties to the players in this saga, apparently saw this comment as an opportunity to play the “race card” and try to portray Crow as “anti-Chinese”.  Lee’s friends quickly contacted Steven Tavares, a friendly blogger, and concocted a story about how the Chinese community was outraged at Crow’s remarks.   As proof, Tavares quoted  several Lee supporters, without identifying them as such.  “He is accusing every Chinese in the world of being cheaters” said Hendy Wijaya (aka Hendy Huang), insisting Crow withdraw from the race.  “When someone coughs up something like that, the heart and mind is discriminating” stated Eduardo Collaco.   Many anonymous comments followed calling Crow a racist.

Dirty and silly campaign tactics are, unfortunately, not new to San Leandro nor to Lee’s cohorts in particular.  In 2010, Lee, Wijaya and Collaco, along with Tavares, were among the biggest supporters of ex-Mayor Tony Santos on his bid for re-election.  Tavares published story after story demonizing Santos’ main opponent, now Mayor Steven Cassidy.  Hendy Huang, meanwhile, filed a complaint against Cassidy with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging Cassidy broke the law by wearing a campaign t-shirt while being “dunked” at a school festival  (Huang, as an aside, tried to have the 9th grade campus named after himself).  The complaint was promptly dismissed.  Santos himself tried to portray Cassidy as racist by suggesting that some anti-Asian/anti-Santos graffiti found in Heron Bay was campaign related.   Lee, meanwhile, has faithfully followed Santos on the anti-rank choice voting campaign he started after losing re-election.   Santos is now paying Lee back by being a vocal participant in the attacks against Chris Crow.

While Crow should not be surprised at the vitriol that characters like Santos and Wijaya/Huang will show throughout the campaign, he is perplexed about the allegations of racial bias against Asians.  Crow grew up in an Asian-American household; his grandmother escaped North Korea after losing her whole family in the war.   He’s lived his whole life in post-integration San Leandro and his circle of friends include people of all races and colors.  His proudest accomplishment is having founded “Team Craig“, an organization which first fundraised to help pay for the medical needs of a Filipino-American friend with cancer, and that now provides scholarships to High School students in Craig’s honor.   Perhaps more poignantly, Crow coaches wrestling at the High School, where most of the team is composed of Asian-Americans.  Despite their alleged “small chests and heads”, Crow believes several have the potential to win gold medals at the Olympics, regardless of what any Chinese Communist Mouthpieces might say.