Oct 262014

For the last few weeks, we’ve been inundated with mailers from all sorts of candidates.  Those running for City Council don’t make too many claims, limiting themselves to listing their resume, saying a few platitudes and maybe having a banal quote or two from some elected official, often one voters have never heard of.   The candidates for Mayor who’ve served in the City Council, however, need to make the case of what they’ve been doing for the last four to eight years.  But are they being honest with their claims? I decided to check it out.

Diana Souza

False Claims:

In her mailer, Souza claims that several buildings were “approved and accomplished under Diana’s leadership.”  Most of these are discussed under “questionable claims” below, but it’s patently false that the 9th grade campus and Grocery Outlet were “approved and accomplished” under her leadership.  The 9th grade campus was built entirely with School District funds.  The City demanded that some aesthetic changes be made to the outside of the building and paid for these changes.  The City also partnered with the District to build the school’s gymnasium, paing part of the cost and in return having the district make it available for City purposes.   The City Council voted against having Grocery Outlet move into the downtown property which is being developed as “The Village”.  Grocery Outlet then found another property that was zoned for grocery stores and opened there.

In the “Parents for Progress” paid slate mailer, Souza claims to have provided money to complete the  new health clinic, championed after-school programs, safe routes to schools, school resource officers and crossing guards.”  However, the  The City Council did not provide any money to complete the new health clinic.  Rather, they provided a loan to the School District, at a higher interest that they were receiving from investing those funds, so that the District could buy the building.  Souza has never championed after-school programs and these, indeed, were cut while she was in the Council.  At the last City Council meeting, Souza argued that the School District, and not the City, should pay for school resource officers; she has also voted to cut crossing guards.

Questionable Claims:

In the “Parents for Progress” paid slate mailer, Souza claims to have “been good for both our school districts, funding joint projects.” However, Souza has often spoken out against the City providing any funds to the School District, even to maintain facilities used exclusively for the City.  Indeed, her animosity to the school has been so great that the San Leandro Teachers Association, who supported Corina Lopez when she ran against Pauline Cutter due to their own animosity to Cutter, has endorsed Cutter for Mayor.

In her mailer, Souza claims that under her leadership several buildings were approved and accomplished.  However, while she approved them by voting for them, she did nothing to “accomplish” them.

Souza also takes credit for many “accomplishments” that are questionable at best. The Council “added resource officers” but Souza now favors making the School District pay for them.  The Council might have increased city programs for youth, but only to cut them later.  The Council may have expanded shuttle programs, but she has voted and/or spoken against the Links shuttle since she was elected.  The Council had historically funded crossing guards, only to cut them in 2010, and then restore them but only after the School District agreed to share the costs.  As far as I know, there are no neighborhood police beats – at least not any visible ones around here -, but if there are, they would be because of the Police Chief, not anything that Souza has done.  She might have voted to adopt transit oriented development plans, the same ones which the Council used to block Grocery Outlet form using the former Albertson’s site, but these have fallen apart, which is why “The Village” was able to be constructed.

Souza has not brought new shopping and dining opportunities to town, unless she means she did so by approving Village Marketplace, which will feature a fast food burger joint. And if she brought back the Cherry Festival and the Tree lighting (Sausage & Suds is not funded by the City) before Cutter joined the Council, it was only to cut them again, as neither took place in 2010.

Her only role in the other accomplishments she lists was to vote for them.

Empty Promises: Souza has a long list of things we need to do. However, she’s been in the Council for 8 years without fulfilling them.

I e-mailed Diana Souza to ask for clarification on these claims, but did not hear back.

Pauline Cutter:

Questionable Claims: In one of her mailers, Cutter claims to have “lobbied Justice Department officials in Washington, DC for additional public safety resources.” However, the law enforcement funds that the City has obtained came in the form of competitive grants based on objective criteria.  Cutter also claims that San Leandro just received federal funding for four more officers, however the COPS grant is only for $500K, which will cover less than the cost of one police officer for four years. The City wants the School District to pay the $1.7 million needed for the three other officers.

Under “Record of Accomplishments,”  Cutter claims to have hired new police officers; however, the funds came from the COPS grant the City obtained before Cutter was in the Council.  When I e-mailed her about it, Cutter said she found the funds to continue funding the police officers after the grant expired.   Her claim to have opened Kaiser Hospital seems also unfounded, as the hospital was well under way to being built before Cutter joined the Council. Upon e-mailing her, Cutter responded that the Council fast-tracked Kaiser and it opened before it was originally scheduled to.

Empty Promises: Cutter promises she “will continue to enhance our quality of life by attracting quality retail and dining options to San Leandro.”  However, she has not been able to accomplish that in the last four years, and she has not outlined a plan as to how she will do this. She also voted to sell the former Albertson’s property to developer David Irmer, assuring that only chain stores would be present in the new “Village Marketplace”.

Jun 012014

PAC-mailer-2 Supporters of incumbent Congress member Mike Honda have reached a new low.  They’ve sent out a xenophobic mailer falsely accusing Indian-American candidate Ro Khanna of wanting to “outsource our jobs”.  The mailer  plays on old fears of Indians stealing American jobs and is meant to both exploit any lingering racism among white voters against Indian-Americans.

It is profoundly sad that this is being done to support Mike Honda, a man who has fought against racial discrimination his whole life. It is also sad that Honda’s campaign will not distance Mike Honda from this mailer by denouncing it . I don’t want to believe that Mike Honda knows about the mailers.

It seems to me that Honda’s staffers are much more interested in having Honda elected at any cost, than they are in preserving the dignity of a man who has been a voice for the disenfranchised for a generation.  I think Mike Honda and his legacy deserve better.

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.

Nov 032012

Dear Rob,

I just got *yet another* campaign mailer maligning your opponent, Abel Guillen.  This is the /twelfth/ mailer I get that supports you.  It’s the second that’s negative towards Abel.  The first one was put out by an independent committee, but this one comes straight out of your campaign.

Really, Rob?  Did you need to do that? Sure, Abel sent a negative mailer against you (and a pretty good one), but it was one of just two mailers we got supporting him.  We got twelve supporting you!  All pretty much repeating the same platitudes (would it be so hard to actually share your platform or any concrete proposal in /one/ of your mailers? I know your parents worked with César Chávez and that you are in favor of education, what else do you have to offer?), this one also attacks Abel.

Look, Rob, you are going to win.  All the money you spent, coupled with the hundreds of thousands of dollars PACs have spent on your behalf, will make sure you do.  And I think you will do a good job, even though all that money indebts you to so many special interest groups.  You are smart, you understand the issues and how to approach them, you are a careful thinker and I think you have solid Democratic values.  That’s why I endorsed you a year ago, and kept my endorsement even though now I support Abel.  I also think you are ethical – though beware that politics threatens everyone’s moral core.  I think you will become one of the stars of the Democratic Party.  I look forward to seeing you in that role

Your bright political future is even more of a reason to refrain from attacking Abel.  At this point in the race, with 12 mailers for you versus 2 for him, why the need to be petty?  Why create enemies and leave a sour taste in the mouths of voters?  Don’t we have enough acrimony in the Presidential race?  And did you forget the campaign maxim that you attack when you think you’ll lose, and you are graceful when you think you’ll win? Don’t you think you’ll win?

And Rob, one last thing.  Twelve mailers is way too much.  How many hundreds of thousands of dollars have you and your supporters spent on them?  You talk about being all for education, but why not just send 6 (still 3 times more than Guillen), and give the rest of the money to the schools?  Here, in San Leandro, we could afford to keep our music and arts program for at least a year with that money.

Thanks for reading,

Margarita Lacabe

This letter has also been posted on Rob Bonta’s Facebook page

May 042012

Guillen and Bonta visit our mail boxes, but who makes the best impression?

Just got my first mailer from Rob Bonta, after getting four or five from Abel J. Guillen.  And for election junkies, here is my analysis 🙂  I’ll post pictures of the mailers after I scan them.

Bonta made a bad move by 1) having his mailers delivered after Guillen’s and 2) having them be very similar colors.  Guillen’s is more purplish, but they are too alike.  That means that after so much stuff from Guillen, I almost didn’t look at Bonta’s and just assumed it was another piece from Guillen.

Guillen gets brownie points for having gotten his first mailer out first, but loses them for having sent out so many in such a short period of time.  Granted, one of them is not from his campaign but from the Nurses association, but it’s so similar in look to the other ones that you wouldn’t be able to tell.  Four mailers make him look desperate and begin to make me wonder about his concern for the environment.   I think I’m going to scream if I get another mailer from him with my absentee ballot!

Guillen’s mailers wouldn’t be so annoying (and ineffective) if it wasn’t for the fact that they are too similar.  Two of them (granted, one is a walking piece but it was dropped in my mailbox) feature the exact same photograph of him.  Unfortunately, it’s not even a good photograph.  It includes too much of his body and given that he’s a big guy, that takes some attention away from his face.  Even worse is that the picture was taken in the sun so he’s squinting.  When you are hoping that people trust you, it’s actually important to have them be able to see your eyes.

But the similarity in the look of the mailers also implies a similarity in the message – so there is no incentive, even for an engaged voter, to look carefully at more than one of them, specially as they have nothing that visually grab you.

And even bigger sin, however, is the fact that Abel’s mailers hide his name.  The most important part of any campaign is to have voters remember your name (and hopefully in a good way).  Expert say that they need to see your name at least five times for it to stick in their minds.  That means that the first rule for a mailer is: have the name of the candidate prominently displayed on the first page.  And that means that it should be in larger letters and a different font than anything else on the mailer.  I truly don’t understand how Abel could have missed something so basic.   (Now, this rule can be broken when you make a mailer so compelling that people actually turn the page and/or read it – but a mere picture of the candidate won’t accomplish that).

I wish I didn’t have anything more to criticize, but Abel’s mailers also need to be faulted for their design and content.  Abel’s first mailer was an 8 1/2 by 11, double page affair.  Inside it had two photographs (including one of just himself, squiting, again) and so much text, in so many different fonts and so many different sections of the page (10 in addition to his logo) that makes it too busy and a nightmare to read.  Indeed, I had to force myself to read it, and couldn’t even do it on my first try.  I just wanted to close my eyes and run away from it.

His second double-paged mailer was slightly better.  It has a nice picture of a beautiful African-American professor (the race matters here, as Abel is trying to show that he has support from all demographics), but the name issue remains.  While the text inside is better organized (less prone to give me a headache), there is way too much of it.  He has four paragraphs about himself and five points on his accomplishments, plus a quote from a newspaper.  Again, I love Abel but even I will not read so much stuff.

The two postcards I’ve gotten from him are better in that they at least have less text but he seems to be unaware of the rule that 1) you should have only three items per mailer (that’s as much as a reader is willing to look at and remember) and 2) you shouldn’t have long paragraphs.  Candidates should remember that people get their mailers along with their mail – which means they are flipping through it and unless for some reason they grab them, they won’t do much more than glance at them.

And that may actually be a good thing – for the content on Guillen’s mailers is also repetitious.  He mostly talks about what he has accomplished in the Peralta Board, which would be great if he was running for re-election, but he’s running for Assembly.  If he’s going to talk about accomplishments, he needs to explicitly divorce at least some of them from the Board.

Now, I’ve only received that one postcard from Rob Bonta, so it may not be fair to compare him to Guillen yet.  After all, his mailers to be may be just atrocious.  But Bonta does several things right on this postcard.    First of all, his name is prominent on both sides of the postcard.  It’s in the style of his lawn sign (assuming he has one), which I wonder if is a trend our graphic designer started in Mike’s campaign or existed before that.  I might have liked the sign to be a bit larger, though.  Bonta should remember older people vote more and some of us can see less and less.

I also wish the picture of hims with his family – all smiling at an ice cream parlor – would be larger.  Now, I understand they had space limitations, but a good photo editor would have been able to delete the space between him and his younger children and crop the edges of the picture some more and thus be able to make their faces more prominent (remember those older people with bad eyesight).    On the plus side, the picture is wonderful.  It’s a perfect setting, it emphasizes the fact that he is a family man and his children and wife are just beautiful so it’s a pleasure to look at them (yeah, I think it’s horrible that beautiful people grab more attention, but it’s a fact of life).

The other side of the mailer is OK.  It has two pictures of him.  A larger one with firefighters, which is good, and another one sitting with a bunch of kids – which, again, is too small for me to see without effort.  He is smart and keeps to the rule of three, listing three accomplishments in which he bolds just a few words (so people can glance at them and get the point) and with less excessive text.  I do think, however, that the font should have been darker and the margins had a brighter color that would draw me more to that side.  Content wise, one of his three points wasn’t clearly linked to his work as Vice Mayor and showed benefits for people beyond his current stakeholders.

I am curious to see if anyone is interested on this type of  campaign analysis, so I would appreciate if you let me know by commenting, or at least “liking” or “sharing” this article on Facebook.  Thanks!