Until last week, it looked as if the 2014 mayor's race might include no true progressive candidate despite the fact that Oakland is one of the most liberal cities in America. Mayor Jean Quan ran as a progressive in 2010, but since then she has moved steadily toward the center of the political spectrum. And the three people who've announced that they're running against Quan this year — Councilmember Libby Schaaf, university professor Joe Tuman, and Port Commissioner Bryan Parker — are more moderate than she is. In short, it looked for a time as if the Left might have no voice in this year's election. But that changed last week, when longtime civil rights and labor attorney Dan Siegel announced his candidacy.
Siegel quickly showed how starkly different his political positions are from Quan and the three other candidates. During his announcement at Frank Ogawa Plaza, he called for a hike in the minimum wage in Oakland to $15 an hour. He also said that, if elected, he would close the city's controversial surveillance center. And he said he would push for more police reforms and that he supports community policing and does not believe OPD needs nine hundred officers to be effective — as some of the other candidates have suggested. Siegel also staunchly opposes so-called "tough on crime" tactics like curfews, stop-and-frisk, and gang injunctions.
"I've thought for a long time that Oakland doesn't have the leadership and government that it deserves," Siegel said in an interview, noting that the city's elected leaders have been reluctant over the years to take strong liberal positions — and stick with them.
And Siegel believes that Oakland residents — like those in other liberal cities across the country — are ready to embrace progressive candidates and ideas. He pointed to the mayoral election of Bill De Blasio in New York City and noted that socialist Kshama Sawant just won a spot on the Seattle City Council. "People are talking about progressive ideas — and Oakland, historically, has been a leader for progressive ideas," he said.
At his campaign kickoff, Siegel said he would also push to turn public schools into community centers and would propose funding programs for preschool-age children in the city. "Quality pre-school programs have shown to be the greatest and most effective thing we can do to level the playing field between children from affluent backgrounds and children from poor backgrounds, and it's time to do that," he said.
Siegel also touched on a number of other progressive issues, from gentrification and food insecurity to the large numbers of young black men in prison. Siegel also said he would hire a police chief "with the guts to give orders that citizen abuse has to stop," adding that "we need ... our men of color to be safe from racial profiling, gang injunctions, stop-and-frisk campaigns, and curfews." He also called for more urban gardens in Oakland and expanded access to fresh food for city residents: "We need to make sure we have grocery stores not only in Montclair but everywhere so people can get healthy, nutritious food at reasonable prices."
In short, the outspoken Siegel is going to make the mayor's race a lot more interesting, especially for liberal voters. Indeed, before he entered the contest, it looked as if the race might focus solely on an argument over how much more money the city should be spending on its police force — rather than whether throwing more cash at the department makes sense in light of all of the other challenges facing the city.
Siegel also is clearly disappointed in Quan, his longtime friend, who he supported in 2010. He parted ways with her in the fall of 2011 after her administration green-lighted a harsh crackdown on Occupy Oakland. Siegel told me that he would not soften his positions once in office — like he believes Quan has done. "I wouldn't have gotten into this if I didn't think I could win and I wouldn't have gotten into this if I thought I couldn't be myself," he said.
As for Siegel's chances of winning, Quan appears to be vulnerable to a challenge from the left. A recent poll by the Oakland Jobs and Housing Coalition found that while she enjoys a 10-point lead over Tuman, she would likely lose to progressive Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan if she were to run. Kaplan has not said for sure whether she will or not. And if she doesn't, Siegel may be the only progressive standard-bearer in the race.
Go Away, Oyster Farm
A controversial oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore suffered its fourth consecutive defeat this week, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear its case. The oyster farm had asked for the full Ninth Circuit to overturn a decision last year by a three-judge panel from the same court, which ruled that the business should close to make way for the first marine wilderness on the West Coast. That panel, like a lower court judge, upheld a 2012 decision by the Obama administration to not renew the oyster farm's lease on public land because Congress had voted to turn the property into a marine wilderness.
The latest ruling means that the only way that Drakes Bay Oyster Company will be able to remain open is if it seeks and is granted a hearing in front of the US Supreme Court. Chances of that happening, however, appeared to be slim after the entire Ninth Circuit rejected the oyster farm's request for appeal this week. Not a single judge asked to hear the case.
In other words, it's way past time for the oyster farm to close. The owners of the business knew when they purchased it in 2004 that the National Park Service had no intention of renewing the lease. In fact, the owners got the farm at a discount because everyone knew the lease was going to expire in 2012.