Since 2011, AC Transit Board Director At-Large Joel Young has racked up a list of notable misdeeds unmatched in East Bay politics. Two years after being appointed to the seat, he began what was then believed to be a promising run for the state Assembly. But one morning in March 2011, Young's girlfriend arrived at his apartment to find him in bed with another woman. The resulting argument led to allegations by the girlfriend that Young struck her in the face. Young denied wrongdoing and an Alameda County Superior Court judge dismissed a restraining order request by Young's ex, but not before stating that he didn't believe Young's story.
Then, a little more than a year later, during his run for the Assembly, Young spit in the eye of Jason Overman, who is Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan's current mayoral campaign manager (Young had been appointed to replace Kaplan on the AC Transit board). Young lost the Assembly race and returned to the board, but last year, another damaging act of alleged impropriety led his colleagues to censure him for improperly using his position to enrich himself at the public's expense.
Yet, the totality of Young's notorious behavior did nothing to dissuade the leaders of the powerful Alameda Labor Council from clearing the field for Young and nearly giving him their endorsement this summer before members of the Service Employees Union International (SEIU) Local 1021, another group that has contempt for Young, intervened to block the endorsement.
Until a few months ago, it appeared as if Young's past scandals might attract at least four candidates to challenge him, but two abruptly ended their campaigns after news broke that the labor council was going to back Young. Since the beginning of the year, a legal analyst named Tyron Jordan, who works in the state Attorney General's Office, had been planning to challenge Young. Jordan set up a website up that made it clear he planned to attack Young's ethical shortcomings.
Then another candidate — Igor Tregub — who has strong ties to the Alameda County Democratic Party and who serves on the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board, announced his candidacy in July. In an email to supporters, Tregub echoed Jordan's criticism of Young, saying, "I am running to put the trust back in AC Transit."
But then Jordan decided to end his candidacy. He said in an email that he realized there was no chance he could defeat Young. Around the same time — just four days before the August 8 filing deadline — Tregub pulled out of the race as well. The reason, at the time, was unclear, but three days prior to Tregub's announcement, on August 1, the executive committee of the Alameda Labor Council had voted to recommend the endorsement of Young for re-election.
Based upon prior experience, labor leaders say, the executive committee's recommendation is almost always approved by the entire council. And as a stalwart supporter of unions, Tregub said he did not want to create internal strife in the local labor movement.
But during an August 4 meeting at the labor council, SEIU Local 1021 voters moved to block Young's endorsement. SEIU has not forgiven Young for his decision to release confidential union information during his state Assembly run. In the end, the labor council decided to designate the race an "open" endorsement, which means local unions can back whoever they choose. Labor groups that have endorsed Young include Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, Teamsters Local 853, AFSCME Council 57, IBEW, and the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council.
Josie Camacho, the executive secretary-treasurer for the Alameda Labor Council, did not return phone calls seeking comment about why the executive committee endorsed Young, considering his past problems. Young also did not respond to emails asking for comment — but that was not surprising. In fact, Young's reelection campaign has been almost nonexistent. He has very little funding, no website, no campaign literature, and most notably, he has been avoiding public appearances altogether.
"It feels like I'm running against a ghost," said Dollene Jones, who is running for the At-Large seat against Young. Jones was an AC Transit bus driver based out of the Richmond and Emeryville yards for 21 years before retiring four years ago to run her own charter service. In 2010, she unsuccessfully challenged Young for his seat and two years ago ran against AC Transit Ward Three Director Elsa Ortiz. "In this race, the only thing I want is for him to show up and tell us what he's done over the past four years. I just want him to show up," said Jones. "I want to challenge his brain. He's a lawyer, come here and tell us what you've done. I could care less about the bad stuff he's done."
Jones said that to her knowledge, Young has not shown up for any candidate forum during the campaign. At two forums I attended in the past month, organizers said Young told them he had prior engagements. Jones believes that Young's absence from the campaign, along with his prior misdeeds, is why a large number of East Bay Democratic clubs have endorsed her campaign.
A third candidate in the race, a paralegal named Adrienne Andrews, has been as disengaged as Young. The first-time candidate has no discernible campaign to speak of.
Jones said that, if elected, she would focus not only on increasing the transit agency's bus service, but also giving a voice to drivers. "I've driven all the routes," Jones said at a candidate's forum earlier this month in Castro Valley. Currently, none of the AC Transit board members represent the interests of drivers, she said. Jones also opposes more cuts to service.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated Dollene Jones' last name in the story's subtitle. It was correct in the body of the story, however.