The press release relied on some wishful thinking.
Oakland Community Action Network, a small community group headed by resident Wilson Riles, hoped to take advantage of Wednesday’s filing deadline to influence the conversation in the upcoming mayoral election. They invited candidates to talk about creating a local currency in Oakland.
“Each will speak briefly on their candidacies and their support for the Alternative Currency for Oakland Residents and Neighbors (ACORN),” wrote the group in its press release. But the candidates didn’t exactly stick to the plan.
Riles’s idea for “alternative currency” originates from the push for a city identification card that would benefit undocumented immigrants but would also have the side effect of singling them out. He thinks that the card would get a wider audience if it’s digitally linked to a local Oakland currency, the acorn, which would also encourage residents to keep their dollars circulating within the city. (Read more about acorns here.)
It’s an idea that has caught on in other cities and regions worldwide, but implementing the money – which the group wants to name after the fruit of the oak tree and not a political group popularly slammed by Fox News – wasn’t really in the forefront of the mayoral candidates’ minds.
As a man practiced Qigong exercises and a vagrant finished up a breakfast of crackers in front of City Hall, six candidates for Oakland mayor and their respective entourages arrived to participate in the Oakland Community Action Network event, basically just a podium and microphone facing the building. All told it was a group of about 80 people, including candidates, supporters, press, and children.
At least twenty of the attendees were too young to vote; candidate Terrence Candell brought several young supporters and candidate Larry Lionel Young, Jr., a teacher, brought his class, outfitted with signs supporting his candidacy.
Before the speeches began, Zachary Running Wolf, a 2008 Berkeley mayoral candidate, waved a bunch of burning sage to consecrate both the podium and Wilson Riles’s head. Riles didn’t speak about the currency.
The six candidates, most in suits, were ready to take advantage of their respective three minutes in front of a smattering of local TV cameras and reporters, but most were uninterested in focusing on currency or the Oakland Community Action Network. They talked in broad strokes and platitudes about Oakland and its problems, and they elaborated upon their own qualifications for the job.
Candidate Greg Harland, a local serial entrepreneur, went first. He was against the currency, explaining that the city should instead focus on resolving its “shopper-unfriendly environment,” “not having the right mix of stores,” and parking inferior to Emeryville’s.
Joseph Tuman, a professor at San Francisco State, was neither for nor against the currency, because he’d just learned about the idea. “Until I understand the details of that better, I can’t say I’d endorse that today,” he said.
Tuman then went on to rail against Oakland’s “unacceptable” problems, like bad schools and poverty, pausing when the wind caused too much noise in the microphone. “See, God’s agreeing with me,” he said after the sound stopped, looking up.
Donald L. Macleay, the official Green Party candidate, supported the proposal with the caveat that “there’s a lot of ifs, ands, and buts.”
Orlando Johnson, who works with the Oakland Community Action Network and was dressed in unusually-textured green pants, launched into a sweet and heartfelt speech about how he didn’t have a lot of formal education and that world experience should count, adding no one should be seen as fundamentally better than anyone else. He then announced that he was dropping out of the race.
Jean Quan, who probably had the most supporters present who were of voting age, used her time at the podium to insinuate something about the deep pockets of her rivals. “Is Oakland for sale?” she asked. “What kind of race is this going to be?”
At the end of her three minutes, after the moderator reminded her to comment on the idea of an alternative currency, Quan unceremoniously tacked on her support, saying she was “working on some ideas.”
“I have touched some 200,000 people,” Terrence Candell boomed after sidling up to the podium to a few scattered cheers, though it wasn’t clear if he meant Oakland residents or another group.
Candell was the biggest proponent of establishing Oakland’s own currency, and he said he wanted to do much more, like charging a one percent tax on commuters who work in Oakland but live elsewhere. He also said he wants to add a toll plaza on the East Bay side of the Bay Bridge “so people not only pay for San Francisco – so we can make money for our own city.” Candell was apparently unaware that bridge tolls are administered by the Bay Area Toll Authority and the state agency Caltrans, not by individual cities.
Larry Lionel Young, Jr. spoke last, and his supporters mostly appeared to be too young to vote. He supported Candell’s idea of a commuter tax but wasn’t willing to back the Oakland currency just yet. He spoke confidently of the need to help youth. “You can’t police your way out of crime,” he said. He also said he wanted people to really live and function within the city, though it was unclear if he was implying that some people reside in Oakland and do too much living in other cities, or if he was accusing residents of keeping to themselves. “If Oakland is good enough to live in, then Oakland is good enough to live in,” Young said.
After the press conference, candidates and press networked briefly, trying to make sense of what had happened and which candidate was which. Some double-checked that Orlando Johnson had actually dropped out of the race. As the attendees slowly dispersed, a small group of activists handed out flyers reminding people not to forget Oscar Grant.