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Opponents Kaplan, Hamill vying for at-large council seat

on October 29, 2008


OCT. 28 — AC Transit board Vice President Rebecca Kaplan is facing Oakland school board member Kerry Hamill in a runoff for the at-large seat occupied by Oakland City Councilman Henry Chang Jr., who, after 14 years, will vacate the position. By happenstance, both hail from neighborhoods in the same part of the city. These profiles look at the candidates from the perspective of North Oakland, where they live and have roots.

At-large candidates Rebecca Kaplan and Kerry Hamill

Farmers’ market, public pool, and Telegraph Ave inspire Rebecca Kaplan

Two or three days a week, Rebecca Kaplan makes a short trek to the Temescal Pool, where she swims laps and takes in the fresh outdoor air. She loves using the pool, because it helps keep her in shape and it’s close to her home on 49th Street.

But for Kaplan, the community pool also serves as a shining example of how every neighborhood in the city could thrive if it had the right assets.

“It’s really wonderful having it here,” she said Tuesday on a walk through the neighborhood. “But it also makes me feel like every neighborhood should have one.”

Kaplan, a 38-year-old civil rights attorney, is running for the citywide seat.  But she has been campaigning on a platform partly inspired by her roots in her own North Oakland neighborhood, the Temescal district, where she has lived for the last five years with her partner.

Her idea calling for the establishment of more farmers’ markets throughout the city? That came from Kaplan’s experience watching the Temescal Farmers’ Market grow from nothing into a vibrant neighborhood center of activity.

Her plan to attract more businesses along the Broadway corridor? That was inspired by seeing the Telegraph Avenue corridor flourish with busy storefronts and steady pedestrian traffic.

Temescal district’s revitalization, which was based on small, niche businesses, may not work for every neighborhood in the city, she said, but she believes it can provide a few lessons.

“I feel like sometimes in local politics, we get stuck in thinking about economic revitalization as having big shopping malls or nothing at all,” Kaplan said. “The most important thing for Oakland is that other option: that we can have economic revitalization that serves the local neighborhoods with small shops and big stores. We shouldn’t have to choose.”

She is also calling for problem-solving officers in all of the city’s 63 police beats.

While Kaplan held a steady lead in the June primary with 40.2 percent of the vote, she has been facing criticism lately that she has lofty ideas with no way to pay for them.

She chuckled at those notions Tuesday, quickly pointing to some of her experience.

When she first proposed the all-nighter bus service for AC Transit, she said, most people didn’t believe she could get the support or funding to pull off the plan. But she found a way to work with her board and the San Francisco Board of Supevisors to get the service off the ground, and spearheaded the effort to put regional Measure 2 on the ballot in 2004, which was approved by voters to raise bridge tolls by $1 to pay for transit and highway projects and which led to the creation of the Night Owl bus service.

“When you have a good idea and a big enough group of people supporting that idea, then you can go out and get it,” she said. And Oakland city officials usually don’t do that, she added, either because of fear, lack of funds or lack of time.

Those who know her from the neighborhood agree, saying Kaplan’s lofty ideas aren’t built on empty promises.

Carlo Busby, co-owner of Sagrada Sacred Arts bookstore on Telegraph, said he has grown to know Kaplan as both a customer and a friend. He thinks Kaplan would make a good addition to the council, and not just because she would provide new blood. Her ideas are also built on her compassion for people and the connections she has made with them in her own neighborhood and beyond, Busby said.

That has been shown by her dedication to getting involved in neighborhood issues and coming up with creative ideas to solve them, he said. “I think she is the type of person that values the individual person, that makes sure that they’re cared for,” Busby said, “and that believes government should be doing something to ease people’s burdens.”

Kerry Hamill wants a more walkable city

Kerry Hamill considers her Piedmont Avenue neighborhood a perfect example of the type of “walkable communities” Oakland needs to develop as the city grapples with growth.

Boutique shops, restaurants and other resources are plentiful in Hamill’s neighborhood. She walked to Kaiser Hospital to give birth to both of her children, now 13 and 17. Each morning, she rides the No. 11 bus to work at her job as a BART manager.

In North Oakland, “We have some of the most active, healthy neighborhoods where people have demonstrated what they can do to bring about change,” said Hamill, who has lived in the area for 20 years.

“I want to create more of those villages in Oakland,” Hamill said during an interview Tuesday in the lobby of the BART offices in downtown Oakland. “I want to create new neighborhoods.”

Hamill, 52, is vying with Kaplan for the open at-large seat on the Oakland City Council. The former reporter for the Contra Costa Times first ventured into politics in the 1980s to work on Democratic State Senator John Burton’s campaign. She left journalism to work on subsequent political campaigns, and served as the chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata until 2000.

Hamill transitioned from behind-the-scenes worker to public figure after her children enrolled in Oakland public schools. Dismayed at the poor reading abilities of her children’s classmates, she decided to run for a seat on the Oakland school board. She has served on the board for the last eight years, improving literacy programs, reading scores, after-school programs and youth recreation opportunities, including the development of the “Field of Dreams” baseball field near 45th and Telegraph Avenue.

Her children now attend Oakland Technical High School and Edna Brewer Middle School.

“I am fanatical about helping to fill in the gaps for working families, where parents have to work late,” Hamill said. “Recreation centers need to be open for youth programs. They are cheap – pennies on the dollar for the cost-benefit of these programs – and nonprofits in Oakland want to work with the kids.”

Hamill says she is taking a similar back-to-basics approach in her campaign for city council, where she is focusing on issues like keeping parks clean and filling potholes. Hamill’s other goals include audits to determine where waste can be cut from the city budget, developing walkable communities, strengthening the community policing beats and bringing police officers off desk jobs and onto the streets.

Hamill opposes Measure NN, which would add more Oakland police officers through a parcel tax. Hamill said it took too long to hire the officers that were approved previously through Measure Y and she wants adequate training before another measure is passed.

Six current Oakland city council members, including the at-large incumbent Henry Chang Jr., have backed Hamill. Their support has prompted some critics to label her part of the “establishment,” unable to bring much-needed change to the city council.

Hamill dismissed the label, saying she is unafraid of speaking her mind and taking unpopular stances. Her opponent, she claims, changes her positions to appease her supporters. “Leadership means you speak from the heart,” she said. “In my work on the school board. I’ve been an agent of change.”||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||


  1. len raphael on October 31, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Did you ask each candidate for a position on OO, Kid’s First?

  2. mricard on November 1, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for the comment. To answer your question, we didn’t ask the candidates about their positions on this measure. Because of the bigger stories that have already been done on them, we were trying to do something with more of a North Oakland focus. So do you think we did a good job with informing North Oakland residents about the candidates’ North Oakland roots? If not, what you have liked to see in a story like this?

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