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You Tell Us: Recall campaigns agree to disagree, but why?

on January 4, 2012

Here, to me, is the best current illustration of Oakland’s fractious politics. The people who want to recall Mayor Jean Quan can’t even agree to run a single campaign. There are two separate campaigns collecting signatures for a recall measure.

(Actually, there are three, but the third supports the first, if I have my chronology correct.) This isn’t some innocent “I thought *I* was supposed to feed the dog! You fed the dog, too? Now the dog is going to get fat!” situation. We can all have a good laugh at a dog with obesity. (Can’t we? Or is that not okay anymore?)

No, this is bona fide acrimony, and nobody involved is laughing. It started as one campaign and splintered into two, then three.

They’re fighting over who gets to feed the dog.

They also appear to be fighting over how to feed the dog (and over why, and where, and what food — so really all of the classic journalistic questions are in dispute). One campaign, led by Gene Hazzard, says they’ll use volunteers to collect the not quite 20,000 signatures needed to get a recall measure on the ballot. The other campaign, led by Greg Harland, reports that they intend to adopt the proud California tradition of paying signature gatherers for their petition.

(They could at least, in all of this reconfiguration, have had the decency to choose leaders with different initials. It’s like they’re trying to make it impossible to keep track of the dog feeding. Look, on the chore wheel, someone has written “feed dog – GH.” Not helpful!)

I’ll grant that this is a big tactical disagreement: grassroots or professional, volunteers or paid. I can see how it might have led to some heated discussions.

But at no point in a disagreement about recall tactics, however acrimonious, was the right answer ever going to be: “Let’s go start a second petition! Yeah! That’ll show ‘em!”

Our political history, from the Revolutionary War on, is chock-a-block with coalitions of otherwise disparate interests coming together to advance some common cause. “Strange bedfellows” and all that. Did anyone, in the heady early days of their revolution against the tyrannical reign of Queen Quan, make that case?

A recall is a binary proposition: Is the mayor recalled or not? The recall proponents all agree, obviously, on the answer to that question. They all agree, as well, that the question should be on the ballot. What else is there, really?

I’m not involved in any of these recall campaigns. (And in fact I don’t intend this piece to take a position on the recall at all. That “Queen Quan” thing above? I just like alliteration.) I’m sure the people who are involved are ready to defend this fracturing for all kinds of reasons, ranging from “the other measure is vulnerable to legal challenges” to “that guy is a jerk, and I hate his jerky face.”

While they’re having this fight, their dog is starving. Someone might want to tell them.

Brock Winstead lives in the Golden Gate neighborhood.  He’s delighted to be a resident of a city where the politics are never boring


You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to We’d love to hear from you!

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  1. MarleeenLe on January 4, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Brock – not sure you actually spoke to any of the people involved in the three different groups. Yes, they all do have their reasons for being part of the different groups. Of course I think the fracturing is going to make the recall process more difficult and complicated and I wish that things had not panned out this way. But the title of you piece is “why” they fractured. Why not just ask them? I did. And I got some pretty understandable answers. Not answers I necessarily agreed with, but answers I could understand. And my intention is to assist all three groups because they share a common goal, and I think if we all do the same, Oakland will be a better place.

  2. Charles Pine on January 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Brock writes: But at no point in a disagreement about recall tactics, however acrimonious, was the right answer ever going to be: “Let’s go start a second petition!”

    Yes! If there were two petitions on the street, that would obviously cause needless confusion. Fortunately, there are not two petitions out there today. You can sign the petition you encounter; there is only one.

    Mr. Harland is reported saying that he will start a second petition with paid canvassers. The City Clerk has not approved his application yet. Meanwhile, volunteers are circulating the one legal petition. Mr. H. and his several associates do not have the money to contract for paid canvassers.

    So it comes down to this: Why would any wealthy person or organization that wants to recall the disastrous Mayor Quan contribute major funds to start a second petition, thus confusing the recall campaign?

    Disclosure: Although speaking here for myself, I work with the volunteers circulating the one petition approved by the City Clerk.

    • Felix on January 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      I’m curious who you hope would run to replace Quan if she were to be recalled?

  3. Naomi Schiff on January 10, 2012 at 9:48 am

    If the recall effort is hapless, the whole notion of expending energy on another mayoral election campaign is even more so. People should focus on the issues, work with the people in city hall as best we can, and work for a good candidate next time out. A recall means a scrambling competition for mayor among a bunch of underpowered candidates, to be elected by a small minority of the voters, followed by yet another upheaval at city hall. Useless and expensive.

    • Felix on January 21, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      Given that many of the same personnel working toward the recall are the same as those who worked to stop the parcel tax, it seems a reasonable possibility that the tacit goal is to cause meaningless upheaval at city hall, waste everyone’s time, and undermine the whole concept of city government – or at least liberal city government – in the same “starve the beast” kind of spirit as the Tea Party.

  4. Leonard Raphael on January 23, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    The City ran out of sustainable fodder several years ago and has been running on empty ever since with smokey budget tricks, fund borrowing, cost shifting. Why do think CEDA management and higher officials turned a blind eye to the inspector abuse of property owners? Those fines were a major revenue source when all the other sources were shrinking.

    Not even Quan has the nerve now to say her 11Mill/year parcel tax would have done diddly.

    When those completely unfunded post retirement medical costs and the underfunded CALPERS obligations come home to roost, the full blown addiction to skimming from the RDA will be forgotten.

    This is what happens when residents pay no attention to what their elected officials do, decision by decision, pay raise by pay raise, union contract by contract over at least a decade.

    For a much more entertaining discussion of the recall, gammon’s hit piece in the eb express. Then read Ken Ott’s comment.

    • Felix on January 23, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      So Len, first you were the big warrior against the parcel tax, now your the guy trying to oust Quan, why don’t you come out and say what your real agenda is? Who specifically do you think would make a good mayor? What kind of city government are you hoping for – or would you prefer we just go ahead and dismantle it now?

      • Leonard Raphael on January 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm

        Judge Thelton summed up the main reason for recalling Mayor Quan:

        “The City makes much of its changed leadership – the Mayor, City Administrator,Chief of Police, and City Attorney – and the Court does not doubt the earnestness of the letters submitted by these individuals. However, as the Court has explained time and time again, words and promises are not enough.”

        Quan has 16 years experience in various public offices, including years as president of OUSD just months before it got taken over by the state; and almost a decade on the city council.

        She’s had a year to show us what she is capable of.

        We can’t afford another 3 years of her incompetency.

        -len raphael, temescal

        • Felix on January 26, 2012 at 10:16 am

          Len, you’ve answered neither of my questions and I suspect you of intentionally obfuscating your politics given the distaste most Oaklanders have for the kind of Starve the Beast ideology you seem to represent. So why don’t you just come out and answer:

          1. Who specifically do you think would make a good mayor?
          2. What kind of city government are you hoping for – or would you prefer we just go ahead and dismantle it now?

          • Leonard Raphael on January 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm

            Felix, some people against a recall accuse us of being a front for particular candidate and other people accuse us of not having Quan’s replacement all wrapped up and ready to serve.

            Build a recall and some good candidates will come.

            Don’t blame us if you don’t like the usual suspects.

            After the recall is rolling, I’ll redouble my personal efforts to persuade some very competent resident(s) to run. Each of us should do the same.

            I know there are residents out there who would make fine mayors. I’ve met them. The problem is convincing them to run.

            In the past they wouldn’t run because they knew they didn’t have a chance in a city where wedge politics reigns supreme.

            They realize we’re at a tipping point. So I’m optimistic.

            -Len Raphael, Temescal

  5. Leonard Raphael on January 31, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Two pieces in OL set the record straight on the recall mechanics.

    One is by a staff person there,

    The other is mine, which also goes into the reasons for a recall.

    -Len Raphael

  6. Len Raphael on February 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    A good feature of the recall-election mechanism is that a voter who wants to find a competent mayor, but is skeptical of the candidates unknown at this point, can safely sign the recall petition now to put the recall on the November ballot, and then wait and watch and question the candidates who do run for mayor.

    If you don’t like any of the candidates a lot more than Quan, all you have to do is vote “no” on the recall ballot item.

    But even if you vote “no” on the recall itself, nothing prevents you from hedging your bet by marking your choice for mayor in the case that the recall succeeds.

    This would not cost the city more than maybe 30k to validate signatures, and wouldn’t give voters a wide range of choices from keeping Quan to replacing her.

    Look for the red, white, and blue signs of Recall Mayor Quan Now.
    This week you can sign the Recall Mayor Quan Now petition at the Grand Lake Theatre from 600p to 800p Mon thru Friday. For other locations check the schedule on

    • Len Raphael on February 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      correction: “would give voters”

  7. Len Raphael on March 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Recall and Restore Committee has ceased collection of signatures for the Gene Hazard petition and asked recall supporters to sign our petition.

    As the treasurer of the Recall Mayor Quan Now committee I welcome their help in the common cause of recalling Quan and finding a leader capable of dealing with the unprecedented complex problems Oakland faces in the next couple of years.

    Voters are not willing to give a full four years to an experienced city official like Quan who kept telling us during the election how she’d hit the ground running once in office. We made that mistake already with Dellums.

    Much wealthier cities like SF and SJ and Walnut Creek have made proactive moves to fix their long term structural money problems by radically changing pension plans and contributions for retirement benefits. SJ has made permanent wage reductions.

    They are not waiting until they can’t meet payroll and pay for the city’s bonds the way Vallejo and Stockton waited.

    Not Quan. No long term planning for Quan.

    She’s lurching from crisis to crisis, kludging policies as she goes, be it drive-bys of children or current deficits.

    The impending fiscal problems left ignored will make it impossible to reduce the violent crime here.

    Oakland she assures us is rising.

    The one thing we might have learned from the past decade of bursting bubbles and Bernie Madoff, is that if something is too good to be true, then it’s not true.

    Quote from Recall and Restore website:

    “The reality is that paid canvassers are needed to gather 20,000 valid signatures. Recall and Restore was unable to obtain sufficient funds for paid canvassing.
    Recall and Restore supports the ongoing efforts to recall Mayor Quan. Voters will encounter canvassers for the second recall petition…”

    Len Raphael, Treasurer and follow @recallquan

    Look for our red, white, and blue signage. Ask any petition collector to sign.

    • Len Raphael on March 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm

      When Quan likes the stats, she claims credit for them. When she doesn’t like them, she attacks the stats.

      The stats:

      “The city faces rising crime rates, with 26 murders so far in 2012, the highest at this point in the year since 2008.”

      “The burglary rate citywide has climbed 42 percent since 2011, according to the Oakland Police Department. And some who live in the Oakland Hills claim the rate has doubled in certain neighborhoods.”


      wsj online interview, thursday

      “WSJ: Crime is up so far this year, compared with last year. What’s going wrong?

      Ms. Quan: I’m not sure what the real trend is. Sometimes, more crime doesn’t necessarily mean more crime. Sometimes, the offenses going up means the police are more engaged, and that’s a good thing. For instance, we’ve been looking at car thefts. We’re trying to figure out if maybe [the reason they] are up by a big jump is that we’re picking up more cars in Oakland, because the Highway Patrol this year has really been helping us cut down on car thefts. There’s an unusually high percentage of domestic-violence murders, but street murders are
      down. We had a kid who killed both of his parents. I’m very concerned about domestic violence. Some of the services that used to be available, like family counseling, have gone away.”

      Len Raphael, 4922 Desmond

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