Candidates for local offices interact with voters at Oakland Caucus
on May 25, 2012
For one of the first-time candidates running for public office, the first-ever Oakland Caucus on Thursday night seemed undoubtedly formal. Richard Raya is running for the District 1 council seat, which includes North Oakland, in November, and while his campaigning to this point has involved a lot of community meetings and house parties, this event featured most of the candidates for local political seats in full-on campaign mode as they mingled with voters.
“The difference here is everybody’s dressed up, and there’s this explicit understanding that we’re running for office and are going to meet people and try to convince them why we’re great candidates,” Raya said. “So there’s something more formal about it. The stump speech is still here, we’re just giving the ‘two-minute elevator version.’”
Raya was one of 29 candidates for a local political office—including those running for seats on the Oakland City Council, in the state assembly and US Senate and Congress as well as positions including Oakland City Attorney, Alameda County Supervisor and Superior Court judge—who gathered at the Community Bank of the Bay in downtown Oakland to meet voters and answer questions.
The format for the evening didn’t include any debates, or speeches by the candidates. Rather, at the beginning of the evening as about 200 people were gathered in the bank’s lobby, Tom Guarino, a public affairs officer with PG&E and the host of the event, announced each candidate and read a short biography, and then identified where the person was standing in the room. Most candidates smiled and waved politely; a few of the more bold (the “not shy,” as Guarino said) made their way to the front of the room and stood in front of Guarino as he read their information.
After that, the candidates and the public interacted as they drank wine and beer, and ate food from local eateries El Taco Bike and Go Streatery. The event was hosted by the Oakland Builders Alliance, a nonprofit membership group that advances the interests of Oakland businesses, and the attendees were either members of the alliance or paid $25 to attend.
Some of the candidates who participated in the caucus are on the June 5 primary ballot, but most are up for office in November. Some present were veteran politicians, like current city councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1) who is running for City Attorney in November, but there were also a number of novice politicians hoping to make an impression on voters. The candidates for District 1 include Don Macleay, Amy Lemley, Dan Kalb, Bob Franklin and Don Link.
While the atmosphere was formal for Raya, it seemed the opposite to longtime local politician Nate Miley, who is the president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and running for his fourth term. “It’s a lot more low-key and informal,” Miley said of the event. “Whereas most candidate forums, you come in, the candidate makes his or her remarks, they’re questioned, and that’s generally it. And they move on to the next candidate.”
Clinton Killian, the chair of the political committee for the Builders Alliance, said the format of the event was set up this way in order to give the candidates “a chance to make their case to the voters.”
“We wanted to invite the candidates, invite our members, invite Oakland citizens and just let them interact like this,” he said. “Not just to stand up there and give a speech and then leave, but to be here in the room, talk to the people who are effected by your decisions, and give them a chance to talk to you one-on-one.”
Brigitte Cook, a District 1 resident who lives in the Golden Gate area, said she attended the caucus for that reason—to ask the District 1 city council candidates questions about public safety and what’s being done to curtail crime in her neighborhood. She said she also wanted to learn about what they would do to create jobs, and how they can help form consensus and get things accomplished as a city council member.
“I’m a concerned citizen, and it’s good to hear what their platforms are and how they’re reacting with all different aspects of the community,” Cook said.
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