By Alex Gronke
As I was talking to Aimee Allison this morning in Chachies cafe on Broadway in downtown Oakland, I kept wondering who she reminded me of.
It wasn’t until my partner-in-crime, Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar, and I left the cafe that we figured it out: she was just like every savvy CEO we’d ever met as reporters for Red Herring, a business and technology magazine in Silicon Valley.
It’s a strange thing to say about the conscientious objector and Green Party candidate in the runoff election against incumbent Pat Kernighan for Oakland City Council’s District 2, an area that stretches from the Piedmont border to the estuary, along the east side of Lake Merritt. But Ms. Allison has that controlled manic energy of a Type A personality, not to mention the capacity to stay on message no matter where the conversation leads. Perhaps like any smart politician, she calibrates her personality to suit her audience, but the Stanford grad made much of her corporate background and emphasized her view that Oakland sorely needs jobs and should become a magnet for venture capital. “There should be opportunities for rich folks,” she says.
Ms. Allison, 37, saw her political opportunity when Danny Wan left the City Council in 2005. Ms. Allison finished fourth in a special election held in May 2005 to replace Mr. Wan. But 13 months later, she forced Ms. Kernighan into a runoff race by capturing almost 40 percent of the vote to her opponent’s 46 percent. And, while I have not been able to confirm it, two sources have told me that OakPAC, the pro-business political action arm of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, which backs Ms. Kernighan, recently conducted a poll in district 2. It found Ms. Allison ahead by five points. That’s an impressive showing for someone whose primary political activity was trying to dismantle the nation’s military-industrial complex rather than working in local government.
I asked Ms. Allison why she thinks she can step into Oakland politics without so much as a bid for the school board or serving time on some citizen’s commission. “Democracy, at its healthiest, encourages people from all kinds of backgrounds. Who are the haters? The haters are people who have been around, people who have been part of the system. It will never be our turn until we assert ourselves,” she says.
NovoMetro: You talk a lot about schools, but the City Council has little control over what happens with the way local schools are run, and your own child attends a private school. What can you do about Oakland’s troubled schools from a position in City Hall?
Allison: Mayor Brown’s [Oakland Military Academy] showed that a mayor can go after funding.
NovoMetro: Doesn’t a charter school detract from the strength of the local school district by taking away funding and students?
Allison: We need to subsidize our school system. We need to identify other sources of revenue. I’m not talking about more taxes. Property owners in this city are already very generous. [Ms. Allison had said earlier that developer’s fees applied to new projects could help fund schools].
At the beginning of our talk, Ms. Allison said that she had gone from feeling safe in her Oakland neighborhood to feeling afraid. I asked her why she thought crime was rising in Oakland. “It’s a vicious cycle,” she says. She describes a political ecosystem that underfunds social programs that direct youth toward employment and away from crime. Simultaneously, it gives too much money to a police department that seeks more resources because of rising crime. She says the Oakland police department’s contract needs to be renegotiated.
NovoMetro: One of your more controversial positions has been to say that you will seek to change the city charter so the Port of Oakland can be taxed. Won’t this hurt one of the largest economic engines in the area?
Allison: That’s the assumption the folks at the port would like you to believe. If they want to act like a private business they should have to pay like a private business.
Ms. Allison said she was going to stay in the cafe to finish edits on her forthcoming book, An Army of None, which she is coauthoring with David Solnit, the editor of Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World.
We’ll be talking to Pat Kernighan soon.