Education in Oakland

Kernighan Campaigns

Posted by novometro on October 12, 2006

One Friday afternoon, I joined Patricia Kernighan for some door-to-door campaigning in the lower San Antonio. It was late afternoon, and dead quiet. The neighborhood kids were inside playing video games, or watching television. The parents were still at work. Ms. Kernighan and her team of about six middle-aged Vietnamese volunteers accounted for just about all of the action on the hilly streets tucked behind Highland Hospital.

The leader of the volunteers was Trung Nguyen, a former lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Navy who first came to Oakland in 1969 to train at the Navy Supply Base. He returned to Oakland for good in 1981. But not before spending a few years in a Vietnamese prison. Mr. Nguyen pointed to another volunteer and said that the man had been a captain in the South Vietnamese Navy. The man smiled. Mr. Nguyen said that Oakland’s Vietnamese love Ms. Kernighan. If that’s true, it might be because Ms. Kernighan was once the chief of staff to Danny Wan, who represented the district until he resigned in 2005. Mr Wan was known as a politician who built bridges to Oakland’s Vietnamese community.

In her tight race against Aimee Allison to keep her City Council seat representing Oakland’s District 2, Ms. Kernighan is wise not to take the support of any group for granted. Ms. Allison, a smooth-talking political newcomer with a Green Party membership and a Stanford B.A. has been winning over supporters since the runoff race began in June. Ms. Allison, 37, depicts Ms. Kernighan, 57, as a pillar of the establishment.

With a troop of former officers in South Vietnamese Navy acting as her street team this particular Friday, Ms. Kernighan doesn’t even try to shake the image as an establishment candidate — although she protested the Vietnam War when she was a student at the University of Washington, and she opposes the war in Iraq. Only in Oakland could she be considered a conservative. She says she agrees with much of what her opponent says about the state of crime, affordable housing, and job opportunities in Oakland. But she says the political and fiscal realities inside City Hall quickly take their toll on high ideals.

Ms. Kernighan won the council seat after Mr. Wan resigned. She didn’t have much of a political career before that. She was active in her children’s school, Crocker Highlands. She did “volunteer stuff.” She ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 1990 against Jean Quan, who now serves on City Council. “We were just a couple of unknown housewives,” she says. She has a law degree from Hastings, but she hasn’t practiced law in years.

A politcal ally of City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, Ms. Kernighan did not endorse Mayor-elect Ron Dellums, who beat Mr. De La Fuente in June. I asked her what she thought of the new mayor.

Kernighan: I think it’s going to be interesting. I’m pretty excited to have someone who is going to be more present and engaged.

NovoMetro: What do you think is the cause of Oakland’s crime spike this year?

Kernighan: I don’t think anyone really has the answer to that. It’s kids hitting a certain age. There’s also a new drug. I don’t know the street name, but it makes the (users) crazy.

NovoMetro: What about negotiations with the police officer’s union that would change the hours police officers work?

Kernighan: I think the council is going to be tough on (the police union). Somehow the message needs to get to get to (the union) that people are not supportive of what they are asking for.

Walking down East 27th Street towards 14th Avenue, Ms. Kernighan points to a pothole and says Oakland’s roads are a disaster. (This was before a study was released, which found that they are indeed among the worst in the state.) “The streets are always what we don’t do,” she says.


14 Responses to “Kernighan Campaigns”

  1. Jerome Peters said

    This isn’t even close to the treatment you gave Aimee Allison, as far as depth. It’s one of your most poorly written entries, with little analysis. I can’t help but think that your journalistic objectivity is being bent here. I mean, your South Vietnamese Army veteran angle is really going out of one’s way to paint Pat as some type of conservative, when anyone else would be impressed that Pat’s out walking in the flats with immigrant supporters. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. When Aimee talks about “low income communities of color,” does she mean “except for South Vietnamese war refugees?” I hope not, because then that’s some serious shit to stir.

    I think a great question would be: what do you think the chances are that the poll you referred to picked up anyone like the folks that Pat has out walking with her? Was the poll conducted in any language other than English?

    And Danny Wan’s not Vietnamese, dude! Unless you mean to say that all Asians love all Asians.

  2. Alex Gronke said

    I know that Danny Wan is not Vietnamese. And yes, I did mean to suggest that Asian politicians do well with Asian voters. I don’t think that is a secret known only to pollsters and political scientists.

    And yes, that would be a great question regarding the poll. I wish Oak-Pac would return my calls.

    But perhaps you are right. The entry failed, if you were left with the impression that I was painting Pat Kernighan as a conservative. I don’t even think she is conservative in relation to Ms. Allison. I was trying to illustrate the differences in their respective political generations, and the way that Ms. Allison has linked her City Council campaign to larger national issues.

  3. It’s true that you gave Ms. Allison more space and let her go into more in-depth issues. I’m not so sure this represents bias, or the success Allison’s campaign has had focusing on her issues, rather than the real issues at stake for Oakland, which is competent and effective Council leadership. The City Council is an immensely powerful body, and, in one sense, Pat is the swing vote. But Pat is definitely not conservative; unlike Iggy, Reid or Chang, she supports development restrictions and various lefty causes like high minimum wages and restrictive zoning (at least in the abstract).

    As far as the immigrant issue, Allison only last weekend started doing any outreach in a foreign language. She’s very against downtown issues (like growth and the Main Library and improved retail), so cannot be expected to do well in Chinatown or Eastlake. Don’t place too much faith in rumors of an OakPAC poll – several polls in May predicted a runoff with Ignacio in the lead; that obviously didn’t happen.

    Dellums pointed refusal to endorse Allison definitely takes some of the wind out of her sails, even though she’s picking up volunteers from SF and Berkeley (and even New York City). Gee’s endorsement of Pat, and the expected low turnout (no Dellums machine to bus voters to the polls this time) all work in Pat’s favor. Allison, unfortunately, has garned so much media attention that she’s well-positioned for a run at the at-large seat in 2008 if she’s not successful this time around.

  4. JErome Peters said

    Well, just ask David Kakashiba how well his Japanese surname went over with Chinese voters, and you may change your assumption. I agree Chinese voters go with Chinese candidates, but Asia’s a big place.

    On OakNative’s point, I don’t see how a November General Election is going to result in lower voter turnout. We know that turnout in November is about 40% higher than in the primary.

    However, I don’t see Allison being in a position to go At Large in 2008. If you lose three times in one district, it’s hard to say you can win all seven. And District 2’s a relatively progressive district. Although North Oakland would falll for the anti-war stuff, none of that soft on crime shit will work in East and West O, and when she goes up to the hills and can’t act like she gives a shit, they’ll bounce her, too (although she probably can relate, given the Stanford degree, the spiffy car and the private school kid). She also can’t raise the money to run citywide.

  5. novometro said

    My assumption was not that a Turk, say, would have an advantage winning the Korean vote. I would never have thought that a Japanese surname would be anything but a liability with Chinese voters. But point taken.

  6. JP: I really do think that turnout will be lower in November. There was exceptionally high turnout in Oakland (and nowhere else) in June, about 45%, or what is generally associated with a November election. Dellums’ race was much more exciting and important than the gubernatorial race, and Allison was on Dellums’ slate in June. Now he refuses to be photographed with her, even though he is in town (he was sighted downtown on Wednesday), and while some of his people are helping her, the rest of busy with his nonsense commisions.

    Allison is backed by all five city employee unions (not the firefighter and police, of course), the education unions, and managed to get the Central Labor Committee endorsement (though it’s rather meaningless). If she can run close next month, which isn’t a given (I’m increasingly convinced that being a Green is really going to hurt her), she will have the resources to compete city-wide. This, however, is her moment – I can’t imagine that anti-war sentiment will be so high in two years. Things will have changed by then.

    AG: What do you think of my assertion that you’re not biased, but Allison played you? She’s had mixed success with the media, but her reception is really good for such an extremist.

  7. novometro said

    Not biased, just a sucker? Thanks ON. I think the difference in depth between the two Q and A’s is a result of the circumstances more than anything else. I spoke to AA in a cafe, my colleague was with me, and the conversation moved naturally from one topic to the next without breaks. That environment resulted in better answers. When I met PK she was suffering from a cold, she was campaigning, and our talk was punctuated by interruptions from her team and the constituents she was meeting. The choice of venues was mine.

    In a weird way, AA seems the more natural politician. She stayed focused on getting her message across to me while we talked. The conversation never strayed into personal territory, her anecdotes were obvious chestnuts produced to underscore a point. In contrast, PK spoke much more bluntly and with less polish, although with no less a grasp of the facts and issues.

  8. JErome Peters said

    I should certainly hope someone from Stanford who’s been campaigning for 2 years can sit in a cafe and have a discussion. Sadly, Pat was actually doing the retail politics, meeting her constituents, and so was unable to focus in on pitching to a reporter. Contrary to the increasiningly agressive and negative tone of the Allison campaign, Pat is clearly not out of touch with the flats. Aimee has unsuprisingly been able to create media for herself by having reporters report on how well she does with the media, including the “charisma” “lights up a room” and “pretty young thing” angles. I guess you need to be good at something when you have not done a single, solitary thing to help Oakland in the two years she’s been on the scene. Earth to Aimee: you can help the community without being on the City Council!

    Oops! She DID help organize the Grand-Lakeshore Harvest Festival thing to get something under he belt. So cynical it’s disgusting!

  9. For those who don’t get JP’s reference, Ms. Allison organized the Harvest Festival AFTER the special election, during which she was criticized for her lack of community involvement.

    I agree with you, JP, that Pat is very much in touch with the flats, who will not respond to AA’s anti-cop and anti-business agenda. Also, she’s really late in the game in Chinese outreach, and it’s too late to do any Vietnamese or Spanish-language campaigning. I believe that the only neighborhood AA won in June was her own, the affluent Rose Garden area. She may do well in Grand Lake and Parkway Theater area, where young idealists live, but she’s going to have to dramatically expand her campaign if she wants to be competitive. I don’t think that playing the media is enough, even with her constant claims of slavish loyalty to Dellums.

  10. JeromePeters said

    Indeed, Aimee’ explicitly says she will be both an independent voice AND the most reliable vote for Dellums on the Council. Which is it? Outsider/progressive or First Cog in the Dellums Machine?

  11. Thomas said

    “NovoMetro: What do you think is the cause of Oakland’s crime spike this year?
    Kernighan: I don’t think anyone really has the answer to that. It’s kids hitting a certain age. There’s also a new drug. I don’t know the street name, but it makes the (users) crazy.”

    No answer? From our elected official? And she doesn’t even know the names of the drugs causing it …

  12. novometro said

    I think her response was honest. I respect Ms. Kernighan for not pretending she knows the answer to a question that has vexed everyone, from police chiefs in Orlando to social workers here in Oakland. Her candor doesn’t reflect an indifference.

  13. Thomas, as you note, Kernighan answered a question about what caused the spike in crime, not about what causes crime and violence in general. The spike is genuinely puzzling, because none of the underlying determinants of crime and violence (e.g., unemployment, etc.) spiked to a material degree and at the same time as the spike in violence. So being clueless about the spike seems honest. Oakland’s spike is shared with other major cities and to the best of my knowledge no one has come up with a good explanation for it.

  14. Ken Katz said

    I have to confess that I did, in fact, get played big time by Ms. Allison in conjunction with the aforementioned Harvest Festival. Just over a year ago, (not knowing that she was again running for Council and would use it to fill a gaping hole in her resume, I outlined for her my concept for this event as an expansion of the Pumpkin Patch fundraiser for Lakeview School I’d organized the year before. I then bemoaned the fact that with all my other volunteer commitments (including Project Homeless Connect, Splash Pad maintenance and the Pumpkin Patch), I didn’t have the time to organize it. Ironically, I was weeding a traffic island as we talked.

    Ms. Allison had absolutely no such commitments and leapt at the opportunity to chair this effort. The event was actually coordinated by a four-person committee of which I was a part. When push came to shove, Ms. Allison did perhaps a third of the actual organizing and outreach and none of the real grunt work–but takes all of the credit. Under the best of circumstances, listing this one-day event as the illustration of her community involvement should be an embarrassment. In the context of all the other opportunities she’s had to become involved, but didn’t, it is appalling. I’m one of fifteen Grand Lake community leaders who, over the past week, have taken it upon ourselves to point out this disparity with a Where’s Aimee flyer that we are distributing door-to-door.

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