A Progressive Alamedan

Various writings from a resident of Alameda regarding the political scene. The local perspective of local, state and national politics and a few other odds and ends of local concern. May not be particularly interesting to people outside of the Alameda area.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"My Word" in the Journal

I sent in a Letter to the Editor of the Alameda Journal, and it got published as a "My Word" editorial. You can read it at the "Inside Bay Area" page, or below.

I was disappointed to see no mention in last week's Alameda Journal of the abominable restriction of First Amendment free speech rights at the Mayor's Fourth of July Parade.

Yes, the as-yet-unsubstantiated attack by the acting city manager on Councilmember Lena Tam is certainly newsworthy, but in my opinion the "real" scandal going on is the abuse of power that somebody — we don't know exactly who — is wielding in order to stifle political opposition in the upcoming mayoral and City Council race.

A memorandum written by Alameda City Attorney Teresa Highsmith effectively banned candidates Rob Bonta and Tony Daysog from announcing their candidacies for city offices in the parade. Other groups such as the Alameda Democratic Club were prevented from any advocacy for the upcoming November election. (Pretty ironic that these restrictions took place on the day in which we celebrate our American freedoms, isn't it?)

Mayor Bev Johnson claimed in a television interview that the parade committee directed Highsmith to produce this letter. Does this mean that any 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization can now direct the city attorney to do its bidding? I called the City Attorney's Office twice to get confirmation of Johnson's statement, but my calls have been unreturned. Parade committee chair Barbara Price, in an e-mail to me, denied that the committee had the authority to make such a request and that somebody else directed the ruling.

Regardless of who instigated the ruling, it goes against Alameda's city charter, which states that the city attorney "shall not commence any action without permission of the council or written instruction of the city manager.

I confirmed with the city clerk's office that there was no written communication from the city manager or record in the City Council minutes of such a request being made.

This sounds to me, layman that I am, that the city attorney violated the city charter and acted at least unethically, if not illegally, in producing this letter.

And who is directing the city attorney to do their bidding? Could the acting city manager, or any member of the City Council, stand to gain anything by preventing nonincumbent candidates for council or mayor from declaring their candidacy in front of thousands of Alamedans?

I call upon the city attorney to tell us how she was directed to issue the memorandum, and I ask the Journal to do some digging as well. "Paradegate" is the real scandal happening in Alameda, and it reflects poorly on us a city until the responsible parties are exposed.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

ParadeGate: Cui Bono?

I'm posting a follow-up on the whole parade issue for two main reasons. First, I've always wanted to give a scandal a name that ends in "gate." Well, I'm calling this ParadeGate, and I hope that enough people raise a stink about what happened, and use this term to communicate the importance and local impact of the scandal and the long-term repercussions it brings.

Second, I want to make it clear, based on a misinterpretation of my previous post, that I was not accusing anybody in particular of being responsible for the City Attorney's letter. I cast shame upon the Mayor only because, well, it's the Mayor's Fourth of July Parade, and, as the Mayor, the "buck" is supposed to stop with her. Whether it came from inside city staff, or council, or the parade committee, or the KGB, it doesn't matter: She's the Mayor, so the shame is, ultimately, on her.

As far as who is responsible, remember Innocent until proven guilty. This is turning out to be a quite a mystery that will need a bit of investigation. As with crimes and political intrigue, a way of come up with a list of "suspects" is to ask yourself: Cui Bono — who benefits? The comments on Lauren's latest post about the issue are ripe with potential beneficiaries of this ruling.

Ultimately, I think that this dirty laundry will be one the line for us to examine within the next couple of weeks, as long as the issue doesn't get ignored. (I was surprised that there was no mention of the issue in this last week's Journal or Sun, but maybe they weren't prepared to write up something on such short notice.)

By the way, I thought that the victims of the gag handled their predicament with honor and grace. Rob Bonta's campaign was out in full force — family and friends wearing Bonta T-shirts, big Bonta signs on the convertible — but thanks to some last-minute self-censorship, the signs just said "for City." I wonder if people were perplexed by the display, or if enough people knew that this was a censored campaign entry. Tony Daysog's float looked a bit more self-serving, a rolling résumé of sorts, but people could probably figure out that he was running for something again even if they didn't understand why his display didn't say it. The third victim that I could find by perusing the program was likely to be Chris Pareja, an independent candidate running for Congress. I don't know if he even made it to the parade or not; he may have been there but just lost among the People Who Weren't In The Parade Last Year. I'm curious to find out if anybody else was told that their float couldn't contain any advocacy.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Shame on the Mayor and the Fourth of July Parade Committee

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.
David Ben-Gurion

The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate our nation's independence, and, indirectly, our freedoms that were written in the form of constitutional amendments starting in 1791.

The very first of these amendments — I would say it's the first because it's the most important — guarantees freedom of speech.

And so on on the very day we celebrate our nation's birthday, Alameda is cracking down on the first amendment.

Lauren Do broke the story earlier this week. Several candidates for office are not being allowed to express the fact that they are running for office!

All of the arguments that they make are ridiculous; I'll let you catch more details on Lauren's blog post.

Usually I am proud of Alameda, but this week I feel like Alameda is one of those back-water towns you hear about occasionally that get into a controversy (usually with the ACLU stepping in) when an unpopular group tries to express its views in a parade or other public display. And even though I would agree with the majority of the people that those people were scumbags, this is America, and it's their right to express their unpopular opinions.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall

So this weekend, I say Shame on Mayor Beverly Johnson. And Shame on City Attorney Teresa L. Highsmith. And shame on the Mayor's Fourth of July Parade Committee.

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
Noam Chomsky

Happy Birthday, America, and have a great Parade, Alameda. Just don't be surprised if more groups are restricted next year. Unless we put a stop to this right now.