Photo by stilakes, http://www.flickr.com/photos/10085979@N07/6339467999/in/photostream/
Nearly every day since Occupy Oakland has taken up residence on Frank Ogawa Plaza, people have been calling for the Mayor to resign. Formal recall petitions have been circulated and quiet conversations are occurring on the political left, right, and center, for what a recall might mean for the city. There are even heated debates on-line and in coffee shops over whose city this is – the occupiers and their tent community, or the 400,000 who call Oakland home.
Lost in all this back and forth are the impacts on a city caught in political whiplash. Here are three questions that rise to the surface once we look beyond the moment-to-moment political shifts in the wind.
Is The End of the Four-year term?
Call it Total Recall: The house that Grey Davis & Arnold Schwarzenegger built.
Many believe Mayor Quan committed an apparent misstep in her leadership during the removal of the tents at Frank Ogawa Plaza, and very soon catcalls emerged and the recall petition gatherers appeared. Once the Mayor allowed the campers back on the plaza, her political opponents accelerated the call for her removal and her supporters began questioning her loyalty.
The question for all of us is what happens when elected officials no longer think of having a four year term? What happens when they are forced to operate day- to-day with the presence of a well-financed recall hanging over their head? How much leeway do they have to make controversial choices? How much room for error do they have? If we expect our elected to grow and learn from their mistakes during their term, this constant pressure may be counterproductive.
What are The Costs of Ranked Choice Voting?
Late Friday night, Nov. 4, KCBS released a poll showing Mayor Quan had a 15% approval rating - a figure lower than her much-maligned predecessor. How could a mayor sink so far, so fast, and what does this mean for her ability to govern?
In the 2010 election, Mayor Quan received 24% of the first-place votes cast. That means 76% of voters selected another candidate as their first choice. Given that, what base of support, or even mandate, can a candidate claim if nearly 3 in 4 voters selected someone else? In an era of ranked choice voting, what margin for error does the politician really have? What base can she draw on during difficult times?
President Bill Clinton’s opponents pointed out the fact that he was elected with a plurality, but not majority of the popular vote. The talking points for the GOP revolution in 1994 included the mantra that more people voted against Bill Clinton, than for him. It took an incredibly skillful politician and a unique human being to scale this political mountain.
Whose City is it? Where are decisions made?
As the camp continues to grow on the Plaza, Councilmember Nancy Nadel, shared something remarkable about her thoughts on whose city it is at the Nov. 1 special meeting. She said,
“We’ve had homeless people living in our neighborhood. We’ve dealt with their feces and wastewater. And so we have to, as a city, embrace this problem and not just make it nice and normal in front of City Hall.”(Approximately 4 hours into the 5th hour meeting).
Was she calling for the Plaza to be turned over in total to the protestors with no oversight?
Not only have advocates for jobs and housing put thousands of hours into the rebirth of the Downtown corridor, but they have also put a lot of time into the permitting, zoning, and the General Plan. What does it say about our City’s elected leaders if these processes can be tossed aside when it’s politically appealing or expedient?
Nadel added, “We (Councilmembers) haven’t been showing up at the General Assembly to say what we needed to say…I appreciate the way a society is being built out on the plaza.”
The question this raises is whose voice is being heard, honored and valued by our elected leaders? Where are the venues that matter and where is policy made? Is it made on the Plaza? Is it made in City Hall or at the ballot box?
We are living in interesting, fascinating, and heartrending times. We are being challenged by many economic and social forces including many that are beyond our reach. Facing this, how do we live up to our democratic ideals in our city?
There are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to pit us against each other and take away our voting rights, the power of our civic engagement, and our ability to lead. The questions before us highlight the choices we have to make – and how those choices impact our democracy and the way that we elect and empower those we select with our ballots.