Telling Untruths about Mayor Spencer
Reprinted with permission
“Still, a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”
Those lines, which our readers surely will recognize from Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” are getting to be the theme song of those on a mission to trash Mayor Trish Spencer. No longer are they content simply to denigrate the mayor for something she’s said or done; now, they’ve resorted to disparaging her for things she didn’t actually say or do.
Take the special council meeting on rent control. Two days after the meeting, we read in Blogging Bayport Alameda that, “Trish Spencer decided to interrupt renter after renter to grill them about whether their rent was ‘current’ after they spoke of receiving an eviction notice.”
Then, a commentary in last week’s Alameda Sun took it up a notch. (“Mayor’s Performance Shows True Colors, Poor Leadership,” Nov. 12). According to the author (Brian McGuire), “Once renters were finally allowed to speak, their paltry 60 seconds were repeatedly interrupted by Spencer. After allowing landlords to speak uninterrupted, often for extended periods due to invisible proxies they held in their pockets, Mayor Spencer peppered renters with questions about whether they were current on their rent. Then, satisfied with their answers, she magnanimously granted ‘you may proceed.’ How regal.”
The Merry-Go-Round was planning to take the week off. But, having watched the video of the special meeting to prepare last week’s column, we didn’t remember Spencer’s conduct the way it was being described. So we went back to watch the video again to see if the mayor really had treated the tenants so terribly.
It just ain’t so. Here’s what the video shows: Thirty-nine people spoke on the “tenant side”: 32 current renters; four leaders of housing and tenants’ advocacy groups, and three other people whose comments reflected a pro-tenant perspective.
Spencer asked two, and only two, of the 39 tenant speakers about being “current” on his or her rent. Both had received notices to vacate, and a “good cause” ordinance of the sort being considered by the council does not protect against evictions based on non-payment of rent.
Spencer also asked another tenant what her total rent was. The tenant had stated the amount of her rent increase, and the mayor wanted to know the total rent to be able to calculate the percentage increase — which is, after all, the standard used to determine whether a rent increase is “excessive.”
Other than on these three occasions out of 39, Spencer did not interrupt any tenant speaker with any questions.
Three councilmembers — not including Spencer — voted to limit speaking time to one minute. Thereafter, the mayor never cut off any speaker, landlord or tenant, as soon as the red light went on and the buzzer sounded. Instead, with her consent, the majority of speakers, landlord and tenant, exceeded the council-imposed limit.
In fact, one tenant speaker ignored the stop signs and spoke for about four minutes before Spencer interjected, “May I ask you to wind up?” Then, after the speaker finished his story, Spencer asked him for his contact information so that she could follow up personally.
Those are the facts. Unfortunately for the Spencer bashers, those facts didn’t fit their preferred narrative of a bully in the mayor’s chair brow-beating beleaguered renters.
So they invented the story of how Spencer “grilled” and “peppered” the tenant speakers with a barrage of questions about the timeliness of their rent. That account achieves the goal of making Spencer look bad — but it’s not what happened.
Frankly, we’re left shaking our heads. Why would anyone sling accusations against Spencer that are so easy to disprove just by watching the video? We can only surmise that there are some who despise the mayor so intensely that they can’t — or won’t — believe what’s right up there on the screen for all to see and hear.
But then the question becomes: Why do they detest Spencer so much? We don’t recall her predecessor’s opponents displaying any similar delusional antagonism. Sure, there were those who disagreed with Marie Gilmore, and maybe even some who disliked her. But they didn’t act as if she were the devil incarnate.
We never could understand why there were some Republicans who hated — no milder word is appropriate — Bill Clinton. Nor could we understand why there were some Democrats who loathed George Bush with equal fervor.
Come on, guys, we found ourselves saying, you’ve got to admit that the president (whichever one they were talking about) has some redeeming qualities.
Is this the level to which political discourse in Alameda now has fallen? We shudder to think so. We suppose there’s nothing we, or anyone else, can do to stop the Spencer haters from spewing their venom. But is it too much to ask them to stop making stuff up?
To end, as we began, with Simon and Garfunkel: Where have you gone, Michele Ellson? For bringing Alamedans the straight story, our city turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.