Wanted: Wealthy Fool to Run for Mayor

Robert Sullwold

It looks like Mayor Marie Gilmore may be running for re-election unopposed.

That’s not surprising. After all, Gilmore is the incumbent. She looks good riding on top of a stagecoach in the Fourth of July parade. And, most importantly, she can count on the firefighters’ union to spend as much as necessary to ensure she remains in office so she can hand out new public safety union contracts in 2017.

Just for kicks, let’s suppose someone is foolish — and wealthy — enough to run against Gilmore. What would it take to win?

Our credentials as a political strategist admittedly are suspect, but we do know this: A successful challenge to an incumbent depends on appealing to the disaffected. You need not blame the current officeholder for creating the problem (although it helps); you just need to convince the voters you can do better to solve it.

So whose votes would our hypothetical challenger go after? Let’s start with the people concerned about the traffic and other impacts of the new developments proposed for the northern waterfront.

Counting all the projects — from "Park Street West": Boatworks, Marina Cove II (nee Chipman), Del Monte Warehouse, Encinal Terminals, Alameda Landing — planned for the area, more than 1,500 new housing units will be built. (And that doesn’t include the 1,425 units at Alameda Point.)

You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to realize that the sheer number of new residents commuting to their jobs from these developments may clog the approaches to the tube and bridges even further.

And traffic congestion isn’t the only concern. For example, the plans for the Del Monte project call for only one onsite parking space per residential unit. People living nearby already have objected that this limitation may force Del Monte dwellers to roam neighborhood streets searching for a place to park.

Another group whom our
hypothetical opponent might
target consists of people living in apartments who are anxious about their rent.

Last Tuesday, Renewed Hope, the housing advocacy group, presented Council with results of an "informal survey" of 200 tenants, more than 45% of whom had experienced rent increases in the last year. "Long-time lower- and moderate-income residents are being forced out of the community," the spokesperson said.

Individual tenants, notably a school custodian and a self-described "Ivy League-educated professional," stuck around till midnight to relate their personal stories about the impact of rising rents.

So far, the mayor’s response to those who have expressed concern about the traffic and other impacts of new development or about rent increases has been predictably bureaucratic. A "robust" Transportation Demand Management program will take care of the traffic. Staff will put together a plan for a task force to study the rental market. Otherwise, well, Gilmore feels your pain.

This is where the mayor’s vulnerability lies: Gilmore is not a problem solver. To the extent she even admits a problem exists, it’s someone else’s fault. To the extent a solution needs to be found, it’s someone else’s responsibility.

A competing mayoral candidate could woo the aggrieved simply by vowing to meet problems head on rather than brushing them aside (or kicking them down the road).

How about a "rent stabilization" ordinance? (Economists may hate rent control, but tenants would love it). Or an ordinance increasing the percentage of "affordable" housing required to qualify for a density bonus? (Developers will make less money, but so what?) Or even a moratorium on new residential development until there are enough job opportunities on the island for current residents? (If techies crave upscale housing, let ‘em buy their condos in San Francisco, not Alameda).

Proposals like these might enable a Gilmore opponent to build a core constituency. Around 10,000 registered voters live in the precincts along the northern waterfront. About 75% of Alamedans drive to work. More than 50% of the total housing units in the city are occupied by renters.

And the roll of the disaffected doesn’t stop with people uneasy about development or rents.

Consider the residents who supported the Crab Cove open-space initiative (especially the 6,437 registered voters who signed the petitions). Gilmore continues to defend the original decision to zone the property residential, and she agreed to reverse it only after the initiative forced her hand. Even then, she appeared to hold her nose.

Consider also those Alamedans— albeit very few — who pay attention to city finances. They know that the most recent forecast shows that the city will run annual multi-million-dollar operating deficits beginning this fiscal year and will run out of money by the end of Gilmore’s second term. Yet the mayor and her firefighters’ union slate-mates just OK’d spending $12 million on a new emergency operations center and fire station.

So that’s how to run against Gilmore: assemble a coalition of the disaffected. It might not work, but it would make the election more interesting. Now all we need is a candidate willing and — financially — able to take the plunge. Any volunteers have until Aug. 8 to pull their paper.

Read more of Robert Sullwold’s musings at the Alameda Merry-Go-Round: http://alamedamgr.wordpress.com