District 3 Campaign Forum: 6 Key Takeaways
It was SRO in the Harding Elementary School library on Wednesday night, as 80 Westside residents leaned against bookshelves or sat in kid-sized blue chairs, to hear from three wannabes in the District 3 city council race.
On the home turf of Mayor Murillo, who previously represented the district, the event was put together by City Hall gadfly Anna Marie Gott and non-profit operative Sharon Byrne, who rank high on Happy Cathy’s Top 10 Most Despised Persons List. The big turnout made the affair both an edifying evening of grassroots politicking for neighborhood voters and a personal triumph for the dynamic duo producers.
Among the crowd, which was treated to 90 minutes of epic oratory about street lights, pot holes and pedestrian crossings, was a batch of political junkies jonesing for action in a slow campaign season in advance of the June 5 special election and state primary: ex-Mayor Helene Schneider ("I’m an undecided voter “ sniffed the long-time westsider) council member Jason Dominguez, ex-councilman Dale Francisco, Dem party chair Gail Teton-Landis and district elections stalwart Lanny Ebenstein.
Underscoring the district elections model’s fundamental purpose of empowering minorities, the discussion featured three Mexican-American contenders, Oscar Guttierez, Ken Rivas and Michael Vidal. Alas, Kathleen Hunter, the only woman in the race, who has been little more than a rumor to date, was AWOL.
Josh Molina has his usual workmanlike play-by-play of the evening posted over at Noozhawk and don’t miss Tyler Hayden’s package of interviews and mini-profiles of all four in this week’s Indy.
Here are six key takeaways from the big event:
1-Michael won the night. The most polished of the trio, financial planner Vidal wielded smarts, smiles and stature in a series of articulate responses that actually addressed directly questions from the moderators (community heroes Silvia Uribe and Luis Villegas), as he combined facts, figures and well-observed prosaic detail in service of his basic message -- arguing that he not only gets the day-to-day blue collar problems of the district but also is professionally accomplished enough to do something about them.
Example: Vidal began and ended the night talking about “red paint,” which he promised to get the city to apply onto lengths of curb at the bottom of people’s driveways, in the interest of making parking more orderly on Westside streets. By the 12th or 13th time he'd mentioned it, our face was flat on the library table, but it was an effective metaphor to show he understands the scale of concerns upon which a district ward heeler needs to focus; at the same time, he effectively spun his financial background to argue that he’s the guy to make sure the neighborhood gets its fair share of the pie,
2-Oscar won hearts and goodwill. The homeboy of the field, public access TV director Gutierrez had a strong opening, as he riffed that he was born, raised and lives in the 3rd District, and started school at Harding, where he “learned my ABCs.” It instantly established a sympathetic connection with his audience and, although he'd leaned on it a bit by the end, the positioning clearly established his authenticity and sweet personality, the greatest strengths of his candidacy.
The Democratic Party’s anointed choice, Oscar’s been taken in hand by Mayor Cathy but wisely avoided mentioning either point to an audience more interested in matters like evictions and gentrification than partisan endorsements and City Hall hacks. While he’s apparently been drilled in the three-talking-point school of politics (“my three priorities are safe streets, affordable housing and protecting the environment,” he intoned, as campaign operative Mary Rose looked on from the back) he’s pretty good at winging it, like his eager suggestion that permits be made available via app (if he makes that work, he’ll be mayor in a jiffy); saying that “we have to consider how much people are getting paid” as the first answer to a budget question won't thrill Cathy's union pals, however.
3-Ken Rivas, Sacramento thanks you. A veteran community activist and labor organizer, Rivas has paid more dues than his two younger rivals combined, but paradoxically seemed more nervous than either, as he checked his notes before almost every answer, contrasting with the off-the-cuff styles of the others. His go-to move was to check the notes, then recite the bill number of a measure, passed or pending in Sacramento, which bears on the matter under discussion. It showed that he’d done some homework, but he didn’t close the circle on making a connection - beyond an invariable promise to glom onto some of gazillion dollars worth of funding attached to the legislation for his constituents:
“We need to get our allocation," he said. Sure, but isn’t that why the League of California Cities has lobbyists?
Ken's best moments came when he railed against the AUD’s record of producing “luxury units more than affordable units” while his worst was in channeling Rick Perry , when he couldn’t recall his third priority after being asked to list the three biggest concerns on which he'd work at City Hall (although “infrastructure is so big it counts for two,” wasn’t a bad recovery).
4-Elizabeth Who? 22-year old SBCC student Hunter kept her streak of being elusive alive by stiffing the first opportunity to show her stuff to voters alongside the competition. Local political reporters have a trove of funny stories about trying and failing to speak with her (“When Noozhawk knocked on her door Saturday, her mother said she wasn't feeling well and couldn't talk,” Josh recently reported), and her record of not returning media calls, texts and emails would make Hope Hicks’s heart flutter. Mega-kudos to Tyler for the get. included in his story that confirms she is running.
Her absence Wednesday night sure didn't gain her any votes, however.
5-District elections was a winner. All three candidates said they would favor a special election over a city council appointment as the method of filling the District 6 seat to be left vacant by the upcoming coronation of Gregg Hart as a member of the Board of Supervisors. The council currently is headed towards implanting an appointment process, rather than a democratic election, into a charter amendment to appear on the November ballot, needed to align the city's governing document with district elections; we hear that move may prove a swell recipe for getting smacked in the puss with a new state Voting Rights Act lawsuit.
6-Nobody asked for a vote. As we’ve mentioned before, Willie Brown’s First Rule of Campaigning is: Never forget to ask for their vote.
The candidate is a job applicant who owes their would-be boss the respect and courtesy of asking to be hired.
It seems simple enough, but it’s remarkable how many entrants neglect this protocol, which manifests the fundamental psychological dynamic that shapes elections:
Maybe not so simple: exactly none of the candidates at the Harding Library remembered to ask people directly to please vote for him.
Next up: The League of Women Voters candidate forum, next Tuesday, May 1, at 6:30 p.m., also at the Harding Library. To be followed later in the week by the Newsmakers TV debate. Watch this space for details.
Image: (l-r) Oscar Gutierrez, Michael Vidal, Ken Rivas; Michael Vidal (SB Chamber of Commerce); Oscar Gutierrez, Paul Wellman, SB Independent; Ken Rivas (Josh Molina/Noozhawk); Elizabeth Hunter (Facebook).