Letters for March 16

Readers sound off on Fruitvale, Hate Man, and OpenTable.

“Hate Man,” Feature, 3/2

He’ll Hate Me

Fantastic article on Hate Man, extremely well written and a perceptive portrait. Possibly the definitive word on Hate Man. Though he’ll hate my guts for voicing a positive.

Ace Backwords, Berkeley

A Failed Parent

According to your reporters, Mark Hawthorne “can’t understand how others operate without” his worldview. Maybe it’s because so many of us are committed to not becoming child-abusing, trashcan-scrounging homeless people. Like other Berkeley narcissists,Hawthorne places loyalty to his dogma ahead of responsbility for the emotional well-being of his offspring. He said he has “not solved” his relationships with his kids. What would happen if he behaved the way successful parents behaved, rather than persisting in his old conduct and expecting new results?

David Altschul, Berkeley

“Fruitvale the New Hipster Hangout?” News, 3/2

Espresso with a Side of Tamales

Steps to gentrification:

1. Initial exploration. (“Great find!”)

2. Spread the word. (“Man, it’s the place to hang out!”)

3. Deny desire to live or work there. (“Too different,” “Don’t know anyone there,” etc.)

4. Trickle of “urban pioneers” move in, accompanied by a few coffeehouses, boutiques, etc., owned by new residents or “outsiders.” (“Gee, you can live in bigger places cheaper, and there are even a new coffeehouse serving espresso with a side of tamales.”)

5. Area starts “looking familiar.” (“It’s like living in South Campus but … different.”)

6. Newcomers displace old-time residents (“This place seems to welcome everyone.”)

7. Oakland’s newest Temescal. (“Oakland’s next Gourmet Ghetto.”)

From step 1 to 7 may take 10-15 years.

Al Sargis, Oakland

Journalistic Dribble

I just lost so much respect for the Express reading this absolutely reprehensible piece of journalistic dribble. Seriously, the only angle that you can think about in the Fruitvale is the fact that white people and privileged college students like to go there to consume the “exotic other”?! What about writing about the organizing going on in the community to stop the gang injunctions, or any of the many positive, community-oriented things that happen there every day. But no. Because people of color only exist to make white folks’ lives more colorful and interesting, right? Because that is definitely the vibe that I get from this piece of trash. This writer needs to seriously re-examine his/her priorities and attitudes and stop being so absolutely offensive, culturally ignorant, and paternalistic towards an entire neighborhood. There is no excuse for this. Ugh.

Amy Ortiz, Oakland

Good Grief

I think people need to calm all the anger down. The article was clearly very basic and had no intention of exploring gentrification, race relations, or being a Pulitzer Prize-winning article. It’s just tacos, college students (not described as white), and thrift stores. Good grief!

Andunett Langhum, St. Louis, MO

Our Culture Isn’t a Toy

I am a current Cal student who was born and raised close to Fruitvale (around Garfield). I’ve worked there, marched there, held events there, organized there. Every day I walk around campus and have to deal with students just like the ones interviewed in this article. I’m baffled at how they can point out the lack of job opportunities in the community and not realize the social implications — that the people in Fruitvale are struggling. Do they not want to do something about that? They can become allies, join in the fight against gang injunctions, help revitalize the community in a way that does not strip the community of its power.

But no, they choose to walk away at the end of the day and say it’s not their problem. Not to mention how they exotify the Fruitvale culture, how they straight-up called it a novelty. Our culture is not a toy, it is our way of life.

Stephanie Hoang, Berkeley

“Blame It On the Pop,” Music, 3/2

Peanut Butter Disappointment

I agree 100 percent. If anything, you are being generous. “That’s the beauty of wax, ya’ll! You never know what’s going to happen!” (Said verbatim four-plus times in a two-hour set). You really do never know. Peanut Butter Wolf seemed to be drunk judging by the way he shouted random banter at three times the sound level of the music, Dâm-Funk was forced to do more than his share of the show. Good songs played incoherently and the beat was getting dropped every two or three minutes. I had my dancing shoes tied up tight and I was pretty disappointed that nothing powerful materialized.

Brian Isett, Berkeley

“The Battle for the Lab,” News, 3/2

Go Richmond!

I personally think Richmond can be a great incubator. I have friends working at SunPower. This area (close to Richmond Field Station) is really nice — great access to the Bayshore Trail (very safe), and restaurants are plentiful up and down San Pablo Avenue. As long as you aren’t heading in to the Iron Triangle, this area of Richmond is really nice. I’m pulling for Richmond!

Bryant Ames. El Cerrito

Go Alameda!

Alameda is a much safer place to walk, jog, ride your bike, or park your car near the lab than Richmond, Oakland, Berkeley, or Emeryville. And a shuttle bus could easily take lab workers and visitors to the fine, reasonably priced restaurants throughout Alameda. Alameda is a logical choice for the future of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Carol Gottstein, Alameda

“Police Targeting Oakland’s Black Venues?” News, 2/23

Not Surprising

You really have to understand the history between black communities and law enforcement and the white community. For some reason people don’t believe those issues still exist. Well, they do. But when you are closed-minded and unable to accept the history of your race, you always display the flaws of others while hiding your own.

It’s no secret that whites are starting to move into Oakland, and we all know that when whites find it hard to co-exist with others, they prefer to take over.

I would not be surprised if black businesses in the Downtown-Uptown area are being targeted. I have been to many of those venues and a good handful of them are run exceptionally well. And you also have those that hit under the mark, just like some white businesses I have been to, and Latin and Asian and Indian businesses. Why the blacks always get put on display as the negative is beyond me. America would not be America without black people adding all the flavor others try to capture.

I encourage people, especially here in the Bay Area, to explore deeper into their own true history.

Cedric Bedford-Chalale, Oakland

Cut OPD Slack

I don’t believe the citizens of Oakland give our police department enough credit. I would recommend you try to empathize with their situation. Many of these guys are fathers with young kids that they would like to see raised into adulthood. We had four OPD gunned down two years ago, and another squad car fired upon just two weeks ago. Why anyone would want to volunteer to be an Oakland cop is beyond me, especially when they don’t have the support of the community at their back.

Oakland is not Walnut Creek or Belmont, where all cops have to worry about are jaywalkers and drivers making illegal U-turns. This is a tough city and it requires tough law enforcement to keep it functional. Why is it that downtown Oakland doesn’t have a vibrant nightlife, like our neighbor in San Francisco? It’s because most Oaklanders lock themselves into their fortresses at night and stay there until they feel it’s safe to come out in the morning. All I am saying is cut our OPD some slack. They are the thin blue line between us and anarchy.

Mark Romankiw, Oakland 

“Will Oakland Become a No-Fest Zone?” News, 2/23

Is That Legal?

Addressing the anecdotal evidence that calling a council person can reduce fees, how can that happen when council members are prohibited from directing staff directly? I do not deny that Oakland’s various fees are out of line with other local cities. I just think your article illustrates another more serious sproblem.

Mark Dieter, Oakland

A Shame

If the City of Oakland wants to compete with almost any other California city, it really needs to get with the program and make festivals more affordable and far less-complicated a process for organizers. We have a fantastic wealth of talented folks here who can and do put on great events, and throngs of Oakland locals who are hungry for more community festivals. People will come from all over the Bay Area and beyond. It would be a horrible shame if Oaklavia or other events don’t happen due to unreasonable costs. Thanks to Karen Hester for persevering, and to other organizers who continue to work to create more Oaklandish events. Viva Oakland!

Elizabeth August, Oakland

The Road to Broke

Great article. Oakland’s flavor is jut coming back after decades of downtown being a ghost town. We (organizers and festival-goers) create the culture that sells the city. Without us, no shuttles, no restaurants, no theater, no reason for Bay Area residents to come play, live, and raise families here. Oakland city officials need to realize how broke they’ll be again if they inhibit celebrations, festivals, and gathering with soaring fees, because we promote business, boost real estate, and the tax base.

Brian Drayton

Executive Director

Richmond SPOKES

“OpenTable Reconsidered,” Feature, 1/26

Unsavory Practice

I read the OpenTable article with great interest. I hadn’t realized this additional burden that many restaurants are under, although I already knew that restaurants have the highest level of failure of any business.

That said, I wanted to draw your attention to the unsavory practice of charging customers if they have to cancel within 24 hours of the reservation; I thought that this might make an interesting follow-up to the OpenTable piece. I was looking forward to a belated birthday celebration with a friend at Eve restaurant on Feb 11. When I made the 7:30 p.m. reservation, the cancellation policy was explained to me when my credit card information was taken. Unfortunately, on the day of the reservation, my friend had to leave work to go home sick with the flu. He called me, and I immediately called the restaurant (around 2:30 p.m.). I talked to one of the owners, Veronica Laramie, and explained what had happened. She said that she had to charge me because it was policy. Now, I understand this policy (sort of) for no-shows, but I contacted her as soon as I knew. I also checked their reservations web site (they use OpenTable) at 5 p.m. that evening, and there were no openings for the 7:30 p.m. time slot. According to OpenTable’s tech department, as soon as a cancellation is entered, the site updates, so I think that I can safely assume that they filled the reservation, and were not hurt by my late cancellation. As I agreed to their policy when I made the reservation, I have no recourse as far as disputing the charge on my credit card. I still feel that Eve restaurant made $58 for services that they did not render, and that it is a very shabby way to do business. It is a good restaurant, but no restaurant is that good.

Susan St. George, Berkeley

“Shopping for Every Occasion,” Insider’s Guide, 2/23

Consistently Cute Options

I make the “long” BART trek from San Francisco to shop at some of these stores all the time! It’s worth the $7 roundtrip for the better selection and much better prices these shops offer. Pretty Penny is my favorite of the bunch — try to find affordable vintage at such great prices in the city; it’s not very easy. Plus I’ve worn every size from a 24 to a 10 during my vintage career, and Pretty Penny is the only place where I’ve consistently found cute options.

Kate Dunphy, San Francisco

“Jack London Square,” Insider’s Guide, 2/23

No Square There

Great article by Rachel Swan. Fascinating to note that for all the tens (if not hundreds) of millions that have been poured into Jack London Square by big-name developers and the city, it’s almost exclusively the independent restaurants, coffeehouses, and wineries that have made this neighborhood a real destination. As one well-known architect and planner said at City Hall, “But there’s no square there!” Precisely. Hence it’s called the Jack London District by its residents, and that’s where you need to visit, not Jack London Square.

Simon Waddington, Oakland

“Where’s the Integrity?” Letters, 3/2

Job Opening?

Hire that man. But confine him to maybe half the verbosity of his letters. And a quarter of the snark.

Mitchell Random, Oakland  

“John Russo Considers Quitting,” Seven Days, 2/23

Russo Props

I have worked with John and his staff in the past, and I can say from my personal experience that they are hard-working, dedicated civil servants who have honor and integrity. Separate the political mudslinging.

T. McCullough, Oakland

“Will Oakland Become a No-Fest Zone?” News, 2/23

Fight Is Just Beginning

Thanks to the Express for uncovering this story, and to Rachel Swan for her always excellent reporting. Let’s hope Oakland city officials sit up and pay attention as we organize Oakland producers to fight back against these fees. Besides showcasing local talent and promoting businesses, events in Oakland serve to reduce community tensions by bringing together folks from all walks of life. We’ll all hang in there, producing events as long as we can, but at some point it becomes unsustainable, even for the most committed.

Karen Hester, Oakland

“Beyond Fair Verona,” Theater, 2/23

No Room for Sarcasm

Thanks for this review. When I read the promo for this production, I sensed it would be as you described … almost like giving Shakespeare’s text the finger. There are certainly many ways to direct this play, but treating the text as an obstacle or being sarcastic with it doesn’t work. If only more theater directors around here would make the play more important than their egotistic need to “make a statement,” or whatever, at the expense of the play — or trying so hard to “sell” the play with a flashy angle that all the nuance and color that Shakespeare gave us gets lost or is wasted.

C.A. Swann, San Francisco

“A Disappointing Loss,” Letters, 2/16

Look to New York

The problem with the transportation system around here — in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, whatever — is that it’s way too expensive. Have one fare for every stop and you would see a huge rise in folks using BART to get around. It works in other cities, most notably New York. Try that here and see how the traffic will abate.

Francesca Austin, Oakland

“The Hidden Costs of Brown’s Plan,” Full Disclosure, 1/26

The End of the Pork Express

Robert Gammon’s article misses several points, some which are:

First, the city government was put in place to be public servants, not venture capitalists. Hence, if there had been no redevelopment agency, the money now lost would still be in the general fund (where it rightly belongs).

Second, the point that the money in the redevelopment agency coffers “could be used” for other city services is moot, since Oakland’s government has never used any redevelopment funds for general services, and clearly never intended to. In fact, the city government created laws that forbid the use of redevelopment money for anything except redevelopment (there is a minor provision for very small pass-throughs, but that is all). If, as Mr. Gammon says, salaries were paid to city employees for other types of services, then that is a violation of their own in-house rules.

Redevelopment agencies were originally well-intended programs for correcting urban blight, not to provide one-stop shopping for pork-barrel deals. Originally, most had “sundown clauses” to stop corruption and abuse. But these somehow kept getting extended every time some good ol’ boy or girl needed quick and easy money.

Now the good ol’ boys and girls are crying because the Pork Express has run out of gas. Well, tough luck, folks. After all, it had to happen some time.

James J. Fenton, Oakland

“Profiting from Eminent Domain,” News, 1/5

Progress at What Cost?

The Laurel neighborhood in East Oakland has experience with the slippery Hahns. They basically sat on a blighted vacant lot at 35th and MacArthur hoping for city money to subsidize low- or market-rate housing (never happened). Now an even more hideous blight sits at High Street and MacArthur. Amorphous plans for senior housing (adjacent to the very noisy and polluting 580 freeway), sited at an extremely busy and congested intersection (good luck, Grammy, getting to the store!), are somewhere in the void now.

Because it’s an old gas station and tire-repair site, I guess he’s waiting for someone else to clean it up. So there sits a very large, messy lot (possibly three or more parcels) full of weeds, trash, vermin, and a broken fence from an auto wreck, that was formerly the site of a homeless encampment until it got out of hand. See it for yourself!

It is great that people can still get ahead here in the USA, but at what cost to those in Hahns’ sphere?

A.C. Harper, Oakland

“Club Mallard Takes Its Fight to the Streets,” Culture Spy, 12/1/10

Living Up to Their Promises

As I was featured in the article “Club Mallard takes its fight to the streets,” I wanted to thank the Express for running the story, as it raised awareness of the ongoing crime and disruption from the Club Mallard bar that neighbors have been impacted by in recent years, and also for exposing the videotaping of residents and their homes by the bar’s security staff. You’ll be happy to know that since the article, there seems to be a reduction in the number of violent fights, vomiting/urination incidents, and serious drunk-driving accidents. Even the neighborhood is quieter. The Albany Police also deserve special recognition for their strong law-enforcement and arrests in the residential areas near the Club Mallard. However, while there’s been improvement, it’s clear that more work needs to be done.

I remain hopeful because I understand that the Club Mallard’s owner promised, at a neighborhood meeting on November 18, to remove customer parking from residential areas, and to direct his customers to park in commercially zoned areas, like San Pablo Avenue. I believe that if the owner’s promise is acted upon fully, it would resolve nearly all the problems; it is also an important and welcome neighborly gesture. Unfortunately, his commitment has not yet resulted in enough of a change in parking, so I would urge the Club Mallard to find more ways to tell customers about their new parking lot and policy. Perhaps bar customers reading this on their next visit could park on San Pablo Avenue, and then also ask bar staff about the new customer parking areas. Neighbors would be extremely grateful.

As for videotaping, whatever the Club Mallard’s intention, it’s a potential legal liability as a violation of both criminal and civil laws. While in concept filming in public places is legal, it’s just not as simple as that in the real world. How it has been carried out could invite investigations of stalking and privacy violation, among other things. It would have been wise for the bar to consult early on with an attorney who specializes in this area to avoid unintended consequences. Regardless, neighbors never understood how videotaping could solve the bar’s problems or build trust. However, there is a commitment to working with the Club Mallard as a “good neighbor” to completely resolve the problems.

Jordan Sampietro, Albany

Miscellaneous Letters

Why Everyone Should Read James Joyce’s Ulysses

“We may now imbibe freely of the contents of bottles and forthright books” — Morris L. Ernst, Co-Founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, December 11, 1933.The same week this country ended Prohibition, America opened the doors to let people legally read James Joyce’s Ulysses. With St. Patrick’s Day once more at hand, the greatest of 20th-century novels, and the Irish author whose genius gave us a look into our own daily souls, deserve a brief remembrance.Ulysses is the story of a working man named Leopold Bloom during a single day of his life. Making his way through the streets of Dublin on June 16, 1904, Bloom’s day is an adaptation of the story of Odysseus trying to get home, from Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.” I write this reflection sitting at the bar of Marzano’s in Glenview. Waiting for friends who live a few blocks up Wellington, I sip a glass of single-malt scotch and feel the Irish in the weather and in my mood. Today would have been the 37th birthday of my dog Squirt. Mr. Squirt, as he was known about town, lived a long and mostly healthy life to the ripe old age of eighteen before departing for heavenly pubs. He was a canine of discerning tastes, preferring Guinness to any domestic brands of beer, and never taking a drink until I’d thoroughly cleaned out his bowl. I first read Ulysses in college and of course had an awful time of it. The so-called stream of consciousness prose that I was being told by my Modern European Literature professor represented a new English language only drove me to wish Joyce had written his novel in regular English. I did not understand Ulysses, though I would often pretend to be reading it with a Guinness next to me and Mr. Squirt’s bowl full … as a way of impressing my roommates (and any girls around) that I was in fact a bohemian intellectual in the making. I would make attempt after attempt — often times reading words while lost in thought to the point that I could go through several pages and not have a clue as to what I’d just read. And while I did eventually finish the novel for that class, I knew I’d not really read it … which haunted me to no end for years. A well-read person should know Ulysses, I would say to myself. Finally, on a St. Patrick’s Day of long ago, with three months left till my 35th birthday and Mr. Squirt now years into the next life, I decided to tackle my character anew. I decided to try once more to be the man who could sit at a pub, knock back a pint or ten, and discuss Ulysses with Guinness-inspired flare, reason, and eloquent purpose. I began the novel once more and it was on this attempt that I finally saw what I’d been missing. I saw what had eluded me. I saw the basic issue of Ulysses. I saw myself.It is the simplest of novels to read once a person accepts that my old professor was wrong. It was not a new language at all, but the oldest of all human experiences possible — the things we all think and do during a day, and by the minute, while we go about our lives. Joyce, being a master of human minutiae, recreated the inner workings of a normal man, what he sees, thinks, feels, tastes — what goes through his head as he focuses on another objective. Joyce wrote about the process we are all experiencing at this very second. I type words on a page trying to compose an essay on Ulysses, but in reality I am also noticing the color of the computer I write on, and the yellow legal pad to my left, and the picture of Joyce on the cover of my copy of his book. My mind is filled with memories of Mr. Squirt and his bowl of Guinness, and my sacred friends from that time, talking baseball and Iran-Contra and Gary Hart blowing the chance to be president for a fling on “The Monkey Business.” The posters on our wall and The Replacements singing about “last call,” while the smell of closet-grown “sage” fills the room. All this while I see my girlfriend on the phone on this particular late winter’s day. The rain pelts the ground outside our window. I hear her talking to her sister even as I insist to myself I’m drowning out her conversation. I think about the black turtleneck sweater she’s wearing with just a pair of lace panties. I’m remembering what she looks like naked, and the lasagna she made last night, and eating dinner while watching Chinatown … all as I taste the coffee I sip now. The simultaneous swirlings of this essay in my head, with Joyce’s language and the thoughts he produced in Bloom …”… the photograph reminds you of the face. Otherwise you couldn’t remember the face after fifteen years … Rtststr! A rattle of pebbles. Wait. Stop. An obese gray rat toddled along side of the crypt, moving the pebbles. One of those chaps would make short work of a fellow … Ordinary meat for them. A corpse is meat gone bad. Well and what’s cheese? Corpse of milk? I read in that Voyages in China that the Chinese say a white man smells like a corpse. Cremation better. Priests dead against it …” Life, death, sex, love, loss, bodily functions, fantasies, and ultimately the realities of a man making his way through his city on one specific day. In Leopold Bloom we were looking at the stream of consciousness everyone engages in, yet within a beautifully crafted context of one man’s thoughts and the layers each person’s life entails. It took Joyce seven years to finish Ulysses. His eyesight deteriorated due to glaucoma to such an extent that during his time creating Ulysses he nearly went blind. The novel was not published until his 40th birthday in 1922. And for his efforts he was hounded by morality critics who decided that the inner workings of a man’s mind were too indecent for public consumption. In the United States — land of the Constitution and “freedom of speech” — Ulysses was banned entirely for its first eleven years of existence. But finally — in the same year America elected Franklin Roosevelt and made drinking legal again — so, too, was Ulysses allowed to pour through the minds of American readers. “The words which are criticized as dirty are old Saxon words known to almost all men and, I venture, to many women,” wrote Judge John Woolsey of the US Southern District Court of New York on December 6, 1933. “I have not found anything I consider to be dirt for dirt’s sake.”Woolsey went on to say that the novel did not meet the legal definition of “obscene,” defined at the time as “tending to stir the sex impulses or to lead to sexually impure and lustful thoughts,” and concluded that “nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.””Ulysses may therefore be admitted into the United States,” concluded Woolsey.And from that moment, when an American judge made the United States practice what it preached, Joyce’s Ulysses altered American creativity. From the literature of William Faulkner and Henry Miller; to the art of Jackson Pollack, to the music of Miles Davis, Kurt Cobain, and the films of Orson Welles and Quentin Tarantino, all can link their art to the enduring genius of Joyce’s novel about a nobody named Bloom on an otherwise meaningless day. Yet the legacy of Joyce’s Ulysses as too hard to read for anyone but the well-learned unfortunately persists. Unfortunate because Joyce wanted it read in pubs. Wanted the normal working person to see himself in the art, and embrace the celebration of an average day. “In recording the dailiest day possible, Joyce teaches us much about the world: how to cope with grief and loss; how to tell a joke and how not to tell a joke; how to be frank about death in the age of its denial; how to walk and think at the same time; how to purge sex of possessiveness; how the way people eat food can tell us who they really are,” notes University of Dublin professor Declan Kiberd. Kiberd, who wrote the book Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living, expanded on the view that Joyce wanted the average person to see themselves in Ulysses and not leave it as a book for the ivory towers.”Joyce offers the stream-of-consciousness of an ordinary citizen as prelude to nothing more portentous than the drinking of a cup of tea,” wrote Kiberd. Joyce once said of Ulysses that he’d “put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring one’s immortality.” And Kiberd wrote that Joyce never took his “extraordinary celebration of the ordinary over-seriously.” “When a fan asked to kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses, Joyce laughed and said ‘no — that hand has done a lot of other things as well,'” wrote Kiberd.So — as another St. Patrick’s Day approaches, and the Guinness no doubt flows, and the parades and leprechauns and people wearing green are everywhere having a grand time — I intend to do what I’ve done for years and read a little Ulysses. I’ll recall my old pal Mr. Squirt. I’ll think of my girlfriend in her sweater. I’ll taste the whiskey and Guinness sliding down my throat and the smell of the pub where I’m sitting. I’ll feel the approach of spring.I’ll hear the voice of James Joyce and understand his salient point — that in fact there is no such thing as an “average day” or an “average life.” This is what Ulysses is about — and why everyone should read it — more than once.

Ernie Barrera, Petaluma

California, the Alternative to Republican Misrule

After nearly becoming a home to it, California is being looked at as something of the alternative to Tea Party rule these days. Governor Jerry Brown’s direct style and transparent budget strategy have led to a waning in people’s longtime pessimism about state government. Yet, with the extreme policies of other new governors dominating the news — and with Meg Whitman remaining in the public eye — one must wonder how it might have been had California gone Republican in 2010. And whether Whitman or someone else, we can expect more well-moneyed novices to throw their hat in the ring here. They frequently do.

The idea of a “Governor Whitman” can feel remote now, notably with Brown’s smooth transition into his old job. But California’s races were considered close, and Whitman’s unprecedented self-funding ensured that she would remain competitive throughout. Also, there was constant buzz in the news about Tea Party momentum jumping all the way to the coast. As we witness a rookie Republican governor dominate the national news with a labor war in Wisconsin, it is clear that larger non-red states can flip to crimson, overnight. The shifts can border on the surreal. Florida’s new governor recently refused $2.4 billion in federal funding, for high-speed rail no less.

Though conservatives lack the outsize presence in California that they had some years back, their offensive continues — statewide Democratic sweep notwithstanding. Due to Washington anti-tax icon Grover Norquist pushing statehouse Republicans to sign a “no tax” pledge, Brown’s proposed tax referendum may not make it to the voters. (Norquist and Brown are now locked in battle.) Whitman herself had to run to the right in the 2010 primary to survive, and she made sure to state during the general election, “A lot of Tea Partiers were excited by my candidacy.” Had she won, such excitement would have mimicked the Tea Party playbook elsewhere, with professionally funded operations immediately planted here, knives out for a prize like California.

Would a political novice have withstood that …or have even wanted to? That is hard to say, since the former eBay CEO continues to divulge little about herself. For example, the post-race spotlight offered a good opportunity for Whitman to announce some local pet cause. Instead there has been her swearing-in to multiple boards — including Procter and Gamble’s and HP’s (a former employer and another Silicon Valley heavyweight).

Also, like many Tea Party candidates, Whitman employed pre-selected audiences and avoided media and editorial boards. Her campaign materials and the endless frills reminded one of a larger-scale Arnold Schwarzenegger, if such a thing could be possible. The latter, with his private-jet commute, irked Californians so much that the famously frugal Brown won major plaudits just for locking down in Sacramento and actually making himself available, to the people and the press (and even the other party).

Whitman’s idea for Sacramento appeared quite different. Her call to “Take Back Sac” channeled national “Take Back America” anti-Obama slogans. With an ascendant right wing on the scene in the wake off a Whitman win, we could have expected not only cuts but also the dredging up of hot-button issues.

One can only imagine how crippling it would now be if immigration were staring down the veteran Brown. His cagey dance to fix the budget, and dysfunctional Sacramento itself, is already a study in complexity and nuance. But conservatives are nothing if not committed to their passions. Look at the replay of the health care fight in Washington this year. California Republicans are particularly passionate about immigration. They were fine with having a 2010 primary war over it, generating Arizona-like anger (while voters awaited reality-like budget solutions). Creative messaging, such as during Whitman’s campaign, would not have cut it with emboldened immigration zealots. Forget her harmonious Spanish-language ads. It would have been all “tough as nails,” to quote her ad featuring campaign chair and immigration warrior Pete Wilson.

Brown did win, and let’s hope people continue to engage the process of moving things forward. But one would also hope that people keep in mind both what is happening in the rest of the country, and how easily it could have descended here as well. And since this is the land of the recall election, we had better stay engaged.

Craig Kaufman has founded educational and political organizations and run campaigns at grassroots and Congressional levels. His work has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, and other outlets.

Craig Kaufman, Berkeley


In our March 2 music story on Pale Chalice, we misspelled the band name Dispirit.


Newsletter sign-up

eLert sign-up

clear sky
51.6 ° F
54 °
49 °
71 %
2 %
56 °
58 °
60 °
60 °
61 °