In its Mayor Candidate Forum on Wednesday night, the League of Women Voters of Alameda (LWVA) hosted incumbent Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, former Mayor and current City Councilmember Trish Spencer, and business owner Barack D. Obama Shaw.
Ashcraft spoke first, highlighting that as Mayor during the pandemic, she helped Alameda “weather the storm” by protecting vulnerable residents, helping local businesses, and going to great lengths to keep residents informed through local media. Obama Shaw discussed his interests in making sure children are safe at school and in developing an “inside-out” program to foster conversations with the homeless. Spencer declared she is running for Mayor because Alameda is a “city in crisis,” and promised to deliver safe neighborhoods, smart growth, and common sense traffic solutions.
Questions and answers
The fee to submit the candidate statement is significant. Should the City consider subsidizing the fee or take other actions to reduce the candidate’s dependence on large donors?
Each candidate discussed the equity impacts of the candidate statement fee, noting that it imposes financial barriers that can discourage people from running for public office. Spencer and Ashcraft said that Obama Shaw was unable to submit his own candidate statement, perhaps due to the cost.
Ranked choice voting (RCV) is a system that ensures elected officials are favored by the majority of voters. Would you favor the City Council having a measure to institute ranked choice voting in Alameda?
Each candidate voiced some level of concern about potential voter confusion arising from implementing RCV in Alameda and suggested educational measures to assist voters with understanding the new system. Both Spencer and Ashcraft agreed RCV could entice more people from all backgrounds to run a campaign.
How will you ensure coordination among efforts to address housing, traffic congestion, and climate change resilience along with the resources needed to manage them?
Ashcraft called for additional staffing in three departments: Community Development; Planning, Building, and Transportation; and Public Works. She heralded sustainable efforts developed during her administration to deal with these issues. Obama Shaw suggested increasing police presence to monitor traffic and deal with the “angst and impatience” of drivers. Spencer posited that coordination between departments to manage these initiatives would be unlikely unless Alameda hires a permanent City Manager.
The California Surplus Lands Act requires that unused or underutilized properties owned by local agencies must be made available for affordable housing before they can be sold or leased. Should the city-owned properties in Alameda Point be sold or leased?
Spencer pointed out that when she was Mayor her plan was to sell surplus properties in order to receive a large lump sum of money with which to fund infrastructure improvements. Ashcraft disagreed with the idea of selling surplus properties, noting that each property should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Obama Shaw said he generally believes in leases as a long-term income stream for the City.
Please discuss your view of Alameda’s financial position in 2022-23 and priorities for budget allocations.
Spencer discussed offering more services to the public through parks and recreation as well as mental health support, while Ashcraft stressed the importance of contributing to a “rainy day fund” to help Alameda address future economic downturns. Obama Shaw advocated for efforts to help Alameda develop an identity and encourage tourism.
City Council meetings are open to the public, but long meetings and variable agendas make it difficult for interested parties to express their views. What can be done to facilitate public input to the council?
Ashcraft suggested the possibility of City Council meeting more frequently and splitting agenda items into workshops. Spencer lamented the increasingly restrictive time limits on public comment. Each candidate stressed the importance of City Council meetings as the key vessel for public participation.
City offices are closed on Fridays due to budget constraints. Would you support reopening to a Monday-Friday schedule?
Obama Shaw supported a full weekday schedule, declaring that city officials are “here for the public.” Spencer and Ashcraft disagreed with Obama Shaw. Spencer warned that the cost-saving measure of being closed on Fridays could become necessary again soon, and Ashcraft noted that a shift to a Monday-Friday schedule would require changes in contracts with labor groups.
If you are elected mayor, what are your major goals for the next four years?
Both Spencer and Ashcraft vowed to address the key issues of housing, transportation, and safety on the island. Ashcraft and Obama Shaw highlighted support for the homeless, with Ashcraft citing Dignity Village near the College of Alameda as a recent success. Additionally, Obama Shaw promised to foster conversations between the community and the police to help both groups better understand each other.
In closing, Spencer mentioned her background as an Alameda mother and past experience on the School Board and City Council while also voicing her opposition to Measure F, because it is “not the right time.” Obama Shaw ended the night by urging Alamedans to be visionaries and take risks to address the future. Finally, Ashcraft pledged to continue engaging with mayors around the country, and fight climate change as the “existential threat” to our island.
The LWVA Mayor Candidate Forum was hosted by Anne McKereghan and moderated by Anna Crane. Watch the entire video below:
Ken Der is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Ken-Der.