Saturday, October 19, 2013

it's a political day in the neighborhood

This year's Sunnyvale city council election covers 3 of the 7 seats. The LWV forum was last week, and I attended, because I find that seeing the candidates speak in person gives a far clearer impression of their approach and knowledge than any literature does. Slothman's analytical eye was also gazing over the scene.

City politics has heated up this year, as the main fracture line that's governed elections here recently has now hardened up into what's effectively a two-party system. The candidates don't formally run as slates, but the alliances are clear, and most of the campaign literature endorses one or the other set.

One of the two parties could be called the Establishment. It has all the big-name endorsements, and most of the money. Its candidates consist of the one incumbent eligible for re-election and two members of the city planning commission. Advantages: they're well-versed on city issues, seem seriously dedicated to public service, and speak clearly and coherently. Disadvantages: some of them are vague in the way well-meaning people have (Q: What would you do about problem X? A: We need more communication), and it's hard to avoid their opponents' charge that the establishment has been too much in the pocket of real estate developers, bending the city general plan backwards to allow the construction of high-rise developments, which might be understandable in a built-out area, except that there's no way available to mitigate the traffic and other congestion issues that arise therewith. Tiny banner ads for one of the establishment candidates have been showing up on my Daily Show page. For a city council candidate! Though they have the guy's photo, they're not paid for by him, but by the realtors' association. My feeling is that if the realtors want to elect him that badly, there must be something wrong with him.

The other party may be called the Insurgents. They're all people who have found dealing with city government to be frustrating, and who make a fetish out of not accepting corporate campaign contributions, which is why they're running their campaigns on shoestrings. One of them has run (and lost) before; the others got involved in city politics via a movement to limit city workers' pensions, a big topic in several local cities. Advantages: Despite a regrettably loose command of facts, their objections to the establishment network by which things get done without effective outsider input is trenchant and well-taken. There are voices here that need to be heard. Disadvantages: Mostly, they're flakes. Of this year's candidates, one is a know-it-all goofball who talks from the seat of his pants, proposing offbeat notions with no relationship to reality, and going off on tangents that may have some relevancy in his mind, but whatever that may be, he's neglected to communicate it to his listeners. Another has a chip on his shoulder the size of the unbuilt new Apple HQ in Cupertino, and his passion on the pension issue rises to the level of union-hatred (he's the only candidate who's a business-owner; most of them, this being Silicon Valley, are software engineers). Only the third seems relatively normal, and consequently is the only one with a hope of getting my vote.

There's also a seventh candidate, a law school student who points out that he's the only young person (23) and the only minority (Hispanic) in the race; also, that there are no women. (One woman, not up this year, currently sits on the Council, a typical number in recent history here.) I'd like to support him, both for the voices he'd represent and for the fact that he's the only candidate who seems to understand that the purpose of pensions is to keep retirees from becoming destitute, not to pointlessly gouge taxpayers, but, like extra-wheel candidates in previous elections, he is sadly not ready for prime time.

The current council contains 5 Establishment members and 2 Insurgents. One of the Insurgents is a 6-year veteran who calmed down immediately on first being elected and became far less flaky; he now limits his insurgency to things like being the only vote against the motion to censure the other Insurgent (yes, they did this), who was elected 2 years ago on the basis of his incisiveness and a supremely foggy Establishment opponent. But Insurgent no. 2 is a litigating attorney with the people skills of a piranha, and a tendency to emit pre-set little speeches on any topic, instead of actually engaging with whoever he's talking with. Consequently he is not doing his causes any favors.

One of the slogans of the Establishment party is to "restore civility in city government." This was taken up by the local paper, whose endorsement of the Establishment weighed heavily on the fact that the Insurgents agree with councilman piranha-fish on many issues, so, although it admitted that none of them are remotely as contentious as he, it shadily tried to tar them with his brush. The editorial calls them his "friends," which can't possibly be true. He doesn't have any friends.

My question is, how would electing the Establishment enact their slogan? The incumbent candidate actually pointed out at the forum that 6 of the 7 current councilmembers get along perfectly fine. But, that being so, how would replacing the two retirees with two more of the same stripe change anything? Goofball Guy from the Insurgent slate, in by far his best line (and even that he couldn't deliver very well), pointed out that his election is what would improve civility, because he's not accepting corporate contributions which are Insurgent No. 2's principal beef (he believes they bias decision-making, and I'm not at all sure he's wrong about that), and consequently he would be immune from attack on that front.

So I'm leaning towards splitting my ticket: one Establishment (the incumbent, who's very experienced, very communicative, and very sharp), one Insurgent (the non-flaky one), and one ????

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