The Political Power of Incumbency
Why is it so difficult to defeat an incumbent politician? Because the incumbent:
(a) has more money so she can buy a campaign,
(b) is automatically endorsed and supported by the party machine,
(c) is usually endorsed and supported by the mainstream media, and
(d) is usually able to convince people that she will do better in her next term fixing the things she ignored in her last term.
Oakland’s Women In Power
Of the 10 largest cities in California, Oakland has the highest percentage of women serving on the City Council. Yet, Mayor Libby Schaaf clearly lacks a commitment to maintaining female leadership on the Council. In the 2018 general election, all of Mayor Schaaf’s first rank choices for City Council were men. Schaaf’s consistent vocal attacks on two of the strong women on the Council – Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks – are legendary. With the defeat of Councilwoman Brooks by one of the three Schaaf-backed candidates, there is only one Black woman on the Council.
Fortunately, the defeat of Mayor Schaaf’s major ally on the Council – Councilmember Abel Guillen – by community-backed challenger Nikki Fortunato Bas maintains the same number of women on the Council.
Desley Brooks Is the Exception to the Rule
Despite Desley Brooks’ defeat in this election, the power of incumbency generally rules the day. In 2016, despite a ballooning housing crisis and horrifying episodic accounts of police misconduct, all five (5) incumbent Councilmembers were re-elected.
Councilmember Larry Reid was first elected to the City Council in 1996. He has held the seat for 21 years. He has served as the Chair of the Alameda County Transportation Commission and President of the Joint Powers Authority overseeing the Oakland Coliseum. Under his stewardship, East Oakland is facing an economic crisis fueled by the loss of both the Warriors and the Raiders. Indeed, East Oakland is trapped in a morass of potholes, illegal dumping and economic stagnation. The prolonged construction of the BRT line through the heart of East Oakland has accelerated displacement of longtime residents and destroyed small businesses.
Of course, Reid and District 4 Supervisor Nate Miley both endorsed and supported Mayor Schaaf’s re-election. Why not – look at how much she has done for East Oakland!
Incumbents Are the Rule
In 2018, all of the incumbent Board of Supervisors supported District Attorney Nancy O’Malley’s re-election. They helped her in spite of her horrible record of racial bias and unwavering support for police murders and misconduct.
Look at our political structure in Alameda County. Most of the Board of Supervisors are long-term incumbents:
Keith Carson Elected 1992 – 26 years in position
Scott Haggerty Elected 1996 – 22 years in position
Nate Miley Elected 2000 – 18 years in position
Wilma Chan Elected 1994 – 2000, 2010 -present – 14 years in position
Richard Valle Elected 2012 – 6 years in position
Women are the majority in Alameda County but we only have 1 woman on our Board of Supervisors. By comparison, both Contra Costa and San Francisco have a female majority on the County Board of Supervisors.
In Alameda County, as in most places, the power of incumbency “trumps” any commitment to your constituents. It often compels you to support the status quo without regard to the needs of the community. If you are in the boat, you do not want to be the one to rock the boat. So you sit silently by, even when the boat repeatedly crashes against the hard rocks of the shore.
Too many of our elected incumbents sit by silently while lives are lost, families are destroyed and communities are displaced. Because you see, their elections do not rest on the power of the people – their elections are assured by the power of incumbency.