Is Karl Rove in Oakland?

Is Karl Rove in Oakland? His spirit is at work here, inspiring the campaign style of Patricia Kernighan. Kernighan is the candidate for City Council who sent out the now-famous "hit piece."

For some reason I didn't receive the mailing, but my neighbor did, and she very kindly dug into her garbage pail and produced a smelly copy of candidate Kernighan's flyer. Kernighan targets four of her opponents: Shirley Gee, Justin Horner, David Kakishiba and Aimee Allison, assailing each of them with distorted facts.

A whole page of the flyer is devoted to accusing David Kakishiba of supposed incompetence; his photo is captioned: "School Board member in charge of mismanaged public schools." Of course it's true that Oakland schools have been mismanaged. However, what Kernighan's flyer fails to tell us is that the mismanagement happened BEFORE Kakishiba took office!

Kakishiba called the accusation "laughable," and Kernighan was criticized for not having her facts together. "Doesn't Kernighan know these things?" remarked Oakland Tribune columnist Peggy Stinnett in an article titled "Council candidate takes campaign to the gutter." (4/30/2005)

Equally Rovian is Kernighan's attack on Justin Horner. Next to Horner's photo is the caption: "No district 2 experience." That charge seems grossly irrelevant, since for the last four years Horner has been top aid to Oakland Councilmember Jane Brunner

While Kernighan attacked Kakishiba and Horner with distorted facts, her criticism of Shirley Gee is a classic example of bad taste and poor judgement. A photo of Gee is presented with the caption: "Not supported by Chinatown leaders."

Shirley Gee, a Chinese American who has lived here in Oakland since 1952, has supporters in the Chinese community. She's an effective and respected activist with supporters in all parts of this ethnically diverse district, and she's the candidate endorsed by the Tribune. Gee said she was particularly offended that Kernighan would presume to determine who the leaders of Chinatown are.

The fourth opponent Kernighan targeted is Aimee Allison, the Green Party candidate. Next to Allison's photo is the line: "Inexperienced and all rhetoric."

Aimee Allison is an ex-GI who took a stand against the First Gulf War and won her case--those of us who've served in the military know that's not an easy thing to do. Filing for CO status takes skill and perseverance as well as courage. Aimee Allison eventually received an honorable discharge, which shows that she was able to win the respect of people who probably didn't share her views. These are qualities that can make her an effective city council person.

After leaving the Army, Aimee Allison eventually became a high school teacher. She also has twelve years experience in counseling military personnel seeking CO status. She has started a consulting firm to promote youth development.

Aimee Allison is the only candidate who has pledged not to accept any corporate contributions. That's for the obvious reason that corporations expect paybacks--a political reality that can hardly be dismissed as mere "rhetoric."

Pat Kernighan's flyer has generated a lot of outrage which has been expressed in numerous letters to the editors of the Tribune and other local publications. Oakland's District 2 is a relatively small area, and Pat Kernighan is going to be constantly seeing the people she's offended. That includes not just the four she attacked in her flyer, but also two of the candidates she didn't attack who also took offense at her remarks. And there's the supporters of these candidates, several hundred people, which probably include the majority of the activists of this district. Win or lose, Pat Kernighan is going to have to live with this.

It doesn't seem to me as though Kernighan's flyer could have done her much good, but then it's hard to say. Negative campaigning does seem to have helped George Bush, and presumably that's the winning example that Kernighan and her campaign staff have been looking at and using as their model.

With eight candidates running, it would be hypothetically possible to win this election with as little as 13% of the vote. While the votes probably won't be quite that evenly divided among the eight, it does seem as though 30% might be enough to win.

Kernighan is the candidate who's endorsed by the main powerbrokers of city hall: Mayor Jerry Brown, Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and City Attorney John Russo. She's also the one with by far the most money. According to the Tribune (4/25/2005), Kernighan has over $86,000, much of it coming from developers. Thirteen of her contributors listed themselves as developers or their employees, the Tribune reported. In contrast to Kernighan, most of the other candidates have between 6 and 25 thousand dollars.

Why did Pat Kernighan send out that flyer? It seems to make her look bad, even incompetent. My speculation is that when she accepted that large amount of corporate money, she was perhaps required as part of the bargain to accept their choice of a campaign manager--a Karl Rove type. But the real problem is, when a person campaigns like this, how will she operate if she happens to win and get into office?

Daniel Borgström
Oakland, District 2
May 2005


Kernighan got only twenty nine percent of the vote, but was elected--despite the seventy one percent who voted for an alternative to her style of politics and campaigning.

After hearing the news, I happened to pass though downtown Oakland. The electricity was out--stoplights not working, traffic jammed, BART not running and passengers stranded. Buses overloaded. Then I saw the Tribune; at the top of the front page is Darth Vader's picture, and right next to it, the bold type headline: "Kernighan wins seat on council"

Synchronicity? At times it really seems as though the Universe is sending us a message.

May 18