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Political Musings and News From Around the East Bay and Beyond

A weekly look at political races and happenings around the East Bay and beyond. This week: State Assembly 15 candidate Abram Wilson on a short leash? And Congressional 11th candidate David Harmer gains traction–for now.

It's the story that won't die: City manager salaries. And they're once again on the radar after the League of California Cities recently published a survey of city manager salaries and partial benefits across the state. San Ramon city manager Herb Moniz's salary of $359,000 tops the list—again—adjusted upward from a previously reported $356,000. The Contra Costa Times' Daniel Borenstein covered the story, suggesting Moniz and others game the system by renaming fringe benefits such as health insurance and auto allowances as "management compensation" that later factor into pension payouts. These kinds of tactics, the writer argued, sometimes lead to higher pension costs across the board for cities and are part and parcel of the problem menacing city budgets.

Moniz responded to the story with this email to Patch.com: "Yes, it is absolutely incorrect!! Ask Mr. Borenstein if he is an actuary?? More later. Herb."

More failed to come later—or at least by press time. Not surprising.

It is, after all, an election year and the political future of his boss and fiercest champion–self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and Assembly 15 candidate Abram Wilson–is on the line. In the good old days of easy mortgages and quick real estate property flips, when everyone was making money and distracted by a two-front war, these tactics went unnoticed. Today, with unemployment looking like it'll stay at 12 percent or higher for some time, Californians are angry that some public employees are waltzing through this recession unscathed while they face long-term joblessness and, possibly, homelessness.

Unionized private sector workers and other non-union workers have been taking cuts to keep their jobs, while too many public sector workers have either been flatly fired—thereby reducing services—or paid extraordinary salaries to make up for the loss of their colleagues. In the case of Moniz, for example, San Ramon's Wilson at a forum sponsored by the Contra Costa Council last week continued to argue that his city manager's salary was justified because he essentially works alone.

Wilson's part in Moniz's compensation package will likely continue to be a thorn in his side until Nov. 3, the day after the election.

Meanwhile, Wilson has been put on a short leash by his campaign handlers. All questions for the candidate outside the controlled environs of a forum are handled by campaign manager Matthew Dobler, a 2009 graduate of California State University at San Marcos, who now, it appears, makes the command decisions, as evidenced by this video of him interrupting, then ushering Wilson away from a Patch interview at last week's Contra Costa Council forum just as Wilson was getting warmed up.

Wilson, it appears, can't be trusted to speak for himself.

"Imagine what it'll be like if he wins," mumbled a Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, staffer after the forum last week.

In the end, even Wilson's carefully managed and crafted arguments–and his sometimes bold statements that every program in California should be sunsetted and reassessed–failed to impress at least one Wilson supporter. 

Let them eat cake. That's the  essence of many deficit-hawk Republican campaigns across the East Bay and country, too often finding its most fiendish expression in the mindless meanderings of candidates such as Nevada tea partier and GOP nominee Sharron Angle, who recently spouted that there are plenty of jobs out there, only Americans are too lazy to take them. Maybe. But they are low-wage service jobs and if Angle can raise a family and pay a mortgage on a Walmart wage, all the more power to her.

High-wage jobs have been one of the bedrocks on which America has achieved a solid—though now dwindling–middle class. But those high wages didn't come easy. American Labor not only fought for high wages, but the eight-hour workday and five-day work week, among other victories. Some died for them. Even free, compulsory public education was a hard-fought battle.

Congressional 11th candidate David Harmer last month forgot that history lesson when on Aug. 5 he crossed picket lines to attend a $2,400-per-plate fundraiser at the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton, where 61 workers had been locked out for five months over a dispute regarding health-insurance costs. Management was demanding workers cough up over $700 a month for family coverage—from people who make just over $2,000 per month. To his credit, Harmer said he wasn't aware of the lockout or picket line. But you can bet management at the country club knew.  Maybe Harmer could use a Dobler-like handler, too?

Still, Harmer has taken a one-point lead in the polls across the Congressional 11th. Clearly, his deficit-hawk message is resonating in the district. Or maybe not. Statistically, it's a dead heat but most folks haven't heard of him. How can one not have heard of a candidate yet still prefer him? That'll soon change. Harmer's campaign, like those of most candidates, is flooding the emails and airwaves of district voters with pleas for cash, fearing that Democratic incumbent McNerney's $1.2 million war chest will be tapped toward the end of October to pay for "attack ads." Harmer reportedly has $233,000 on hand, but he spent $1.2 million on his recent run in the special election for the Congressional 10th. Harmer will not rely only on Republicans and Independents in the Congressional 11th that covers Sacramento, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties and towns such as Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton. He has traction in Democratic strongholds, too. In the heavily Democratic 10th, Harmer recently took 43 percent of the total vote.

Speaking of ads, the first wave of platitudinal television ads in the race for Congressional 11th are out, and Harmer's decries a Washington that isn't working. Neither are Americans, Harmer concedes. Unleashing the "innovative" spirit of Americans is the key, he told a Brentwood Tea Party forum audience recently, by reducing regulation and spending. The San Francisco Chronicle suggests that Harmer's attempt to craft his image as a fiscal conservative with a huge, thumping patriotic heart is disingenuous; that he's really just another financial-type, let 'em eat cake conservative whose former employer, J.P. Morgan Chase, took bailout money–money that later found its way into Harmer's bank account in the form of a $75,000 bonus. He was laid off, but reportedly earned a nice $85,000 severence and later for a short time collected unemployment insurance--another social program hard-won by Labor. But Harmer is blowing that off as a Democratic attempt to distort his record.

Meanwhile,

McNerney's first TV ad is a patriotic one and boasts his support from veterans, but he has yet to talk about jobs. He'd better start soon. To quote an old Bill Clinton campaign slogan: "It's the economy, stupid."

Next week Phil attempts to parse city and county races, including the strange, savage Contra Costa District Attorney race, among others.

Cameron Sullivan September 19, 2010 at 03:01 AM
Great stuff here, Phil, and I love the conversation your piece started. Heck, if it weren't for my severe allergy to politics I'd consider speaking up in this forum. Good to see others not afraid to speak up, though. For now, stay tuned... I'm announcing my "candidacy" next Friday. Keep up the good work, Phil.
Phil Hayworth September 19, 2010 at 05:56 PM
Check out Fitzgerald's column in the Stockton Record, http://blogs.esanjoaquin.com/stockton-metro-columnist/2010/09/16/face-time-with-david-harmer/ Basically, he's concerned Harmer isn't concerned with the district but more his personal political ambition. Tough to tell, be his political stump speeches are less than substantive. I hope politicians one day begin to trust the American people and tell it like it is, with detailed solutions, and show citizens some respect. It's ridiculous to make voting decisions based ona a handful of polls and TV ads. Harmer has actually made some serious points in the past, such as no private banks should be too big to fail, ending bailouts completely. He argued JP Morgan Chase did not need the bailout money, paid it back in full quickly, etc. and they they were a sound institution--which explains his nice severance check from them. We might never know. And it's easy to say these things in retrospect...I tell you this, remember when Bush and Pelosi came out of the Oval Office and the cameras were waiting and the looks on their faces? Do you remember that? Because I thought the Queen had died or something. Or that a meteor was headed toward Earth and we had days to live. The situation was grim. Anyway, keep reading. And if you have points of interest for me to cover, please let me know. PH
Phil Hayworth September 22, 2010 at 03:02 AM
Thanks C, but you really should speak up, because isn't that what Democracy is all about? Aloha. PH
jillLilly September 27, 2010 at 01:27 PM
Is another column coming? You said you would have on next week and that has come and gone.
Phil Hayworth October 30, 2010 at 05:01 PM
Jill, I'm no longer in the Bay Area, but let me ask you: Are you happy with the coverage of the Congressional 11th? Seems pickings are a bit slim here now. And Nov. 2 is just around the corner. But hang in there. It'll get bone up soon, I hope. So much for the fourth estate. Semper Fi. PH

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