Oakland’s District 6: A Referendum on Big Money & Dirty Politics

Posted on November 4, 2018


2018-11-04_13-23-25I’ve written extensively about where the money for the opposition to Desley Brooks in District 6 comes from. For a deep dive, read here. But before the election on Tuesday, I wanted to make one last argument about what the origin of the money means, and how it reflects on the candidates running against Brooks.

Certainly, there’s an argument to be made that a candidate opposing a long-time incumbent can bring fresh ideas and new vigor to governance. Indeed, it can also serve as a referendum on corruption–real or perceived–that the incumbent is involved in. That would all be welcome if this was indeed what was going on in District 6–if it was a referendum on mis/management, corruption, innovation and enthusiasm. I’m sympathetic to those who think that it is, and who support the other candidates based on their rhetoric.

But its demonstrable that that’s not what’s happening here. And I think there’s a stronger argument to be made that any candidate standing silent while a chimeric money-monster targets a largely Black and Brown district’s politics is describing their values far more clearly than any mailer or speech could.

When I say its demonstrable, some facts are noteworthy. There has never been a situation in Oakland electoral politics where two separate independent expenditure committees were formed to oppose a district candidate. And it would be one thing if both or either of these PACS happened to be a manifestation of actual grassroots enmity toward the incumbent–if they were, like the candidacy of Cat Brooks or Beto O’Rourke, an aggregate of 10 and 50 dollar contributions from working and middle class folks who genuinely want a change. But neither PAC is that.

Recently, when I remarked to Jose Dorado-the founder of one of the PACs–that Brooks has the support of a large constituency in the largely poor and working class district, he told me that his PAC would convince those people how wrong they are about her. Ironically, however, its clear Dorado never intended to convince people in my flatlands neighborhood of anything. I’ve not received any of his mailers, though I have received all of the mailers from the other PAC run by millionaires who profit off development and Oakland’s calamitous real estate industry. Clearly, Dorado’s work has been mobilizing upper income dwellers of the hills–his affluent neighbors in places like Maxwell Park–not those who live in the flatland areas.

Not surprisingly, most of the individual donors to Dorado’s PAC are wealthy folks who don’t live in District 6. But what’s more interesting is the organizational profile of the rest of the money. A large share of the cash comes from giant trades unions that have no base in Oakland and subsist off the state’s overheated development industry, which even centrists now agree has created an untenable situation for working Oaklanders.

The involvement of so many unions may give the appearance that this is a referendum on Brooks’ support for organized labor, but it clearly isn’t. The city’s union, SEIU 1021, has a donor profile that looks like an upside down image of the trades unions–in any campaign coffer where you find the trades unions supporting heavily, you find an absence of 1021 cash, and vice versa. Brooks’ account is no different, she has the vocal and monetary support of SEIU 1021. The trades unions are acting on behalf of their membership and their contract development partners to remove Brooks–and that’s likely because of her rhetoric and actions about their indifference to Oakland workforce inclusivity.

Other features of Dorado’s PAC donor profile are suggestive. Two donors, who collectively gave over ten percent of the total funds, are in the corporate cannabis business. The Schmier’s, real estate magnates who are getting into large scale cannabis according to public records, collectively gave 10k.


More telling, CannaRoyalty, a gigantic cannabis venture capital company (for lack of a better term) which has been aggressively expanding into the California market gave 5k to Dorado’s PAC. Earlier this year CannaRoyalty, based in Canada, bought up Kaya–a corporate Oakland cannabis company—and then absorbed it and took over its operations.


Dorado’s PAC alone raised (and spent) almost 120k–more than any candidate currently running in an Oakland council race. That’s actually more than either of the top corporate and richy council fundraisers, Loren Taylor, and the now defunct Michelson.



The other PAC is run by Phil Tagami’s lawyer, Fred Smith, and Smith’s Venture Capital Broadway Terrace neighbor, Robert Spears. They raised about 30k from individuals in the real estate industry and venture capital investors. Notably all the donors are dwellers of the most exclusive Oakland hills communities outside of District 6.

All together, the two PACs are a symphonic suite representing capital, not popular resentment against Brooks. The donors cast a shadow that represents very narrow concerns about two specific Brooks actions–her attempts to create a set-aside from development to fund Oakland workforce training for lower-income residents and her cannabis equity legislation, now attracting attention in other cities. Clearly, these contributors are entities who don’t care about Oakland. Rather, they care about the things that make them money, and not surprisingly, these are the things that don’t make poor people anything.

More importantly, its likely the symbolic resonance of Brooks actions are what attracted the opposition, not the actual legislation. The cannabis equity program has struggled–more than likely through deliberate city administration mismanagement. And Brooks jobs programs, maligned for weeks by local papers and opposed by the core of city management stood very little chance of passing either as an ordinance or proposed ballot measure.

What these acts did have in common was wide-ranging support in Brooks’ district, and in liberal and left demos of the city. It’s quite arguably the fear of how reasonable these ideas seem in the context of the mass displacement and economic disenfranchisement of Oakland’s Black communities that has gotten Dorado’s, Spears/Smith’s donors wallets in a twist. The fear that those ideas may spread both here and in the other cities and regions they do business in.

Of course, the cash outlay from these deep-pocketed contributors speaks volumes. But the silence of Brooks’ opponents in the midst of an unprecedented capital attack on Oakland’s political landscape speaks far louder. What does it say of Whitaker, Middleton and Taylor that not one of them has even commented on–much less denounced–the worrisome interest from these actors in the politics of their district? If they win and want to stay in office and remain on the good side of local corporate media they will have to now answer to these interests–and certainly, answering to big money is not what they’ve based their platforms on.

Their campaigns will have emboldened these interests by sending them a clear message about capitulating before cash–and next year, they will have to face these same interests at the city council half-round. In the most charitable analysis, perhaps these candidates think that the end justifies the means, given the satanic cut-out of Brooks they’ve been running against. But even so, what other ends will justify these means when they get into office? It’s not at all hyperbole to say that the D6 candidates comfort level with this alarming and unprecedented attack on Oakland through D6 speaks much more loudly about their future performance as city council representatives than anything they’ve said or done.

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