By Alex Emslie
Eight Oakland mayoral candidates say they’ve been sidelined in the crowded race — shut out of debates and forums and mostly ignored in news media.
The diverse and scrappy (or campaign cashless) “bottom eight” candidates held a news conference Tuesday to call out the treatment they say undermines the purpose of Oakland’s ranked-choice ballot.
“Ranked-choice voting is supposed to allow everyone a fair chance at running for office,” write-in candidate Sam Washington said. “Something went way off the rails, ladies and gentlemen.”
Under the system, voters pick their top three candidates in order of first, second and third choice. If no candidate garners more than 50 percent of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and second choices from those ballots are redistributed, all until one candidate has a majority of votes. Also known as instant runoff, ranked choice allows for more candidates to compete for an office without the need for runoff elections.
Oakland’s ballot has 15 official candidates for mayor, plus write-ins.
Nancy Sidebotham, another lesser-known candidate, said big-money influence in the race is transferring control away from the people of Oakland to outside interests.
“You’re taking it out of the mix from the people of Oakland,” she said. “All the individuals that have the front names are all backed by a lot of money and a lot of endorsements. The unfortunate thing is those people are now owned by those endorsements and that money.”
Sidebotham said a ranked-choice ballot should allow for any candidates who want the office to make a viable run. But she and other candidates continue to be ignored, she said.
“The media has been poorly covering us and not giving us the chance to say what we need to say,” she said.
Ken Houston said popular candidates are “standing on the platforms” of the lesser-knowns. He called out Jean Quan’s trumpeting of Oakland local hiring initiatives.
“She had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with 50 percent local participation,” he said. “I spearheaded the 50 percent local participation that affects the jobs, that affects our community.”
Not all of the eight slim-chance candidates are bemoaning a lack of attention, though. One, in fact, just got national recognition in the form of a skewering by Jimmy Kimmel last night.
Kimmel poked fun at candidate Peter Liu’s written response to a question about Oakland’s digital divide, equating a want for Internet access to a desire for porn viewing.
“I am rolling,” Liu said. “None of them got the publicity that I have. I am on fire on Twitter and throughout the Internet.”
A representative for one of the front-running seven candidates told several of the “bottom eight” that Dan Siegel has advocated for them to be included in debates and forums.
Campaign manager Carroll Fife said Siegel is in a bit of a no-man’s land — too much of an outsider to get the attention of the press, but viable enough to stir resentment.
“It’s unfortunate in these times where we see this gross inequity, between the haves and the have-nots, that candidates are aligning themselves in certain cliques and leaving him out of this equation,” Fife said.
Candidate Jason “Shake” Anderson organized the news conference and said he considers Dan Siegel an insider. He said the voice of everyday Oakland residents is being overshadowed by candidates with money and name recognition.
“What about the people that need power, need food, need shelter?” Anderson asked. “Those people need a voice, and that’s what the lesser eight, the lesser-known candidates are really representing, the voice of Oakland that doesn’t get heard.”