Voices Endorsements for the November 2020 Ballot
Election season in Vallejo can be contentious and occasionally bizarre. Given the mix of current issues and candidates to consider this round, we should probably expect more of the same. As an issue-oriented but overtly political organization we have to call it like we see it and let the chips fall where they may.
Grassroots organizing and dogged persistence beat back the proposed waterfront slag cement milling project that loomed large during the 2018 election cycle. The old-guard political network that tried to ram it through largely outside public view remains active, and well represented among sitting Councilmembers and candidates. Their pursuit of narrow self-interest works against the public interest and will continue to exert influence on current issues like meaningful police reform and City budgeting.
We’re encouraged to see a new coalition of younger activists rising up in town to participate in public discourse and the election process. We also hope the trend for increased involvement among more recent additions to our community continues to build. A general lack of attention to local politics has allowed the influence of players and networks from the old days to persist long past their desired expiration date. (See the Beginner’s Guide to Vallejo Politics for a more in-depth discussion).
To properly represent the interests of all Vallejo residents on the Council will take a lot of work, and we salute anyone who is willing to take it on. There are many reasons people run for office, and unfortunately some candidates are not so willing to put in the effort once elected. As always there are no perfect candidates, and as voters we need to decide what attributes in a candidate will determine how we vote.
Community boosterism aside, we don’t think many residents are happy with things as they are. We support candidates who remain independent from the old political network that bears most of the responsibility for our current condition. We look for candidates who articulate new directions and fresh ideas for local government that can translate into action. We consider qualities like basic competence, knowledge of current issues, familiarity with the operation of city government, and a hunger to learn. Elected officials require an even temperament and the ability to communicate effectively with all members of our diverse community.
So here goes a run through the candidates and our reasons for supporting them - or not. We may edit as the campaign proceeds and we learn more about some of the candidates.
Mayor Robert McConnell
We support Robert McConnell for the same reasons we backed him in his recent county level campaign. In this BLM-inspired political environment, why are we opting for the old white guy? In part it's because we can't get behind any of his opponents, but it's more than a default choice. He has a long track record on the Council and we know his qualities.
Robert’s an independent thinker who owes n0-0ne any political favors for getting him into office. We may not agree with every idea he comes up with, but we’ve never had reason to think he was doing anything but working for the greater public good. Robert is highly competent and well-versed in the operation of local government. He's a bankruptcy lawyer who first came onto Council to help the City work its way back to financial stability. He's a budget watchdog, and we need those skills now as the City spends beyonds its means. He may not be a natural or charismatic politician, but the community needs more than posturing that ultimately serves the interest of the status quo. Given the heavy lift needed to address the host of problems the City will face in the near future, competence trumps charisma in this contest.
The Other Candidates Running for Mayor
With disappointment we cannot support Hakeem Brown, and since he is the other top tier candidate we will take some time to explain why. One reason will doubtless be on display following the release of our endorsement. The consistent public behavior of his closest advisors and supporters reflects on the candidate, and he appears to be doing nothing to change the tone. We can expect a manic flurry of accusations of racism and more of our own local version of QAnon-sense from the candidate’s coterie of hangers-on. These kind of over-the-top ad hominem attacks reveal a lot about the integrity of the attackers and speak to their desperation to distract from the content of the message.
During the 2018 election cycle we asked Council candidates to lay out their policy approaches to a series of issues important to the health of the City, like housing, schools, mental health services, economic development, and the like. Mr. Brown had been positioning for a Council run for a year or more, but it seemed he had not devoted the time necessary to get up to speed on issues. His responses amounted to vague aspirational statements absent specific policy direction. It’s not enough to talk incessantly about investing in youth or supporting seniors, you need to explain exactly how and why, and identify the funding sources. Setting priorities is not the same as actually getting things done with tailored policies, action plans, and budgets. It’s not clear he knows the difference. If you haven’t done the homework before the election, how likely is it that you’ll have the time or inclination afterward? More likely you will fall under the influence of people promoting policies motivated by their own self-interest while you focus on your next run for higher office.
Mr. Brown has been cultivating support from the old established political network, an alliance with a history of dominating local elections with special interest money and who remain determined to maintain the status quo. It seems he’s eager to join that group rather than replace it. In spite of all the rhetoric about leadership and setting priorities, his political aspirations appear mostly driven by personal ambition, and he looks willing to play the role of a useful tool to advance those interests. He’s imitating the behavior of the pols most responsible for the current state of affairs by relying on outsized campaign funding and racking up as many endorsements as possible. Those will be featured in the glossy campaign hangers you can expect to appear on your door sometime soon.
While the Vallejo Police Officers Association did not contribute directly to his 2018 campaign they gave generously to the JumpStart PAC, and Mr. Brown’s campaign used the VPOA endorsement to make the case that Vallejo voters should join with their police and vote for him.
Before George Floyd, he was cozying up to the VPOA by suggesting that bias training, higher salaries, and an expensive new waterfront headquarters would be enough to fundamentally improve police treatment of minority residents. “If I’ve gotta give them a police station for them to treat these young Africans correctly then I’m going to do it.”
The apparent folly in his position crystallized with the exposure of a badge-bending club of Vallejo police officers responsible for fatal shootings. Bias training will do absolutely nothing to change a culture of racist thuggery. After the issue of police violence exploded nationally Mr. Brown moved to promoting a model developed in Oregon that substitutes social workers for police in many situations. The budget for this program in the city of Eugene runs two million dollars a year. The $20,000 budgeted for a Vallejo ‘feasibility study’ is not enough to actually accomplish anything meaningful, only the minimum required to sound like something is being done. The Council failed to take the estimated cost to implement the program out of the VPD budget or otherwise earmark money for implementation. A savvy politician knows when to jump in front of a parade, and discerning voters recognize the ploy for what it is.
In terms of appropriate and effective communication, Mr. Brown has displayed a lack of even temperament repeatedly on social media and during public appearances. He is volatile and quick to divide along racial lines. Any criticism is immediately met with hostility and absurd over-the-top charges of Klan behavior - not an admirable or useful quality in a public servant. A small sample from an FB screen shot of the even-tempered dialogue Mr. Brown feels appropriate for social media: “Only in your racist mind would a black multimillionaire be owned by an organization that didn’t contribute one dime to my campaign. They endorsed me for the same reason every organization in Vallejo endorsed me. I’m a winner.”
His attitude of nativist entitlement calls into question his willingness or ability to represent all Vallejo residents. Vallejo is no longer a parochial Navy town of 30,000 people, but Mr. Brown seems to feel that only the opinions of long time residents are legitimate. In a zoom meeting video he tells all of the more recent additions to the community: “Don’t get to our town and decide now you want to be an advocate, go sit your ass down,” and “You ain’t saving us ‘cause you shut down a cement plant, seriously, you ain’t savin’ nobody but yourself and your view.”
The same guy who gave an impassioned speech against the Orcem project in front of the planning commission now sings a very different tune after hooking up with the Jumpstart crew. Those are the people who pushed the project for years, wasting scarce community time and resources that could have been put to much better use. His thesis that newcomers are somehow responsible for the sorry condition we’re in today is ridiculous on its face. It’s the long-time residents and interest groups who maintained a majority on the Council for decades who are squarely to blame.
We can go on, but you get the idea. Mr. Brown falls short on pretty much all our criteria and we cannot support his candidacy. See these articles for further discussion of his qualifications:
M. Avonelle Hanley-Mills
Unlike the two candidates previously discussed, Ms Hanley-Mills does not have a record in elective office to examine. She has worked in psychology in the field of mental health, parenting, and youth development. Her work has been through and with a specific philosophical framework of growth, healing, and transformation. She serves as the CEO of The Parent Movement, “a strength based organization focusing on the innate strength and resilience of the parental figure and the child/youth.” She serves on the Board for The International Child Resource Institute which focuses on early childhood education and development.
She has unfortunately chosen to use ‘transformation’ as a key concept in her campaign. That echoes the language used by the Transformation Vallejo homophobic religious organization from the days of Mayor Davis, who declared Vallejo the City of God and hosted prayer events at City Hall where speakers railed against marriage equality. We assume any association with that sad chapter in the City’s history is unintentional.
Ms. Hanley-Mills seems a positive person with a lot to contribute, and we encourage her continued participation in the local political process. We would suggest maybe starting at a level below the top elected city office to gain experience in the workings of city government and establish a record of service.
John B. Kenney
Mr. Kenney comes with a background as a lifelong educator and Principal/Founder of his own school. He’s worked against voter suppression efforts in several states, and on environmental issues with the Sunrise movement. He publicly voiced his opposition to the Orcem slag cement mill proposed for the Vallejo waterfront. Again we have to wonder why a first run for public office would start with the top slot. Residents with a background in education might also consider serving on our beleaguered school board. No community can thrive with a substandard educational system for its children,
Ms. Williams-Bailey is the endorsed candidate of the Solano County Republican Central Committee and brings a social services/probation background. She was recently quoted as follows in a Times Herald article surveying reactions to the selection of Kamala Harris as a vice-presidential candidate. She finds Ms. Harris “a disgrace to the Black community; dishonorable and disrespectful. That coming from a Black woman who has had close-enough dealings with her as a foster care advocate from Oakland. She is very phony and does not follow through. She used foster youth as a publicity stunt.”
It’s doubtful we’d find much common ground with Ms. Williams-Bailey, but at least she has the courage to run as a Republican instead of switching parties right before a run for office as so many of our local pols have done. However, the apparent differences in perspective are too great for us to seriously consider endorsing her mayoral candidacy.
This year we will be electing councilmembers other than the Mayor's office by district for the first time. We went through the process of setting up the district boundaries earlier, and three districts will be voting for their representatives in this election.
Find your district using the tool provided on the City web site here...
In theory this system should make a run for council less expensive, and a smaller target constituency allows candidates more opportunity to make personal contact with the voters they want to represent. We have a chronic problem with fielding quality candidates willing to take on these positions that demand so much time and work to do properly. The 2018 election cycle presented us with a very limited set of choices. People end up running more for the social status of the office than any desire to roll up their sleeves and make government work for the people, leaving too much power in the hands city managers and staff.
That problem appears to have been exacerbated with the smaller pool of residents eligible to run in districts. In one district on this first go-round we only had one candidate who initially qualified, and a last-second back room challenge was needed to qualify a second candidate. More on that later. We also have one district this round with two candidates we could support, and now one of them must be eliminated. We should consider paying our councilmembers a living wage so that younger people might be more willing and able to serve in elective office, and look for other ways to make these essential jobs look more attractive to a diverse cross-section of the community.
We find only one district race an easy call to make, and that is the contest in District 1, where Voices will endorse L. Alexander Matias for City Council.
In District 1 Voices Supports L. Alexander Matias
District 1 Councilmember
L. Alexander Matias
Alex Matias is an Operations Executive with over a decade of experience working across the insurance, education, and nonprofit management sectors. He has served on boards supporting college students in organizations like the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), and has served as a mentor for at-risk youth for organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) and Chess in the Schools (CIS). Alex obtained his Masters in Public Administration (w/ a concentration in City/County Government Management) from the University of Southern California (USC) and a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Ithaca College. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Code Enforcement Appeal Board for the City of Vallejo.
Alex is clearly qualified to engage with City bureaucracy and represents a fresh and more policy-focused technocratic approach for the Council. It makes little sense to keep putting the same people in office and expecting different results. He says local government policies should focus on social services that will impact residents in need, and advocates for budgeting that invests in areas that matter to people, not special interests.
He's also a real estate professional, and that industry lobby is one of the special interests that have been contributing to local candidates for years. The real estate industry has been over-represented on the Council for some time, but as always there are no perfect candidates. While questions for Alex about issues of interest to the real estate lobby remain fair game, we feel he is the candidate in District 1 best suited to meet the moment as the City struggles to find its footing in a dramatically altered environment.
The Other Candidates Running in District 1
If you’re content with things as they are in Vallejo then you should ignore our advice and vote for Ms. Verder-Aliga. She is clearly the more experienced candidate. She was president of the school board in 2004 when the system went belly up and voiced her surprise that things had gotten so out of control that bankruptcy became the only option left. She’s run as a JumpStart candidate and served on the Council for the past seven years.
In that role she reneged on her campaign promise to collect voter-approved taxes on retail cannabis sales “like water bills,” - joining Mayor Davis’ reactionary crusade once in office to ban all medical cannabis dispensaries in the City. She was a member of the clandestine committee pushing behind the scenes to bring a polluting slag cement plant to the south Vallejo waterfront. Both of those fights were totally unnecessary and a huge waste of the community's time and resources.
To her credit Ms. Verder-Aliga did vote against the Measure G tax increase, although she now supports it, and she opposes the expensive new police headquarters proposed for the waterfront. She also surprised us with her strong and eloquent appeal for making Vallejo a safe haven for undocumented immigrants.
If you like the consistently uneven quality of decision-making we’ve seen from our elected representatives over the past couple decades and want more of the same, Ms. Verder-Aliga is your candidate. We feel that it's time to give some new talent a chance to make local government work for all of us.
Vernon Williams III
Mr. Williams is a talented public speaker with a compelling personal narrative. His early life fell into a downward spiral of drug use and black market dealing that led him to three prison terms in San Quentin plus some time in Folsom State Prison. After turning his life around he has put his talents and experience to work in counseling at-risk youth. His recent record of service is admirable, but it doesn’t qualify him to serve as a district representative on the Council. Nothing in his background suggests he’s prepared to engage with arcane City bureaucracy and the range of issues facing City government. District 1 voters have a better choice in this election.
In District 6 Voices Supports Christina "Tina" Arriola
District 6 Councilmember
Christina "Tina" Arriola
Electing representatives by district means they will carry dual responsibilities. We want councilmembers who will work for the good of the City as a whole while advocating for the particular needs of the people in their district. Tina was raised in the southernmost portion of District 6. Her father worked on Mare Island in Machinist Shop 38, building nuclear subs including the USS Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. She understands the challenges facing the residents of south Vallejo. She wants to add healthy choices to a landscape often described as a food desert, with a mid-week extension of the farmer’s market and possibly a grocery store. She currently provides weekly pop-up distribution of fresh food to local residents.
Tina attended the College of Marin and the American Conservatory Theatre before teaching throughout San Francisco and Oakland. She has joined locals to find creative and innovative ways to address the needs of youth in the new normal of distant living and learning that threatens to leave many of the most vulnerable behind. Tina talks about the lack of access to heath care and connects it to the high local incidence of chronic diseases like asthma and high blood pressure. She has been meeting with local groups and individuals working to reform the police department, and wants to ensure better police response to crime faced by District 6 and Vallejo at large. She is ready to work for change.
Among the criteria we look for in a candidate is familiarity with the inner workings of city government and budgeting - qualities needed in order to lead instead of always relying on the city manager and staff to tell you what to think. District 6 does not have such a candidate in this election, and Tina does not claim that kind of familiarity. What she does have is the intelligence, passion, and desire to learn. As a longtime resident she knows the local political players and their tactics, and has made clear her determination to remain an independent voice on the Council. She represents the highest impulse in public service - the desire to improve the quality of life for her neighbors.
The Other Candidate Running in District 6
Helen Marie "Cookie" Gordon
District 6 Candidate
The candidate did not file a candidate Statement of Qualifications, and had some trouble qualifying to appear on the ballot. It’s difficult to determine what would qualify her to serve on the Council. She was notable among supporters of District Superintendent Ramona Bishop in 2017 as school board meetings spiraled into a dysfunctional mess prior to her ouster. Not much to recommend there. We have to presume she would vote with the wrong side of a often divided Council from our perspective.
The problem with candidate recruitment in some districts became obvious in District 6 this year. A number of people pulled papers indicating they would run, but Tina was the only one qualified to appear on the ballot for District 6 when the City first announced at the end of the nomination period. Vallejo requires that prospective candidates obtain the verifiable signatures of not less than 20, or more than 30, registered voters who are eligible to vote for the candidate.
Initially, the registrar's office determined that Ms. Gordon's petition failed because three of her 20 signatures were deemed invalid. According to the interim city attorney, Ms. Gordon’s disqualified signatories had moved to different units in the same apartment building, which he claims is allowed under the elections code. Although we do not believe that the the Interim City Attorney's memo supports the conclusion that the three challenged signatures are valid, it was nonetheless enough to get Ms. Gordon on the ballot. But why not be prudent and get thirty signatures in case a couple of them get thrown out?
We have to ask why voters should place their confidence in politicians who have difficulty with completing this straightforward process. Another District 6 resident who failed to follow through and qualify in the time allowed now wants to run as a write-in candidate. Why declare your intention to run, fail to follow through, and then ask voters to write in your name? Here again we are wary of possible alliances on a divided Council, while we have a known independent candidate in Tina. We feel Tina Arriola will best serve as the voice of District 6 and we urge the voters of south Vallejo to give her your input and support.
In District 3 Voices Supports Guillermina “Mina” Diaz
We like both candidates for District 3. We have great respect Mr. Michael and the people advising him, but we feel Ms Diaz’ experience and the relationships she has cultivated in the community over the years position her to most effectively represent this district. Either way District 3 will have a fresh face and independent voice on the Council.
District 3 Councilmember
Guillermina “Mina” Diaz
While Hispanics comprise a quarter of the population in Vallejo they have not had a seat at the table in local government. Members of Voices feel strongly that Mina has earned the right to represent our Latino neighbors on the Council. She established a community center eight years ago which has provided countless workshops on the pathway to citizenship and the means to secure employment. The organization promotes success in school with a highly regarded high school tutorial program called Ser Latino. The center concentrates on breaching barriers faced by Spanish-speaking immigrants, but its services are open to everyone, and people from many parts of the globe have benefited.
Through her many years of community service Mina has built relationships with leaders of business, nonprofit, city, county, and state organizations. She serves on the Solano County First 5 Commission, which allocates millions of dollars each year from the state tobacco tax for Solano County's children. First 5 funds programs that improve the lives of children age 0-5 and their families by providing prenatal care, healthcare access, quality childcare, family support, and parent education.
In 2017 Mina joined with friends and allies, including Filipino immigrant advocates, to fight for Vallejo to become a safe haven from ICE for Vallejo immigrants who had not committed a serious crime. She immigrated here as a child and knows the opportunities and challenges faced by the many immigrants who reside in Vallejo. Mina was instrumental in bringing the City to unanimously adopt a safe haven policy. She serves as an independent advocate for her constituency and does not favor spending scarce City dollars on an expensive new waterfront police headquarters.
Community leaders respect and trust her, even if they disagree on some issues. They know Mina is committed, responsible, direct, and relentless. We are not always comfortable with her occasional transactional involvement with people we distrust, but understand that she is committed to advancing the interests of her constituents wherever opportunity appears. Her views and recommendations are given weight because of her deep knowledge of Vallejo, the perspective she brings, and her willingness to work hard to make Vallejo stronger, healthier, and more prosperous.
Mina can work effectively with all people. She will fight to improve the quality of life for children, families, workers, seniors, businesses, and all parts of our community. She will listen, which may be the most important trait that an elected official can possess. She has shown the ability to get things done with discipline, grit, and a commitment to Vallejo that we need on our council.
District 3 Council Candidate
Louis graduated from American Canyon High School and MidAmerica Nazarene University with a B.A. in communications and a minor in psychology. He is a community organizer, and in that role he continues to push for badly needed reform of City processes and policies. Those efforts have earned him some notoriety among those who resist change. "I am running for City Council as someone who has a heart for the community and genuinely cares about our future as a city. I will approach issues by centering the voices of those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised."
Louis believes in re-imagining community safety, and will push for investing in programs that will address root causes of the issues in Vallejo and shift our approach to public safety to a lens of transformative justice. He supports inclusive economic development. "Our city has the potential to truly thrive, but our growth must be community-informed and led to provide opportunities for communities that have been historically left out. By helping our most marginalized, we are creating a pathway for all of us to succeed."
While Louis has not yet had the opportunity to gain direct experience in the function of local government, he has surrounded himself with an impressive brain trust of advisors, and the candidate is smart and motivated to learn. He wiould bring a fresh new perspective that promises to shake up City Hall, and the members of Voices are excited and gratified that he is willing to step up and participate in the political process.
Voters in District 3 really can't lose in this election.