The Players

The cast of characters active in local politics range from the familiar to the fringes.  Some may look familiar, but do not behave as you might expect.  Understanding how the various pieces fit into this political puzzle will be necessary in order to cast meaningful votes in our local races come November.  What follows is a rundown of the various politically active participants in no particular order.

The Good Old Boys

One of our current Councilmembers recently remarked that Vallejo is one of the biggest small towns you will ever see.  While there has been considerable churn among the resident population since the Navy base shut down, the old crony network from the glory days has managed to maintain considerable political influence.  These include major property owners and chamber of Commerce types.

Bill Pendergast, a mayoral candidate from the 2016 cycle, served four terms on the school board culminating in the district’s bankruptcy.  He describes the demographic transition in Vallejo over the years in an SFGate news article from 2005:  

"When I grew up, Vallejo was almost all white," Bill Pendergast says.  "The population when I was in high school was around 30,000.  You knew everybody, and pretty much everybody knew you."

The Mare Island Naval Shipyard closed in 1993, but the writing was on the wall long before that.  As cheaper housing attracted families who were priced out of other parts of the Bay Area, many Vallejoans who could afford better moved on, often cursing the newcomers on the way out.

"I saw a lot of that growing up and I still hear it: 'You've got to get out of there. Vallejo is going to the dogs. It's all the Filipinos. It's all the African Americans.  It's all the Hispanics. It's all the fill-in-the-blank,' " Bill Pendergast says.

Representatives of the old guard property owners can be found in the Chamber and the Central Core Restoration Corporation  (CCRC), where President Buck Kamphausen holds court.  The CCRC administers a Property and Business Improvement District for Vallejo’s downtown area.
Ethnic Networks

A Brown University study in 2012 identified the Vallejo/Fairfield area as the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the entire nation.  But all too often these ethnic groups operate in parallel, independent of one another.  A 2001 New York Times article notes how a lack of interaction among various local community networks had developed in Vallejo, which tend to support political candidates of the same ethnic background: 

"Vallejo's racial balance is a result of addition and subtraction.  For many years, it was a Navy town, dominated by the Mare Island Shipyard, which during World War II employed more than 50,000 people, including thousands of blacks who were drawn from the South.  Even before the war, the city attracted large numbers of Filipinos, many of whom had served as stewards on Navy ships."

In many ways, Vallejo goes out of its way to acknowledge its diversity.  City officials strive to ensure that all citizens' commissions and advisory boards are balanced.  Yet the city also has a Black Chamber of Commerce, a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a Filipino Chamber of Commerce, in addition to the original Chamber of Commerce, which is dominated by white businesses.

''Every time we try to put ourselves together,'' said Thomas Egidio, who is white and president of the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce, ''we end up fighting with each other, so it was decided that each group would have its own organization.''
The Hispanic community has continued to grow in relative numbers, but has remained largely unrepresented and disengaged from City politics.  Mina Diaz, is a longtime activist and founder of Diaz & Loera Centro Latino in Vallejo, a multi-service community center.  Mina ran for a council seat in 2016 and lost by a narrow margin. 

The Filipino community by contrast has been well organized and very successful in electing political candidates.  Going into the 2018 election cycle they boasted four of the seven sitting Councilmembers, three of whom ran on the JumpStart Vallejo slate of candidates.  Incumbent council candidate Jess Malgapo was a former naval commander whose background exemplified the parallel institutional development within a community network.  A Times Herald profile of the candidate ahead of the 2011 election read as follows:
“Malgapo lists his primary political experience as serving as a campaign manager and fundraiser for friend Councilman Hermie Sunga. He has also held lead positions in organizations like the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce, the Vallejo Veterans Memorial Building Council and President of the Filipino American Retired, United States Armed Forces Association.”

Mr. Malgapo was revealed through public records requests as the principal organizer and president of the clandestine ad hoc ‘shadow government’ committee that used City public employees to pursue a private development agenda.  Members of the secret committee included the applicants for the controversial Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem slag cement milling operation proposed for the south Vallejo waterfront.  The committee worked out of public view to entice the Army into resuming regular deep dredging of the length of Mare Island Strait to allow large cargo ship traffic. 
The reactionary vision pushed by this secret committee would return polluting heavy industry to the Vallejo waterfront, and flies in the face of the shared community vision produced through the public planning process.  After winning office with the highest vote total in 2013, Mr. Malgapo came in fourth and failed to win re-election in 2018.  His fellow JumpStart slate member Pippin Dew who co-founded the clandestine organization with him came in third, barely making the cut in a field with few viable candidates. 

Malgapo’s political mentor Hermie Sunga is also a retired Naval commander who was forced to step down from the Council by the two term limit in 2014.  Sunga is now serving a third term after winning again in 2016.  Joining Sunga as the only other successful member of the 2016 JumpStart slate of Council candidates is Rozzanna Verder-Aliga.  She was president of the school board when it went bankrupt in 2004, by her own admission utterly clueless as to the actual state of the institution she was responsible for managing.  Verder-Aliga also participated in Mr. Malgapo’s secret ad hoc committee, attempting to turn our waterfront into a version of Stockton or west Oakland.  In spite of a record of spectacularly bad decisions these politicians keep getting re-elected.

The African American community has also been politically active, often through church groups or social organizations like black sororities.  They were among the strong supporters of former Mayor Osby Davis and the former Superintendent of the public school district Ramona Bishop. Hakeem Brown won a seat on the Council in 2018 with the top vote total.  They also play a prominent role in the recently chartered Community Democratic Club, which has been opening it’s meetings by welcoming those who oppose planks of the Democratic Party platform like support for gay marriage and legal access to cannabis.  Members of the black community have also been highly visible in the dominionist movement, which we turn to next.
Dominionist Church Network

Now here’s something you don’t see every day as a political observer, and something I never expected to find in a Bay Area city.  Former Mayor Davis found some of his strongest political support among a network of local churches that aligned with the international Transformation movement. This religious subculture works hard to combine church and state into an all encompassing theocracy.
Adherents are sometimes called dominionists because they believe they are supposed to take control, or dominion, over all aspects of society.  Also known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the leaders of this movement believe and teach that Christians have a mandate to reclaim "for Christ" Seven Mountains of influence, which they have designated as:
- Business
- Government
- Family
- Religion
- Media
- Education
- Entertainment

On the Transformation Vallejo web site you can find the following dominionist mission statement: “The discipline of nations is our primary task on earth.”  Reading further you find an explanation of what they mean by that:  

“Key Point:  It is possible to disciple a nation.  Nations have been, and are being, discipled all the time.  To disciple someone means to turn that person into a follower of the teachings you espouse.  In the case of a nation it means to impact its life so that it will conform to a set of specific values and develop a corresponding behavior.  
    - The Romans “discipled” nations by conquering and imposing on them the Pax Romana.
    - Lenin “discipled” Russia and the Soviet Union by molding in a regimented and
       all-encompassing way the lives of millions with Communist philosophy.
    - Mao discipled China with Communist philosophy.
    - Militant Muslims actively take over nations and disciple them a la Ayatollah Khomeini to be
      followers (disciples) of Mohammed.”

Sounds great, right?  Trust them, it’s for our own good.  They go on to further explain that this is a sequential process that starts at the city level and expands to include regions and then nations and on to the ends of the earth.  These are some of the same self-styled religious leaders that have been traveling to African nations like Uganda spreading a gospel of hate against gays, who they believe are inhabited by demons, and encouraging punitive anti-gay laws.  Mayor Davis went on a junket to Tanzania while in office to share the Transformation message with the leader of that nation.  

Leaders of the NAR movement consider Vallejo to be their United States west coast beachhead and stronghold.  Back in 2011 on the Harvest Evangelism web page, Mayor Davis is quoted under the banner VALLEJO CITY OF GOD - Mayor and City Council Look to God to Heal Their City: “If the church does her job,” declared our Mayor, “the city will be transformed.”   Instead of healing the city, our mayor and his supporters continued to link the name of our city and its officeholders with divisive minority views on issues like gay marriage at events like an annual Mayor’s prayer breakfast.  Leaders of this movement typically call for unity when confronted, and try to paint opponents as divisive troublemakers.

The Vallejo dominionist network has rebranded itself several times, as each promised dramatic transformation of the City under their leadership fails to materialize.  In 2007 they organized as the Vallejo Faith Organization and helped elect Osby Davis as Mayor by a two vote margin in a ballot recount.  Following some unifying public pronouncements by Mayor Davis such as “government can’t help the poor, nor should it,” and gays are “committing sin and that sin will keep them out of heaven,” the group morphed into Transformation Vallejo.  They played a part in electing a majority majority to the City Council in 2013 by supporting the JumpStart slate of candidates.  

More recently members have surfaced in the form of New Dawn Vallejo, which sponsored a midnight basketball program.  Leaders also play prominent roles in the new “Community" Democratic Club (CDC) chartered through friends at the county Democratic central committee.  In a city where the Democratic Party registration far outnumbers all others, everyone wants to run as a Democrat.  The CDC will try to make it hard to distinguish the real Democrats from the Democrats In Name Only (DINOs).  We’ll look at how to tell the difference in the next section.
Democratic Party

In Solano county registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one.  Naturally, it will increase your chances of winning if you run for office as a Democrat.  Former Republicans like newly elected Senate and Assembly candidates Bill Dodd and Tim Grayson switch their party labels when they try for higher office.  More than 63% of Vallejo voters are registered with the Democratic Party.  Special interest players with hidden agendas will continue to engage in deliberate and cynical attempts to deceive local voters by masquerading as Democrats.

In the 2013 election cycle, the president of the long-established Democratic Party club in Vallejo appeared to endorse the ‘JumpStart Vallejo’ slate of candidates.  This was the result of the manipulation of one confused individual and not a vote of the membership.  The seeming 'endorsement’ by the United Democrats of Southern Solano County allowed the backers of the JumpStart slate to put out glossy mailers giving voters the false impression that these candidates supported Democratic Party principles.  This collection of JumpStart DINOs included a dominionist homophobe pastor, who became the only member of the slate to lose in the election.

In the wake of that sorry 2013 spectacle the United Democrats ousted the club president who allowed it to happen, and installed leadership that vowed never to let the club be used like that again.  In need of a new way to confuse voters and pretend to be Democrats, dominionist pastors joined their political allies to form their own new club, and received a charter from the Democratic Party county central committee where allies wield significant influence.  The new Community Democratic Club (CDC) has taken to opening its meetings with a message from the president welcoming members who oppose planks of the Democratic Party platform like gay marriage.

While regional dominionist leaders preach against the evils of labor unions, the local CDC is closely allied with the union interests that recruit and finance JumpStart candidates.  They speak the language of black lives matter, yet supported building a slag cement plant that would harm the health and quality of life for residents of south Vallejo who already suffer an unfair share of the regional burden of industrial pollution.  They preach intolerance couched in the language of unification, and the glaring moral and philosophical inconsistencies reveal the leaders of this political alliance as self-serving and manipulative.

One response to the CDC has been the formation and chartering of the new Stonewall Democratic club, which highlights LGBT issues and supports the principles and platform of the Democratic Party.  The dominionist faction active in the CDC publicly opposed the right of local patients to access medical cannabis, and backed the attempt by the Mayor and Jumpstart councilmembers to run the dispensaries out of town in violation of their campaign promises to implement Measure C. 
Napa/Solano Labor Council

If you fall on the left side of the political spectrum you’ll be accustomed to supporting the interests of labor unions and believe that they have been important institutions that helped build an American middle class.  This author was raised in a blue collar union family with a father who negotiated private sector union contracts for a living.  He landed in jail more than once when I was young for fighting with company goons in the streets over the right to strike and bargain collectively.  I can hardly be accused of bias against labor unions.

However, as with any democratic institution, people will sometimes make bad choices and vote in bad leadership.  Witness the current Republican president.  It was a disappointment to find that some of the strongest labor influences in Vallejo politics have consistently been on the wrong side of local issues.  In particular the leadership of the public safety employee unions and building trades unions have played a major role in electing candidates willing to serve a narrow set of interests at the expense of members of other unions and the City as a whole.  

When my father sat at a contract negotiating table in the private sector, the people on both sides knew they were going to have to live with the resulting agreement.  That is a very different situation from public safety unions who are able to use member dues to choose the elected officials sitting across the table negotiating deals.  The resulting labor contracts will impact City finances long after their terms in office have ended.

As a young man I was working in one of the union shops represented by my father during contract time, and had the opportunity to listen to the message the leadership delivered forcefully to their members.  They would negotiate the best deal possible, but the members had to hold up their end and work hard to make sure the company stayed profitable enough to afford the contract package.  The leaders of public safety unions in Vallejo forgot that lesson if they ever learned it, and used their leverage to ram through lavish compensation packages that the City could not afford.

Base salaries in Vallejo were set at 10% above a 14 city average with an additional 30% added for extra pay categories.  Many opted for early retirement ahead of the bankruptcy, having been able to stockpile unlimited accumulation of sick pay, three years accumulation of holiday pay and four years accumulation of vacation pay.  These accumulated benefits could easily add up to a $200,000 payout per employee upon retirement.  After 30 years service they could retire with a pension that amounted to an extraordinary 90% of their final salary with the City covering 100 percent of their health care costs.

Given the potential to rig the negotiating process it’s important to have public sector union leadership with a balanced perspective, able to consider more than single minded self-interest.  The union movement was founded with a spirit of worker solidarity and mutual support, another aspect not fully appreciated by local public safety union leaders.  Other City workers with less political clout suffered severe cuts as a result of the pursuit of naked self interest by these individuals.  

The current executive director of the Solano Labor Council is Jon Riley, a retired Vallejo fire captain.  He earned the moniker ‘Abalone Jon’ after it came to light the firefighter's union under his leadership was charging the City some $24,000 per year for ‘business’ activities that included things like abalone diving, while Vallejo slipped into insolvency.  Maintaining their influence at City Hall means working and spending on local campaigns to elect officials that will vote with them.  In a speech to the Contra County Taxpayers Association, a former Vallejo City Council member recalls her experience going before the Solano Central Labor endorsement committee as a candidate.  She relates that she was asked point blank during the interview if she would “stay bought.”  

Mr. Riley and his predecessor have used their access to money and manpower to maintain influence in county and regional level Democratic Party politics.  That influence was recently used at the Party’s county central committee in the push to charter the Community Democratic Club.  Mr. Riley’s involvement with the dominionist fringe pastors leading the Community club is a classic case of politics making strange bedfellows.  The dominionist movement explicitly opposes labor unions in their literature and in speeches by their leadership, as well as opposing Democratic Party platform planks like support for gay marriage. 
With access to the United Democrats club closed to him, Mr. Riley needed a new way to dress up his DINO candidates as Democrats.  This latest unholy alliance represents an attempt by two fading political factions to cling to power through one more election cycle.  While other local unions continue to deserve support from progressives, the endorsement of the Napa/Solano Central Labor Council, JumpStart Vallejo, Community Democratic Club or other groups associated with Jon Riley in local races should be considered disqualifying.  If Riley’s for it on the local level, we’re probably against it. The CDC story highlights the importance of the race 

for seats on the Democratic Central Committee.  In typical fashion the JumpStart slate this round  looks to confuse voters by adding in a couple independent candidates along with the willing tools.  Don't be fooled - see our recommendations at the end of the Guide to separate the wheat from the chaff. 


Real Estate Lobby

It’s not hard to see a link between the outsized campaign contributions from public safety unions to the JumpStart candidates for city council and their desire to restore binding arbitration to city contract negotiations.  The county level building trades unions behind the JumpStart PAC would love to help build terrible projects like a slag cement plant on our waterfront that would compromise the health of local residents for generations to come.  While these goals run counter to the public good, the motivating self-interest is obvious.  But what about the money pouring in from outside real estate PACs to particular Vallejo city council candidates?  What’s in it for them?

The amount of outside real estate industry money spent in the 2013 election that put council candidates Malgapo and Dew-Costa in office was significant in the context of the total spending. The JumpStart political action committee reported raising $126,472 in that election cycle.  Along with the public safety and building trades union money and more than $10,000 from a large real estate developer with local interests, we find an $8,000 contribution from the California Real Estate PAC (CREPAC).  They contributed another $4,000 directly to JumpStart candidates, while Jesus Malgapo and Pippin Dew-Costa received another $32,482 from the National Association of Realtors.

Two of the three current sitting JumpStart councilmembers are real estate agents - Hermie Sunga and Pippin Dew-Costa - and it’s understandable that local developers and property owners would want to buy some political influence - which they did.  But why are state and national lobbying groups spending money to tip the political balance in Vallejo city elections?  Who are these people and why do they favor some local candidates over others? 

CREPAC acts in support of the larger association mission:
“The purpose of the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® is to serve its membership in developing and promoting programs and services that will enhance the members' freedom and ability to conduct their individual businesses successfully with integrity and competency, and through collective action, to promote real property ownership and the preservation of real property rights.” 

How does enhancing “members’ freedom” and preserving “real property rights” translate into public policy at the local level?  Bottom line - they don’t want to see any sort of movement anywhere in the direction of strengthening tenant’s rights.

CREPAC backs state candidates who support association policies, with a fund inside the CREPAC budget to support local candidates.  A look at the the successes trumpeted to members by the Silicon Valley branch in the last cycle tells the story of how they go into cities to fight rent control or stabilization measures:

“We were extremely successful in our lobbying efforts, with scores of REALTORS® showing up again and again at city council meetings to say NO to bad policy. Thanks to our lobbying efforts:
•  Mountain View City Council voted on three separate occasions to not adopt rent control, but
instead adopt a comprehensive tenant protection program that did not punish landlords.
•  Atherton Town Council voted against creating a business licensing program that would raise
taxes on some real estate brokerages from $250 to tens of thousands of dollars.
•  Menlo Park City Council exempted single-family homes, condominiums, second units, duplexes and three-unit rental buildings from its new long-term lease requirement."

Sadly, they had to report ultimately suffering a setback after managing to stymie local Council action repeatedly:  “Lost rent control in Mountain View.  After multiple successful rounds of lobbying on the issue, tenants were able to place this issue on the ballot and it passed with approximately 53 percent of the vote.  In a community that is 60 percent rental, it was an uphill battle.  We will fight this issue whenever and wherever it comes back.”

As Vallejo residents struggle to keep pace with rapidly rising rents and the homeless remain a fixture on our streets, the question of what mix of housing policies we should pursue will need to be addressed.  We need people in office who are free to weigh all sides and find a balanced approach that will serve the long term needs of the community as a whole.  Candidates like incumbent councilmembers Sunga and Dew-Costa who are part of the industry and were elected with the help of lobbying powerhouses like the CREPAC can’t credibly claim to bring an open mind to these issues.

JumpStart Vallejo Political Action Committee

JumpStart is the political arm of the old guard network made up of good old boys, the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades, the Napa-Solano Central Labor Council, the Vallejo Firefighters Association, the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association, and real estate interests.  By combining their financial clout these special interests have consistently outspent competing campaigns in local elections.

During the recent four year political battle over the slag cement mill and marine terminal proposed for the south Vallejo waterfront, Jumpstart took in substantial contributions from the principals and a multinational cement conglomerate in hopes of preserving a council majority that would vote to approve their polluting industrial eyesore.  Mr. Riley and friends packed council meetings with union members in safety vests to support the proposal, with very few Vallejo residents among them.  While their union workers would have benefited from the temporary construction jobs, the residents of Vallejo would have to live with the impacts for the next sixty years. 

Riley and the Central Labor Council have endorsed K. Patrice Williams to replace Monica Brown as District 2 Supervisor.  In Monica they've snubbed a 39-year active union member to endorse a non-union person whose business, BrandGov, is currently suspended by the Secretary of State.  Monica represented the California Teachers Association for some 20 years, walking precincts and picket lines.  


Monica Brown came out early and forcefully in opposition to the cement plant project that would have harmed the residents of south Vallejo she represents.  District was 1 Supervisor candidate Robert McConnell as a lead agency Councilmember could not voice his opposition, but he submitted 250 questions during the comment period to the environmental report.  When the time came Mr.McConnell voted not to prolong the years long application process by finishing the 

environmental review.  

The politicians elected with JumpStart support, including McConnell's opponent Erin Hannigan, somehow never seemed to have enough information, or regarded it as a 'local' issue.  As a general rule we can expect JumpStart candidates to duck, dodge, equivocate, or fall in line when faced with difficult issues.  Cynically when they can't recruit enough viable candidates, they will endorse people who are likely to win without their help so they can boast about their success rate and gain some measure of influence.  There are a couple examples of this on the March ballot. 

School Board

The contest for a seat on the Board for the Vallejo City Unified School District in November should draw as much attention in November as the City Council races.  Statistics show our public school students consistently underperform state averages while political turmoil and dysfunction stifle efforts to address basic concerns like student safety and bullying.  Those who can afford to send their kids to neighboring districts do so, and many young families move away when they have children approaching school age.  Even if you don’t have children or grandchildren stuck in this system, every resident has a stake here.  Our City won’t fully recover from recession and begin to thrive economically without a healthy public school system.

Understanding the situation we face today requires some historical context.  With decades of discord on record, it becomes challenging to produce an evenhanded narrative.  In this arena of local politics, simmering racial tensions boil over frequently into the public discourse.  Emotions run deep when dealing with issues that affect our kids.  
Going into the 1990s most of the community felt good about the schools and describe a well-functioning system.  A notable exception was a feeling in the African American community that the needs of black students were not being adequately addressed.  Many point to a contract impasse and teacher strike in 1993 as a watershed event marking the end of that era.  The wreckage of soured relationships and lost trust lingered on during a slow and steady financial descent over the next decade.  Enrollment, and consequently state financing, sagged in a district with large numbers of students needing extra attention to overcome language barriers and the effects of poverty.

Following the strike, a recall election shuffled the board and a new superintendent was hired and served from 1995 to 2000.  Depending on who you ask this period was marked by an effort to address a growing achievement gap and the passage of bond Measure A in 1997.  The $133 million facilities bond measure drew 72% of the vote.  Others felt strongly that this period helped set the stage for the coming collapse and that the administration had negotiated overly generous contracts with the teacher’s union in an attempt to heal the rift from the strike and recall election.
Another board shakeup in 2000 led to termination of the superintendent and a replacement who served from 2001 to 2003, when the wheels came off the wagon.  A new administration at the county Office of Education refused to approve the district’s fiscal plan and it became clear after a quick independent review that the District was running up an annual $20 million loss.  The state was forced to take over the bankrupt system and cough up $60 million to keep it afloat.  It would take nine years to regain local control.

In 2004 a state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team was assigned to conduct comprehensive assessments of the District and develop improvement plans.   More than a decade later many of the problems they document continue to plague the organization.  “There is a persistent performance gap between the proficiency level of African Americans and Hispanics, and Filipinos and whites,”  their Executive Summary notes, and:  “These demographics and proficiency levels provide evidence of the serious learning issues in Vallejo and also point to a critical lack of leadership and academic focus at the district level.”

The team further reported: “Individuals interviewed for this study often made comments such as: the district leadership has not consistently invited or valued community participation; there has historically been a poor flow of communication; there is still a network in Vallejo where certain individuals and campuses receive preferential treatment because of personal or familial relationships; there is not enough accountability; many active parents choose to send their children to private schools or other public schools outside of Vallejo; ...”

A record of large scale institutional mismanagement has not been disqualifying in Vallejo city politics. Two of the 2016 City Council candidates played significant roles in the run up to financial collapse of the school system.  Bill Pendergast, considered a viable candidate for Mayor, served four terms on the school board leading up to the bankruptcy.  Among the Grand Jury findings in their post mortem of the school system collapse:  "The VCUSD School Board did not keep the public informed of the district’s budgetary problems...The board kept the budget information from the public by discussing all budget problems behind closed doors. It appears that the re-election campaigns of two board members may have had an impact on the board’s decision in keeping the budget problem from the public."

Rozzanna Verder-Aliga managed to win a seat on the City Council in 2013 and again in 2016 as part of the JumpStart slate.  This in spite of having been caught completely flatfooted ten years earlier by the revelation that the vitally important organization she was responsible for managing as trustee was so far underwater that the state had to step in and take over.   "The whole board was in shock. It was unbelievable," said school board President Verder-Aliga at the time.  The Grand Jury investigation included a withering evaluation of the performance of the board under her leadership: “The Vallejo City Unified School District Board failed in its responsibilities as the governing board by not asking the proper questions that would give them enough credible information to make competent budget decisions.”  Nothing Verder-Aliga has said or done on City Council would indicate that she is paying any more attention now than she did then.  

The  former superintendent, Dr. Ramona Bishop, was appointed in 2011 to become one of only four black women in charge of one of California’s 1000 school districts.  That pioneering achievement and the perception that she better serves the needs of groups that were historically under-served earned her loyalty among organizations like the Community DINO club and black sorority networks.  The health of the organization as a whole unfortunately suffered under her leadership for reasons of both style and substance.

Her defenders cited an increase in graduation rates and dropping expulsion rates as her main accomplishments.  The problem with those metrics is that both can be influenced by the administration without actually improving the overall quality of education.  Critics point out that the lower expulsion rates came at the cost of frequent disruption of the educational environment for all students and increased risk to personal safety for students and teachers.  In spite of obvious deficiencies like the recent failure to administer the accreditation process for our high school and repeated incidents of campus violence and bullying, criticism of her administration was routinely met with charges of racism and sexism.  

Following the election of three new Board members in 2016 the Superintendent was let go.  Her supporters have continued to openly display their lack of respect for the current Board and disrupt public meetings.  The downward financial spiral continues with student flight under a heavy load of debt.  The Board is now engaged in making difficult choices to realize the draconian reductions needed to remain financially viable.  We all have a stake in restoring the health of our public school system.  The current Board and our new Superintendent deserve our support in this difficult job, and as voters we need to pay attention to School Board candidates when November comes around.
City Manager

The relationship between the City Council and the City Manager is often not well understood, even by elected Councilmembers, as the recent ‘shadow government’ scandal illustrates.  The Vallejo City Charter stipulates a “Council-Manager” form of government.  The power of the city is vested in the elected Council composed of a Mayor and six Councilmembers.  The Charter provides that every act of the Council establishing a penalty or granting of a franchise must take the form of an ordinance that is incorporated into the City code.
The Charter characterizes the City Manager position as the CEO and chief administrative officer.  The Manager is appointed by a majority of the Council “solely on the basis of proven executive and administrative qualification.”   The Manager runs the City while being responsible to the Council for all City affairs placed in her or his charge by ordinance.  Under an explicit Noninterference Section, the members of the Council are forbidden to deal with City employees directly “except for purpose of inquiry into the affairs of the City, and the conduct of any City department, office or agency...”  All other contact must go “solely through the City Manager and neither the Council or its members shall give orders to any officer or employee either publicly or privately...”  

Former Councilmember Jess Malgapo routinely violated the noninterference provision in writing as Chair of the unsanctioned ad hoc Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee (MISEDC).  Documents obtained through public records requests show him repeatedly conscripting and directing staff to work on assignments for his private committee.  The Charter flatly states: “Violation of the provisions of this section by a member of the Council shall be a misdemeanor, conviction of which shall immediately result in forfeiture of the office of the convicted member.”  Unfortunately the record also shows that our former City Manager showed no interest in restoring a proper management relationship with the JumpStart Councilmembers who participated, or in letting our other elected officials know what was going on.  

Given the breadth of responsibility concentrated in this single position,  it’s not surprising to find a lot of turnover in City Managers during a period as turbulent as the past several decades have been in Vallejo.  In May of 2009, for example, Vallejo agreed to pay its manager $390,000 to resign, making him the seventh city manager to come and go in a four year period.  We have a history of paying top dollar to administer a relatively small city.  San Francisco has seven times the number of residents and 70 times more government employees than Vallejo.  And yet former Vallejo City Manager Daniel Keen was paid almost $70,000 more than San Francisco City Administrator Naomi Kelly in 2014.

Managing a city requires a specialized skill set, and the pool of applicants suited to these positions is not very deep.  There’s a common perception that many are mercenary technocrats mainly concerned with padding their retirement, with low regard for the elected officials looking over their shoulders.  Given some of the choices in elected officials that Vallejo voters have saddled them with, that’s at least understandable.  But democracy only works in the open air.  If the City Manager is also intent on managing our elected officials by controlling the flow of information, then representative democracy breaks down.  Hopefully our new CM will prove less susceptible to the temptation to manage our elected officials and the public by withholding information.

My initial impression that we have an active progressive community in town was not wrong.  There has long been a dedicated network of activists who have had some successes over the years in getting representatives elected to office.  The Participatory Budgeting program and the Measure C medical cannabis initiative are part of that legacy. 
We can boast veterans of past land use battles such as the successful effort to stave off Bechtel’s proposal to build the nation's largest liquefied natural gas terminal and a huge power plant on Mare Island.  Participants from that fight resurfaced to oppose the private port and slag cement plant project proposed for the south Vallejo waterfront.
The election of Mayor Davis in 2007 by two votes in a recount over a ground-breaking openly gay candidate already sworn into office came as a body blow, as did Davis’ re-election in 2011 over a progressive challenger.  The success of the JumpStart slate in getting three of four candidates elected to the Council in 2013 left the progressive community shell-shocked and wondering how to compete.  The money and organization thrown into the contest by the alliance of county labor interests, real estate interests, and dominionist pastors allowed them to win three seats in a low turnout off year election.

Progressives fared better in 2016 with only two of  the candidates for council out of the entire JumpStart slate winning office, and those two thanks largely to the Filipino ethnic voting block.  In spite of the obvious waning influence of the Jumpstart PAC, those two seats were enough to maintain a bare majority, and the council continued to routinely divide on a 4 - 3 vote.  We got the chance to finally change that dynamic by replacing either incumbent council candidate Jesus Malgapo or Pippin Dew-Costa in November of 2018 .  Sadly, not enough viable candidates decided to run for Council to replace both.  Mr. Malgapo came in fourth and lost his seat, while Ms. Dew-Costa came in third. 
Next: Current Issues
Actually not so current in 2020, but still informative in terms of illuminating the allegiances and motivations of many current players.