hit campaign trail
by Elliot Owen
For Oaklanders, this November's ballot includes more than the opportunity to cast a vote for the presidential election. In addition to city attorney and four school board positions, five City Council seats, including the at-large seat, are up for grabs.
Hosted by the Sierra Club and the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, a councilmember candidate public forum was held at Oakland City Hall on July 9 for community members to meet and hear from those intending to run for Districts 1 and 3. Around 150 people attended, listening to the candidates address issues like green energy, unemployment, accessible and safe transportation, urban farming, and affordable housing.
The race for District 3, an area encompassing West Oakland, downtown Oakland, Adam's Point and parts of Lake Merritt, includes gay candidates Sean Sullivan and Alex Miller-Cole.
Sullivan, who ran four years ago but lost to incumbent Nancy Nadel, has already been endorsed by gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and a number of other elected and appointed officials and community leaders.
He is the vice president of development for College Track, a national nonprofit after-school program; the former director of Covenant House, a homeless youth advocacy organization; a former board member of the Oakland Rainbow Chamber of Commerce and was in charge of fundraising efforts for the No on Prop 8 campaign. Sullivan emphasized that his history of involvement in the LGBT community is here to stay and would only progress if elected.
"In our LGBT community, we continue to have to fight for representation," Sullivan told the Bay Area Reporter . "Once again, we have a number of council seats open and the LGBT community has not been sought out in a particularly direct way for our contributions. As a leader, I would definitely want to continue my activism for the queer community forward. Rebecca [Kaplan, councilmember at-large] shouldn't be the only LGBT elected."
Miller-Cole, a West Oakland resident of 16 years, is the owner of Cypress One Properties, a residential property renovation company. He is the elected chair of the San Pablo Corridor Coalition; a volunteer park steward for St. Andrew's Plaza (32nd and San Pablo) and last year as treasurer of the West Oakland Green Initiative, oversaw the planting of 517 trees in that neighborhood. His grassroots activism earned him the 2011 Community Leadership Award.
(Photo: Elliot Owen)
In addition to other things, Miller-Cole said that his election would increase awareness of the LGBT community in Oakland.
"I have already begun addressing this issue," he told the B.A.R. "Every other weekend, I take 21 kids from my neighborhood on excursions to water trees, visit Lake Merritt or the local pool. They go with me and my husband and after asking questions, they immediately move beyond it. You have to humanize the idea of being gay in the world. I would love to start a program to encourage the gay couples in West Oakland to come out and interact with the community and be part of the mainstream life."
In addition to Miller-Cole and Sullivan, District 3 candidates Nyeisha Dewitt, program director of citywide dropout prevention at Oakland's Promise Alliance; Damond Eaves, Alameda County Children's Services administrator and social worker; Lynette McElhaney, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of the East Bay; and Derrick Muhammad, longshoreman and Union member, also attended the Oakland City Hall public forum.
District 1 candidates in attendance included environmental advocate Dan Kalb, electrical contractor Don Link, California Forward Policy Director Richard Raya, child advocate Amy Lemley, and Vicente Cruz sitting in for Green Party member Donald L. Macleay.
August 15 is the filing deadline for prospective councilmembers. While stark differences between the candidates have yet to emerge, four months of heavy campaigning will no doubt change the scenery.