I can't disagree more with my friend Chip Johnson on the idea of replacing district elections in Oakland with an all-at-large system. The simple reason is that having people represent a district means that economic resources are better targeted and people are more engaged than in an at-large system.
Think about it. While the current system certainly has problems, what Chip forgets is that the ability to influence councilmembers in an at-large system will be left more to the rich and powerful than to small neighborhood activists and groups.
What did he say?
That's right. If you think that politics exists without the need or attempt to influence is some way, then you're dreaming. Big time. The fact is that the district process brings power closer to the common person. It takes less money, effort, and time when the geographic area is smaller and that produces better and more engaged citizens at the grass roots level.
There's a reason the district election system grew as a desired alternative as Oakland's population became more diverse: people of color felt they were being shut out of the Oakland government process.
For all of its problems, you don't hear such charges with our current system.
The real problem, frankly, is the style of "strong mayor" system we have. It was a HUGE mistake to allow the Mayor to get away with not having to attend City Council meetings. When I worked for Elihu Harris, who did have to attend them, we had weekly 2 PM briefing meetings to discuss and debate policy and programs on the council agenda.
I'll bet Mayor Delumms doesn't have a weekly meeting that's devoted to being briefed by staff representing the various policy areas. For example, who's the Mayor's point person for economic development issues, other than the director of Economic Develoopment? The Mayor needs a direct representative to study and understand what people need and think about Oakland's economic development and the person running the office does not have time for that.
The real problem is not the district election system; it's with the Mayor's Office. Reform it.
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