One of the most highly anticipated Oakland election battles in years may have been knocked off the ballot when veteran District 3 Oakland School Board member Greg Hodge came up one qualifying signature short to run in the June 3 race for Oakland City Council.
The West Oakland/Downtown District 3 seat is held by longtime Councilmember Nancy Nadel, who is running for re-election. The boundaries for the school board and city council districts are identical.
If the ruling stands, it will leave Nadel’s only challenger as political newcomer Sean Sullivan, development director of the Oakland branch of Covenant House.
Saying that he was “not going to take this lying down,” Hodge said by telephone this week that he intends to challenge the City Clerk’s ruling in Superior Court. That is apparently the only avenue of appeal, since the Oakland City Council has no say in the matter.
Assistant Oakland city clerk Marjo Keller, who made the final determination on the petition validation, said that “the only way I would be able to put him on the ballot is if I were ordered to do so by the court.”
Meanwhile, Hodge’s “Hodge For Oakland City Council 2008” website remained online as of Wednesday afternoon.
The determination that Hodge came one signature shy of the 50 needed to qualify for the ballot was made by Keller after the Alameda County registrar of voters had reversed an initial disqualification decision and had deemed Hodge’s petition signatures sufficient to qualify him for the ballot, and almost a week of back and forth deliberations. Hodge said that 74 signatures were turned in by his campaign.
If Hodge chooses to challenge the disqualification ruling, he said it will be in part because the city clerk’s office initially sent him a certified letter indicating that he had submitted enough verified signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The letter, sent to Hodge by Keller by certified mail on March 12, reads, “Please accept this letter as notification that the nomination signatures you submitted for upcoming June 3, 2008 City of Oakland Municipal Nominating Election [for City Council District 3] have been verified and found sufficient.”
By telephone, Keller said that she sent the letter to Hodge after the Alameda County registrar’s office had reversed an initial ruling to disqualify Hodge, but before Keller could review the petitions herself. Keller said that in her review of Hodge’s petitions after they were returned to her from the registrar’s office, she found enough discrepancies in the signatures herself to drop the number down to 49, keeping Hodge off the ballot.
In separate telephone interviews, both Hodge and Keller generally agreed upon the sequence of events that led to the disqualification. Hodge’s petition was initially sent to the registrar’s office for signature verification, as is the procedure for all Oakland city and school board candidates. It was following this initial review that Hodge said he received a call from Keller saying he was three valid signatures short of the required 50.
After Hodge raised a protest, Keller said that she offered to set up a meeting between herself, Hodge, and the registrar’s office to go over the contested signatures, but said that Hodge “went independently to the county and met with them separately.”
Following their second review of Hodge’s petitions, Keller said that the registrar’s office informed both Hodge and Keller that they had reversed their ruling on enough signatures that Hodge was now qualified for the ballot. It was based upon this information, Keller said, that she sent the March 12 certified letter to Hodge.
Keller said that when she received the validated petition from the registrar’s office, “there were questions raised by individuals about other signatures.” She said she did not know the names of the individuals, only indicating that they were not City of Oakland employees, and saying that the conversation in which the individuals raised the questions with her took place at the front counter of the city clerk’s office at City Hall.
“The petition is a public document,” Keller said. “Anyone has the right to look at it.”
Keller did not go into details in a telephone interview about the nature of the disqualifications, only saying that “there were some discrepancies.”
Hodge himself would not go into much detail about the invalidations, saying that there were some signatures that were properly invalidated because they were signed by voters who lived outside of District 3, but that enough signatures that got him disqualified for the ballot were District 3 registered voters who were invalidated “because of hypertechnical application of the election code.” Hodge said that the city clerk’s office “has the discretion to make the call to validate those signatures.”
Hodge said he would not go into further detail on the particular invalidations, saying he would rather have that decided in the courts than in the press.
The spokesperson for the registrar’s office would not comment on the disqualification, referring all questions back to the city clerk’s office.
Nadel had only a brief comment to make on Hodge’s disqualification, writing by e-mail the following statement: “I have great respect for those people who take the step to do public service by running for office. Campaigning is difficult and complicated with a myriad of rules to follow that can be daunting.” The councilmember referred any other questions to Hodge and the city clerk’s office.
Nadel has served on City Council since 1996. Hodge first won the District 3 School Board seat in 2000 in a runoff. Both initially filed to run for mayor of Oakland in 2006, but Hodge dropped out after former Congressmember Ron Dellums entered the race. Nadel stayed in the mayoral race, eventually coming in third to Dellums and second-place finisher Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente.
If Hodge is unsuccessful in his attempt to overturn the city clerk’s decision, it would be the third time in the last nine years that a veteran Oakland-based candidate has been disqualified from the ballot for coming up short on valid petition signatures.
In December 1999, after serving two terms as mayor of Oakland and then losing to Audie Bock in an attempt to return to his 16th Assembly District seat, Elihu Harris came up six signatures shy of the 40 valid signatures needed to qualify for the March 2000 Democratic primary for that assembly seat. Wilma Chan was nominated in that primary, and eventually went on to defeat Green Party member Bock in the November, 2000 election. The disqualification ended Harris’ long political career, and he was later named and remains Chancellor of the Peralta Community College District.
And in the fall of 2000, Ward 2 AC Transit Director Clinton Killian was 15 short of the required 50 signatures on his nominating petition. Killian, an attorney, challenged the Alameda County registrar of voters’ decision to the Superior Court, but a judge ruled against him. Killian was named to the AC Transit board in 1994 to fill an unexpired term, and was later elected to a four year term in 1996. Greg Harper, who currently sits on the AC Transit board, defeated Joyce Roy in November, 2000 to replace Killian.
Killian is now one of several candidates for the Oakland City Council At Large seat in the June 3 election to replace longtime incumbent Henry Chang, who took out nominating papers, but then decided not to run for re-election.