Hamill Answers Charges Over Public Safety ‘Scare Tactics’

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday June 12, 2008 - 10:08:00 AM

The race to succeed Henry Chang as Oakland’s at-large city councilmember is going forward with scarcely a pause following last week’s primary elections, with Oakland District One School Board member Kerry Hamill responding to charges by AC Transit At-Large Director Rebecca Kaplan that public safety “scare tactics” employed by Hamill during the primary campaign may have “backfired.” 

“My five-point public-safety plan is completely reasonable and thoughtful,” Hamill said by telephone this week in response. “I got overwhelming agreement with it wherever I spoke at meetings or knocked on doors during the campaign. Public safety issues in Oakland are an everyday fact of life.” 

In a race that included three other candidates, Kaplan won 40.22 percent of last week’s vote to Hamill’s 21.93 percent. Because no candidate received a majority in the first round of voting, Kaplan and Hamill will face each other in a runoff in the Nov. 4 general election. 

Following last week’s election, the Daily Planet reported that “citing campaign literature in which Hamill backed a controversial pending ballot measure to increase Oakland’s police force by 300 officers, Kaplan said that while ‘you can legitimately be for law and order, this seemed to be a way to frighten people over the issue of crime and violence, and I think people resent being frightened.’” 

Kaplan’s comments referred, in part, to a controversial mailing by an organization called the Oakland Jobs PAC that indicated Hamill’s support for the Safe Streets Initiative, a ballot measure currently being circulated in Oakland that would increase Oakland’s police strength to 1,075 officers. 

Hamill took off from work on the day after last week’s election, and her interview this week was her first opportunity to answer Kaplan’s charges as well as criticism over the Safe Streets Initiative itself, particularly the charge that the proposed ballot initiative is silent on how those officers would be funded. 

“I’m not focused on any exact number of police to be added,” Hamill said. “I would never ask for an increase of police staffing without identifying how that increase would be funded. But I think the initiative petitions put pressure on the City Council to seriously address the public safety problems in Oakland and advance the conversation about those problems. The details of this will eventually be negotiated. It’s a fluid process. Ms. Kaplan knows this.” 

But Hamill did agree that her campaign website during the primary “did talk too much” about the issue of public safety at the expense of other important issues. 

The “Why I Am Running” section of Hamill’s website [http://hamillforcitycouncil.typepad.com/hamill_for_city_council/] talks almost exclusively of crime and violence issues, explaining that “the reality is that violent crime still defines Oakland.”  

The website includes a separate “Crime Platform” page that includes Hamill’s proposed five-point plan to reduce crime and violence in the city. There are no other platform pages on the website. 

Hamill promised that this will be changed, soon. 

“There are five or six very significant other issues that should be included,” she said. “I talked about them during the campaign, but never formalized them on my website. We are in the process of writing position papers on those issues and will be posting them on the website shortly.” 

Hamill also did not appear dismayed by running almost 20 percentage points behind the woman she will face in the November runoff. 

“This is going to be a whole new election,” she said. “Roughly 40,000 people cast votes in the primary, which is little more than 20 percent of Oakland’s voting universe. We’re expecting an 80 percent turnout in November, more than 100,000 additional voters. I congratulate my opponent on coming ahead in the first round. She ran a great race. But this is a whole new race.” 

In order to concentrate on that new race, Hamill said she is going to take a leave of absence from her position as division manager of local government and community relations for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District. Hamill also said that she has already secured the support of Oakland senior citizen volunteer Frank Rose, who came in fourth in last Tuesday’s election with 10.75 percent of the vote. 

Hamill chose not to run for reelection to the Oakland School Board in order to run for the at-large council seat, and her school board term expires at the end of this year. Kaplan was reelected to the AC Transit Board in 2006 for a term that expires in December 2010. If Kaplan loses in November, she will remain on the AC Transit board. If she wins, she will have to be replaced on the AC Transit board for the remaining two years of her term.