The Emeryville commons, from the resident's perspective
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Saturday, February 27, 2010
Analysis: Special Election or Appointment
Will voters get shortchanged?
By Brian Donahue
Ken Bukowski, a councilman for almost 25 years, may soon resign or be forced from office, according to rumors swirling around Emeryville.
Emeryville police called to the dilapidated Bukowski compound while responding to a domestic violence incident on the property, in this 2009 file photo.
While the Tattler is busy ferreting out the fact and fiction, a nearly as pressing question also deserves an answer: How would a successor emerge? According to the city charter, which governs such things, a special election may be held or the city council can simply appoint a replacement.
Perhaps best known as a political weather vane, Mr. Bukowski has shifted his leanings from populist champion to Chamber of Commerce lap dog and back throughout his career. Lately though repeated scandals have emerged, tarnishing Mr. Bukowski's reputation and turning a man once sought after to break tied votes into a political pariah.
Mr. Bukowski has also run into serious financial problems. According to sources, all of the buildings in his infamous Doyle Street compound are in various stages of foreclosure. If this is indeed the case, it will be revealed publicly soon.
Mr. Bukowski's last re-election effort relied on the Chamber of Commerce's considerable financial resources. A good investment if dollars can be measured in votes. Since his re-election in 2007 he has voted in lock step both with the wishes of the Chamber and with deep pocketed developers.
But now Mr. Bukowski is an embarrassment to the Chamber. Their association with him has harmed the chamber's reputation and may prove an impediment to its future political clout as Emeryville's lead power broker.
Realizing the danger of allowing Mr. Bukowski to run in November 2011 and fearing an upset win by another pro-resident candidate, the chamber is in a tough spot. From a Machiavellian worldview the chamber would benefit greatly from orchestrating the appointment of a replacement of Mr. Bukowski with a pro-chamber successor with a less sullied record. This person could then run as an incumbent in 2011. Sitting council members enjoy a large electoral advantage, a fact not lost on the chamber.
Precedent for this undemocratic transition occurred in 1996 when then council member Bob Savage resigned due to illness. The council, with the chamber's blessing, opted to forgo a special election and replaced Savage with the appointment of Gary Caffey. Mr. Caffey proved the most pro-chamber council member Emeryville has ever seen. Mr. Caffey was repeatedly re-elected until he declined to run for re-election in 2003.
It would not serve the interests of the Chamber of Commerce or the 'Nora Davis faction' on the council, to allow the democratic process of a special election to replace Mr Bukowski. They would not allow a council seat to be placed at risk if they don't have to. Emeryville citizens should prepare themselves for an undemocratic bloodless coup if Mr Bukowski goes down. The Chamber may decide to wait until close to the election to remove council member Bukowski to make it seem more reasonable to appoint a successor rather than hold a 'costly' special election. Then of course there is the possibility that Ken Bukowski may rebuff any resignation overtures from the Chamber of Commerce and their developer proxies and run for re-election as a 'wildcatter' with no support from anyone promising a hugely contested 2011 election.