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Friday, October 28, 2011

Aging Politicians VS The Public's Right To Know

Aged Politicians; A Protected Class?
Where Do Voter's Rights End?

Council member Ruth Atkin is incorrect: elected representatives, including elderly representatives, are not a protected class.  In fact they are subject to all manner of public musings, condemnations, inquires , speculation and even accost by all comers. And the Country's founding documents set it up that way.

We've got a right to know.
Ms Atkin made the pronouncement at Wednesday's candidate debate at City Hall that Emeryville voters have no right to know about the health and especially the age of any council candidate in response to a question from the audience about that.  "It's ageism"  she commented and she noted that the elderly in America are a legally protected class.  In fact, she's right in one regard; the elderly are so protected from prying employers, unscrupulous landlords and such.
But democratically electing a government representative is not like hiring a simple employee. There is a sacrosanct nature of the enfranchisement and voters have a right to know a lot about a candidate including age and health.

Voters need to know whether a particular candidate is fit for the job, whether they may become incapacitated in the voter's judgement.  They need to know whether a candidate may likely step down and not complete the term, especially if there is a municipal procedure to allow a council replacement appointment.
Now if a candidate for elective office chooses not to reveal her age or answer truthfully questions about her health, that would be her prerogative, however if the press were to find out this information and publish it, there is no crime committed.

We have to ask Ms Atkin; who's breaking the law, in her estimation, the Tattler (for instance) by reporting these unrevealed facts of a candidates age or health or the voters by voting with consideration of these facts?  Who gets the handcuffs?

We abhor ageism in all its manifestations but this cannot be construed as ageism, it's democracy and it's about transparency and it's about the voter's right to know.


  1. Nora Davis did not place her age - 84 -on the Candidates Statement on the ballot information booklet this year. I believe age is relevant to both maturity and health. I remember John Kennedy raised eyebrows about his youth (and also, unfortunately, about his Catholicism).

    I support Nora Davis in not placing her age on the Candidates Statement, except for one issue. She had a heart attack a few years ago and "flew under the radar" that time. In the context of her advancing years - working beyond 70 - for that matter beyond 80 - age DOES matter in serving public office where, unlike private employment, the replacement decision is NOT made by the persons doing the hiring (the voters) but by the other Council Members.

    The real issue at this point is not, however, Nora's age, it is her health. To drop out of sight for almost 4 weeks while battling pneumonia, complete with week long (? we don't know for sure, she hasn't disclosed details to calm us) hospital stay, bodes ill for her ability to complete her term without retirement.

    Should she retire mid-term, it would surely be only after "making a deal" with the rest of the council on her replacement, something I don't want to see.

  2. Since Ruth administers the HICAP program for Contra Costa County (a great program for the elderly, by the way) I think I'll trust her opinion on ageism over yours. She is more of an authority on the topic.

  3. To Anonymous-
    Should we wait then for the police to arrest us? Or should we just turn ourselves into the authorities?

    I wonder about all the fuss over John McCain's election campaign...I never heard of any arrests or even fines being levied against the media or voters for the ageism swirling around his Presidential bid in 2008. If it's a crime, why was no action taken against all those law breakers?

  4. What's the big deal about Nora Davis being 84 years old? Her age is irrelevant. We are fortunate to have her six decades of wisdom and experience in directing Emeryville. I see no reason for her to retire at 84, 94 or even 104, as long as she is able to support Emeryville business interests.

    Let's face it - Nora Davis was a community leader during the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression and World War II. Why should we make a change today?

  5. Show me the LAW wherein it is not allowable to reveal a candidate's age when running for public office. Show me. Citations please.

  6. I think if people want to keep things secret, they shouldn't lead such public lives.

    Once you are entrusted with the management of public money, the public has a right to know every thing about you.

  7. Councilwoman Davis remains pretty vigorous and tenacious, and god willing, I hope to be in her shape when I reach that age, but in four years, she will be pushing 89. Sadly, many people suffer a rapid decline in their final years. Can we really trust Old Lady Davis with her finger on the button for four more years?

  8. Based on what you've written, Council Member Atkin never claimed it was illegal for the public to reveal a candidate's age. How do you come to this conclusion. Your opinion piece makes this logical jump without explanation.

  9. The voters not having a right to know and it being illegal for the public to reveal it are two very different things. I think you may be confusing them.

    The voters, in fact, do not have a right to know. A candidate's age is not public record unless the candidate makes it such.

  10. What i find ironic here is that so many people including Brian and Michael are so willing to talk about the relevance of Nora's age and health, make inferences about it based on past history of her health (ie heart attack) and her current "health" related absence, while either rarely addressing Ken Bukowski's mental health and illegal drug use or making excuses and declaring the need to give him many more chances to prove himself - when it's clear that his health, mental or otherwise, appears to make him unfit for public service. Someone please explain to me this double standard??? Brian, where's your piece about Ken's physical and mental health status? Is there a reason this is off-limits? Are you trying to balance your sense of decency with democracy just for Ken's sake? If so, why doesn't the same apply to Nora? Michael, why give Ken (who's current health and past performance) poses a greater risk to his ability to serve while you take shots at Nora? I'm no fan of Nora's politics, believe me, but if you're going to do several pieces questioning Nora's age and health and therefore her ability to serve all in the name of democracy, while pretending you aren't projecting an ageist, abilist, and sexist bent, then ditch the double standard or admit your real intentions. And while were talking about health and age, would we be having this conversation about Nora if her politics were more progressive? Though I'm not intending this to be a response in support of Nora politically, I can't help but stand up and say, really? Are you guys this obtuse? You guys are undermining your progressive credibility.

  11. "Can we really trust ... Davis ... for four more years?"

    The sad part is, yes, we CAN trust her:

    1. TRUST HER, to continue excessively pro-business policies. She neatly co-opted Jac Asher by negotiating with her for an endorsement, and she will continue to ply Jac with little "deals" if Jac is elected. That was her strategy with Ruth years ago, and it played out well - co-opt any potential opposition.

    The problem with Nora isn't that she is ineffective, it's that she is _remarkably_ effective, the Darth Vader (without the mask) of Emervyille politics.

    To think that little things like heart attacks and pneumonia will slow her down is like thinking a gnat will bother an elephant.

    2. TRUST HER, to keep Ruth Atkin under her thumb by continuing to support the ECCL (Emeryville Center of Community Life). Make no mistake, Ruth isn't supporting ECCL to benefit the community, it's Ruth's personal stepping stone to County office (the Alameda Board of Supervisors, when one of THEM finally steps down), and Nora knows just how to keep Ruth ever-hopeful of Nora's support when Ruth makes her move.

    3. TRUST HER, to make one final bid to be the single most powerful politician in "post Townhouse" Emeryville.

    Here's the scenario: She will negotiate with Kurt Brinkman about who to support when Kurt steps down in 2 years (he has privately told people he is not running again). She will support the new candidate. Once that new candidate is in office, she will negotiate with the Council Members about her replacement appointment once she steps down while in office.

    The City will then, by her standards, be in good hands. Hands that will perpetuate, and therefore validate, her policies.

    Nora has successfully played her game for over 24 years simply because there are only two real political "parties" in Emeryville. And it's not what you think, pro-business vs. pro-residents.

    It's voters FEARFUL of change, vs. voters HOPEFUL for change.

    Nora hasn't won all these years because she is on the right side on the important issues.

    She has won because she plays to voters intrinsic fear of the unknown, fear of change.

    She always makes good arguments, enticing arguments, that she will "give the people what they want". But the promises she makes, and the deals she makes with developers before the deals ever hit the planning commission agendas, would astonish you. Do you think it was lack of attention to detail that let Ikea get so close to putting a warehouse in, right next to Emery Bay Village?

    But the demographics in Emeryville have changed. It has slowly, imperceptibly been changing over the years, despite the calculated decision to support "bridge and tunnel" small unit lofts/condos (because the residents in that type of housing are generally less committed to the long term in Emeryville).

    I think the voters have an enormous chance to make a better future for Emeryville in this "off year" election, where you have not ONE, but TWO new candidates, and where ONE of the incumbents has gotten the message about change and is actively seeking resident input via his "voter petition" asking where residents stand on annual town hall style meetings etc.

    Let's see what happens on November 8.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I AM running for City Council this election and my platform IS one of reform and change.

  12. Old Lady Davis? Finger on the Button? What are you talking about? This city's collective self-importance is only rivaled by the ridiculousness of this entire discussion. Thanks everyone, I got my laugh in for today.

  13. Council member Atkin stated categorically that questions being raised about a candidates age are ageism and out-of-bounds. She quoted the California law that forbids agism in her comment. The law in fact makes it a crime for an employer for instance, to use a person's age against them when hiring. This is the statute quoted by Ms Atkin, so in fact she is stating her opinion that a law is being violated with such talk in our election. Her opinion is incorrect.

  14. Ruth Atkin? Who cares what The Michelin Lady thinks. She is the biggest sell out since Obama has kept torturing prisoners being kept without charges, trials or convictions.

  15. Atkin is the type that would have volunteered for the Sonderkommando back at the camps---and done the job with great relish.

  16. Brian where's my comment that i sent earlier today taking you and michael to task about the double standard???

  17. I hope that voters have more sense that its the policies that matter and not age. Though for what I have seen and heard I'm not in favor of neither of them.

  18. To Ms Anonymous @ 5:46 PM-
    I assume the comment you are referring to is the one at 10:12 AM.

    I cannot speak to Ken Bukowski's mental health since I've not received anything that would lead me to believe there is anything in the public interest there. If you've got something, by all means send it to me and if there is any veracity to your story, it will be printed in the Tattler.
    The Tattler has reported numerous times on Mr Bukowski and illicit drug use; please type in "Ken Bukowski" in the search engine to read the stories. I don't have any new stories or even tips about Mr Bukowski using illegal drugs now. If you have any new information about that, please send it to the Tattler and if your story can be verified, again the Tattler will print it.

    Your charge of a double standard is false. To see proof, just send information to the Tattler about Mr Bukowski's presumably sub standard mental health or illicit drug use.

  19. I think the whole purpose of a democracy is to let people make their own choices.

    As public servants, our job is to be forthright and honest.

    The press needs to lay out pertinent facts that are overlooked, and to fact check politicians on their forthrightness and honesty.

    The recent articles and comments are part of that process.

    It's a very fair question to ask about Ken, just as the questions raised about age and health are fair to ask about Nora. I believe Ken addressed those allegations in the past, and he is as free to post his comments here as Nora is.

    But asking about Ken should not deflect a legitimate concern about Nora's health.

  20. From Michael Webber’s blog, “I got a call from one of the rival candidate’s phone bank volunteers. Good volunteer making the call. Found out that the other candidate doesn’t own here yet (I politely asked about renting versus owning and that issue was well-rehearsed) but hopes to soon. Not a big deal, I was a renter most of my life before buying my first home here in Emeryville, so I know it is hard to make the commitment, or just hard to find the right property. I didn’t make the commitment, in fact, until we had our first baby (I’m a late-life father) and suddenly discovered how much home, community, and schools DO matter once there is a toddler under foot (and now I have 3 kids - two of my own, ages 4 and 7, and a stepdaughter from my wife). Every day I’m grateful we bought in Emeryville and not in Oakland or Berkeley. I worked in San Mateo for 5 of the years we’ve been here, and made the grueling commute every day, but I never regretted buying here instead of in San Mateo. I didn’t “plot” to settle in a small community where my voice could be heard; I have no plans to run for other office or move on later. All this just happened. Emeryville was just very pro-housing and we were able to find a workable unit that fit our budget, though we had to skip a lot of the lofts to find a two bedroom, single level floorplan - we do wish we could have found a three bedroom, though.”

    Just an FYI Mr. Webber, while you are busy calling out Jac as a renter and questioning her commitment to the Community, your running mate, Mr. Bukowski is not an owner in Emeryville either. He “sold” his house a year or so ago. Where does he live? Is he renting? Does he live in Emeryville? Or does he still live in that rent controlled apartment in San Francisco that he has rented since the 70s? Did you know that to be qualified to have a rent controlled apartment in SF that apartment MUST be your PRIMARY residence? How can Bukowski’s primary residence be in SF and yet, a requirement for being a Council member is primary residency in Emeryville? So is he cheating his SF landlord? The residents of SF? Or the Residents of Emeryville? Maybe all of the above.
    As to drug use (from the NY Times article)… “In the past, Mr. Bukowski has denied using methamphetamine or said he had tried it only once. In the interview this week, he said, “I’ve used it, but I’m not strung out.” He denied that he currently used drugs. “When you don’t have the money...” he said, his voice trailing off.

    Mr. Bukowski said he never conducted city business after using methamphetamine. But he said the drug had helped him come up with good ideas, including one to force insurance companies to pay for the cost of putting out fires. The idea has not been put into effect.
    “It’s an amplified euphoria,” Mr. Bukowski said. “Any drug depends on the individual; it depends on the way you think. My mind gets very creative.”

    That quote sounds suspiciously like someone who is not “clean and sober” but someone who is cannot use drugs simply due to lack of money…..What happens if he has a couple of extra bucks lying around and wants to be “creative”?

    Same article, “Mr. Bukowski said he was surviving on his City Council salary — $1,100 a month, plus benefits. He has told people that if he can find another job, he will not run again, but he has also said that if people encourage him to run, he might.”
    This quote tells me he is running for council for the good of Bukowski, not the good of Emeryville. Bukowski is only interested in Bukowski.

  21. Looks like the anti-Bukowski trolls have hijacked another blog. What's next? I'm at the edge of my seat in eager anticipation.

  22. Comments critical of council member Bukowski or any other politician don't constitute a "hijacking". That's what this comment section is for frankly. Emeryville residents may not be able to effectively criticize their council members at the shortened "public comment" section at council meetings but they can certainly do so here. All comments are welcome (please leave out the personal attacks).

  23. Questioning, not attacking.

    Questioning Ken is fair game too.

  24. I sure hope questioning Council Member Bukowski is fair game. I'm not really sure why it wouldn't be. His law breaking and ethical lapses are by far the most troubling issue of any Council Member. Ken is just in this for his own preservation and doesn't give a hoot about residents. At least Council Member Davis has always returned my phone calls the same day and always been happy to meet and listen to my concerns. Whenever I talk to Ken, he just wants to hear himself talk.

  25. About Bukowski, It is amazing how the only thing we focus on is a character attack. Why don't you talk about performance. Is that a factor in anyones decision making. He is the target of attack..? what are they afraid of...? He is trying to organize the residents. Developers are very concerned..

    He's not in it for the money..? Why does he still work so hard..? The business community does not want residents to be organized. He asks too many questions and he holds the other council members accountable. He stands up to Nora Davis, and should be commended for that. He has questioned the City Attorney for good reason.

    There is no information to support the claim Bukowski is not healthy. He has been seen in every area of town, working harder than other members of the council.

  26. It's true that Ruth Atkin was wrong about age being a legally protected class, as Michael Webber took the time out of his closing statement to pedantically lecture about. But it's a pretty wild mischaracterization to say that she made a "pronouncement" about it being illegal for the voters to know about age or health issues. She described the issue as "ageism," which did not appear to be a legal opinion - it sounded more like a personal, moral opinion.

  27. Mr. Webber, as a self described "late in life" father, you ARE a hypocrite. Do you think it was "responsible" having children at your age? How old will you be when your youngest graduates from high school? 70? 75? 80? Will you be here to attend their weddings? Will you be here to attend their college graduations? Will you be here to hold your grandchildren? I mean, you are in your 60's and your children are still in grade school.

    You have the GALL to question Nora's ability to lead for the next four years? You should be lucky that no one questioned your ability to be a father in your late 50's. Seems a bit selfish if you ask me. Perhaps we should question your judgement? Or does age and ability only matter when it is not your age in question.

  28. Late-in-life fathers are irresponsible? That's a new one on me (also a late-in-life father). I guess American men are getting increasingly irresponsible then because the demographic trends are to later and later parenting. Already, the early-in-life parents are the outliers here.

    I guess Mr 5:21 thinks legitimate council candidates can only be drawn from this ever shrinking pool of early in life parents. I really can't see the logic there and the commenter didn't attempt to make a cogent argument. Are we supposed to take it on face value?