In the June 2005 Special Election, nine candidates (including Pat Kernighan and Aimee Allison) wrapped up a spirited race to fill the remainder of Danny Wan’s term as the District 2 Council representative. Five of those candidates (versus none for Ms. Allison) have endorsed Pat’s re-election. At a campaign rally on October 14, David Kakishiba, Pamela Drake, Shirley Gee, Justin Horner and Paul Garrison all talked about their reasons for doing so. They cited Pat’s integrity; her thoughtfulness; her willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them; her ability to listen to what people say and incorporate that input into rational decisions, as well as her ability to get things done.

While I agree with their shared analysis, for me there are other compelling, though less tangible, issues that I’d like to explore beginning with an inanimate object capable apparently of inspiring antipathy or possessiveness depending on the beholder: the campaign lawn sign.

What I call the “Lawn Sign Skirmishes” had its beginnings in the June primary as Kernighan supporters repeatedly complained about the loss of their lawn signs—although I suspect Allison supporters voiced some of the very same complaints. With less than three weeks until the election, it’s now become a full-scale “Lawn Sign War” with the Aimee Allison camp the clear aggressor. One of their most prominent victims has been the Chevron Station on the corner of Lakeshore and Mandana. On a well-manicured patch of grass, the owner posted a Pat Kernighan sign. Overnight, someone replaced it with Aimee’s, beginning a process that was repeated four or five times. Finally, thoroughly exasperated, the owner posted not one, but six Kernighan signs and instructed his staff to store them inside overnight.

A similar battle is being waged on Haddon Hill along MacArthur where half a dozen Aimee Allison signs were illegally posted on the freeway fence. Across the street, an abandoned construction site has been repeatedly inundated with Allison signs prompting neighbors to again and again complain to the City. This past Tuesday morning, the signs on the freeway fence were still there, but those at the construction site had been removed by a City crew prompted by a call from Russell Gates, a long-time, Haddon Hill neighbor who summarized the reasons for his chagrin in a letter that he’s mailed to Ms. Allison. When I talked to Russell this morning, he mentioned yesterday’s Matier and Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle that noted Ms. Allison’s failure to pay business taxes. Obviously bemused, he quoted Ms. Allison’s response: “I believe in following the rules.”

A related, but less public battle, is being fought in store-front windows where apparently some of Ms. Allison’s volunteers do not like to take “No” for an answer.

I do, however, have to confess that what really upsets me personally is the extension of the “Lawn Sign War” to the Saturday Grand Lake Farmers’ Market. Ms. Allison and the volunteers who staff her table were not involved in the creation of the new Splash Pad Park. Perhaps as a result, they don’t recognize that what makes the Market truly special is that it provides a community gathering place, free of strife, where people of all colors bask in the sun, search for the perfect tomato and watch toddlers splash in the fountain.

Now with an election in full swing, what I’m witnessing instead is a war of creeping attrition and intimidation with Allison signs migrating continuously outwards to claim new territory. What is particularly galling is the disrespect her volunteers continue to shower on the Farmers’ Market management by repeatedly ignoring their requests to not cover the Market’s sandwich boards with their own signs.

By this point, I’m guessing you’ve begun to ask, yourself, “Who cares about campaign signs when there are so many really important, big-ticket issues? The reason I think the Lawn Sign War is important is because it exemplifies, in a concrete fashion, a state of mind that is terribly relevant. It’s a mind-set that seems to have two components. One is that Allison and her most ardent backers are convinced they occupy the moral high ground. I’m always leery of people on the right or left who are overly zealous, since it justifies in their minds disregard for inconvenient facts and legislation. A second, more important, factor is the extent to which Ms. Allison has surrounded herself with advisers and backers from the Green Party, the anti-war movement and the anti-globalization campaigns in which protest and confrontation are the typical recourse to bring about change.

While confrontation and disregard for the law may be warranted in opposing the war in Iraq, they hardly seem appropriate in the context of our City Council race. Ms. Allison and her supporters would better serve the long-term interests of District 2 by toning down their efforts to demonize Ms. Kernighan. They need to recognize that Oakland, for all its problems, is a wonderfully diverse city that has always welcomed dialogue—minus the kind of confrontational politics that divide us as a community.

My own concern is that Ms. Allison wants this job so very badly—whether out of personal ambition or a commitment to change—that she has lost her ethical compass and is willing to do whatever it takes to get elected. One result is her unwillingness to rein in the combatants of the Lawn Sign Wars. Another is to engage in blatant opportunism and take credit where credit really isn’t deserved. The ultimate example of the latter is the memorial service she scheduled immediately after the tragic murder of the young restaurant manager on Grand Avenue. In one of her campaign mailers, Ms. Allison claims to have “spearheaded the effort” to replace our walking beat police officer. In point of fact, Pat Kernighan with the support of the Grand Lake Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council and local merchants had been lobbying Chief Tucker to do so for at least a year. Unfortunately, it took a murder to change his mind. Ms. Allison’s sole contribution to this effort was a one-time, self-serving gathering with extensive media coverage. When Ms. Allison phoned me the morning after the murder to ask my help in publicizing the memorial service through our Splash Pad Newsletter, I literally begged her not to turn this into an opportunity for political advantage. Inviting Ms. Kernighan to participate would have removed any hint of impropriety, but that obviously was not in her own personal interests and she did not do so.

As a final aside, let me note that I’ve become increasingly pessimistic about the state of politics in this country. All you have to do is to look at the idiot sitting in the White House to know that we are in deep shit. On the other hand, the Bay area, particularly Oakland, has again and again proven its mettle as a model of enlightenment. I am hopeful that in this election, District 2 voters will be able and willing to look beyond empty rhetoric and vote for Pat Kernighan, the candidate who has a proven track record—listening to her constituents and getting things done.