Ken Katz’s recent article on the “District 2 Lawn Sign Wars” and Pamela Drake’s “Why I have decided to support Pat Kernighan for District 2” have spawned over 50 comments—from both supporters of Pat Kernighan and supporters of Aimee Allison.

Although the comments are an eclectic mix of light and heat, fact and fiction—I’m overall heartened that the Guardian is providing a forum for active discussion of and engagement over important issues for our neighborhoods.

Here, from the Editors’ Podium, I want to address a narrow issue brought up in those comments, because the question raised (or accusation made) goes directly to the purpose and integrity of the Grand Lake Guardian as a publication. Then I’ll address a larger implicit question.

A recent comment from a reader signed “Joseph Vincent” said:

When this site went up, lot of eyes narrowed. The core cluster of writers—not all of them—were basically attached to Pat Kernighan/Danny Wan/John Russo politcal triad at the hip. The optomists (sic) were hoping the creation of the site on the eve of Kernighan’s campaign was only a coincidence. It’s pretty clear now that it ain’t. So. THIS is it? This the best shot you guys have?

Here is my reply:

I (Jim Ratliff) am the person solely responsible for the timing of the launch of the Grand Lake Guardian. I’m the publisher and a co-editor but, more relevantly, I’m the webmaster and I constructed the site.

The idea for the Grand Lake Guardian goes back at least to January. It took me several months until I identified the software package that I thought would make my online vision for it practical. Over the summer I put in literally hundreds of hours, including 16-hour weekend days (I have a day job), to try to get it launched as fast as possible. [Although I relied crucially on open-source software, I had to modify the code extensively (learning a lot of PHP and other technologies as I went).]

Why was I in a rush? It had nothing to do with the current council campaign. Instead, it was the debacle known as Oak to Ninth that prompted my initial motivation for the site—in hopes that, through a better-informed citizenry, Oakland’s future would be spared from a repeat of our city government trampling democracy and denying us citizens the true public process we deserved.

And it was the prospect for an Oak-to-Ninth referendum that spurred me to launch as soon as possible. I knew that I wasn’t going to get the Guardian launched in time to help the signature-gathering effort, so I could only cross my fingers that that valiant effort would be successful. But I was trying to launch in time for what I hoped would be a vibrant, information-filled campaign over the referendum question.

Of course, as we all know, John Russo, using (abusing?) his office of city attorney, hastily shut down the counting of the signatures (in a way that couldn’t help but remind me of Katherine Harris in Florida in 2000). If the legal challenges (which I support and to which I am a substantial contributor) to Russo’s action succeed, I promise that the Guardian will be a forum to provide an in-depth examination of all the issues raised by a referendum on the the Oak-to-Ninth project.

We started recruiting/assembling neighborhood activists interested in being contributors to the Guardian back in the spring. At no time was there any kind of litmus test for either the then-upcoming mayoral election or for the District 2 election. Among the contributors, we have people who supported all three major mayoral candidates, for example.

The lack of Guardian contributors who have spoken up for Aimee Allison isn’t by design, but I think it is an understandable byproduct of the Guardian’s focus on recruiting contributors who have a track record of activism in these Lake-side neighborhoods.

A comment from a reader signed “Jerome Peters” may provide the key insight here, and it is worth reading in its entirety. The most-relevant for my purposes here is his explanation that those who value “experience and accomplishments, working with community groups and neighbors matters” are likely to favor Pat Kernighan. That’s pretty much a dead-on description of people who invest tons of their private time in neighborhood activism. No surprise, then, that these activists and Guardian contributors favor Kernighan.

In addition, those of us active in many of the neighborhood’s issues actually know Pat personally and know first-hand the significant involvement she’s had in many of our successes. That personal, first-hand knowledge innoculates us to many of the charges made against Kernighan that can only be seen by us as, at best, seriously ill informed or, at worst, deliberately false and deceptive.

As just one example from a recent letter published in the Oakland Tribune:

Kernighan says she cares about public safety, yet she did nothing in response to recent murders, not until people spoke out, not until Allison was highlighted in an article about the Bangkok Palace murder.

I’m in an excellent position to assess the truth/falsity of this assertion. I was chair of my Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (Beat 15X, Haddon Hill) and on the board of the Lakeshore/Lake Park Avenues Business Improvement District (BID) during the entire period during which Pat Kernighan assumed her position on the city council and Wayne Tucker became Chief of Police, continuing through the tragic murder at Bangkok Palace and the redeployment of a walking officer for the Grand Lake business district. I personally attended several meetings, over a roughly 18-month period, involving Pat Kernighan, Chief Tucker, and sometimes both, where the neighborhood’s need of a walking officer was discussed. I personally discussed/debated the issue with Chief Tucker at least twice.

The truth is that Pat Kernighan was a tireless, perseverant, and effective champion for a walking officer from the instant she was inaugurated until we finally got one less than a year later. As we all know, Oakland has too-few police officers and for Chief Tucker to deploy a walking officer in Grand Lake he’d have to remove an officer from somewhere else. Chief Tucker is no pushover, so it wasn’t an easy sell. It is unfortunate that it took a murder, but it was Pat Kernighan’s meeting with the Chief following that tragedy, and the foundation she had already laid, that resulted in the long-desired redeployment of a walking officer in Grand Lake.

So from my perspective, the writer’s letter in the Trib would be laughable if it weren’t so infuriatingly clueless. My reaction was “what planet is she from?”

And that’s not to mention other efforts, such as Pat Kernighan’s intensive and sustained involvement in efforts to reduce the crime and violence along 23rd Avenue (a k a the “Murder Dubs”). (These efforts, in a daunting environment, have actually been pretty successful.) Pat’s a doer rather than a horn-tooter, so folks outside the affected neighborhood won’t be very familiar with this. But that neighborhood is grateful. Kernighan took this initiative just because it was the right thing to do for part of her district. It wasn’t politically strategic; there’s not a high rate of voting there.

The contributors to the Guardian, though united in activism for and love of their city and neighborhoods, are actually a varied bunch, fiercely independent, and make up their own minds.

If the Guardian had been launched last spring, you would have seen lots of differences over the choice of mayor. You would have seen Ignacio bashing and Ignacio praising. You would have seen disagreement over whether newcomer Dellums or Oakland-veteran Nadel would better carry the progressive torch. We’ve carried both sides of the Oak-to-Ninth debate.

Empirically it’s true that those contributors who have expressed an opinion about the District 2 race have come to the same conclusion. That’s not collusion, though. It’s just some independent minds—who don't always agree—agreeing on this one question. It’s just how the chips fall.