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Oakland’s candidates talk art in community forum

With election day approaching, Oakland’s 14 mayoral candidates are vying for a position in public events, debates and forums to earn votes.

On Oct. 9, the Pro Arts Gallery in downtown Oakland hosted a forum called Community and Cultural Development.  It was a platform for candidates to discuss their plans for affordable housing for both the artist community and the greater Oakland community, which has previously not been discussed much on the campaign trail. The event was sponsored by the Oakland chapter of the League of Women Voters, East Bay Housing Organization, Youth Uprising and Pro Arts.

Candidates made brief opening statements to highlight what their plans are, should they be elected.  Many also talked about their commitment to getting affordable housing for Oakland.

“How would you protect Oakland’s current residents from being displaced … and how would you preserve the supply of non subsidized housing that is currently affordable for lower-income renters?” the emcee asked.

Independent candidate Pat McCollough said he supports setting up a council specifically for affordable housing and laws regarding rent.

“The biggest problem we’re going to have in Oakland is that this is a desirable place to be, even with the crime we have,” McCollough said.  “City council should have strengthened their rent control laws.”

Libby Schaaf, Democrat and District 4 councilmember, wants to ensure enough housing for all so Oakland residents do not get displaced from their homes.

“We’ve got to build more housing so that we’ve got places for people to come so that they don’t have to push out the people who are already here,” Schaaf said.

Schaaf, an advocate for affordable housing, also promised to strengthen laws surrounding landlords who provide substandard housing for tenants.

“We’ve got to invest in proactively finding out who is violating these laws and enforce against them,” she said.  “That is where my energy would go.”

Audience members and campaign staffers were not the only ones who found the event engaging.  The sponsors were pleased with how the forum was conducted and the candidates’ promises to back affordable housing for artists.

“We were excited to draw nearly all the candidates and a capacity crowd at Pro Arts’ downtown Oakland gallery,” said Margo Dunlap, Director of Pro Arts.  “The success of the forum demonstrates a success for community organizing in the arts.”

Oakland League of Women Voters President, Katherine Gavzy,  said the forum was a good opportunity to allow potential voters to hear the candidates talk about a topic they do not usually discuss at formal debates.

“This was different from most candidate forums,” Gavzy said.  “This brought the candidates out of their comfort zone a bit instead of delivering their standard policy speeches.”

Gavzy said the forum allowed for a more diverse audience and brought in people from all different parts of the city.

“There was a nice feeling of receptiveness to all the candidates,” Gavzy said. ” We also liked the idea of a certain special focus; it attracted people who might not usually go to political events.”

Dunlap hopes to do more events like this forum for future elections. According to her, it allowed people to rally together around one goal: their city.

“We love Oakland and seek effective leadership to ensure a safe, inclusive and vibrant city,” Dunlap said.