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P&F 2006 Campaign News Coverage

From the 22 May 2006 San Francisco Chronicle, original version still available:

CAMPAIGN 2006 16th Assembly District

Five candidates spotlight schools, health care costs

The five candidates running to replace Wilma Chan in the 16th Assembly District offer similar platforms catering to East Bay voters concerned about failing schools and rising health care costs, and pundits say the winner in a tight race will be the candidate who best sells their message.

The race has drawn four Democrats who vow to boost funding for the region's public schools, and they are joined by Ed Ytuarte of the Peace and Freedom Party, a tenant and disability rights activist from the Peace and Freedom Party who says Sacramento needs to hear from those constituencies and from third parties.

The 16th Assembly District includes Oakland, Piedmont and Alameda; Chan has held the seat since 2000 and is being pushed out by term limits.

In addition to Ytuarte, the field includes Oakland City Attorney and former City Councilman John Russo; Sandre Swanson, former chief of staff to Congresswoman Barbara Lee; former Piedmont school board member Ronnie Gail Caplane; and Alameda Councilman Tony Daysog.

Russo, 47, has raised the most money -- with $287,186 cash on hand -- as of the last reporting deadline of March 17. Most of it came from fellow lawyers. He's been touting his accomplishments as the city's top lawyer, namely his work tackling problematic liquor stores and drug houses, pushing Caltrans to clean up its blighted lots, and advocating better public access to government records and meetings.

If elected, Russo said he will use his ties in Sacramento as past president of the League of California Cities to bring more money to East Bay schools and find funding for universal health care.

Russo says he is willing to call for raising taxes if that's what it takes to fix education and fund health care for California's most vulnerable residents.

"People need to be told the truth," Russo said. "It's in all of our interest to have good public schools ... if our children are going to have the tools to compete in the global economy. It's noncompetitive for California businesses to bear most of the cost of employee health care. We need to spread it out so that everybody contributes to basic and catastrophic health care coverage."

Swanson, 57, said three decades spent as a congressional aide to Lee and former Rep. Ron Dellums, who is running for Oakland mayor and supporting Swanson's candidacy, make him uniquely qualified to represent the left-leaning district.

Swanson says restoring education funding will be his top priority. He said his experiences helping local leaders dredge the Port of Oakland to allow larger ships and his work on the Alameda and Oakland military base conversion projects prepared him for lawmaking in Sacramento.

"That demonstrated my ability to bring people together," he said. "I have been the guy people go to get things done."

Education also will be a key priority, he said, and his first order of business would be working with fellow lawmakers to secure $3.2 billion in Proposition 98 funding "taken by Gov. Schwarzenegger."

"You build strong schools and students, and the positive multipliers are infinite," he said. "Well-educated students mean a well-educated and competitive workforce. Also, if we have strong schools, we will see a corresponding reduction in crime."

Caplane, a lawyer and an appointed commissioner to the state Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, said her 20 years of volunteer work in Piedmont schools and eight years on the school board make her keenly aware of the needs of students and teachers.

"The Legislature is full of people who've run for office saying education is their top priority, yet the system continues to be underfunded," said Caplane, whose husband, well-known Democratic Party attorney Joe Remcho, died in a helicopter crash in 2003. "They get to Sacramento and promptly forget about it. Having been involved with schools the last 20 years, dealing with budget matters, I understand the importance of getting additional funding and of not compromising on that."

Caplane says she would educate residents and businesses about the value of single-payer health care, which she said costs less than having private employers bear the brunt of the cost. She would consider paying for it with a small tax on businesses, a theme echoed by Russo and Swanson. She also would advocate lowering from two-thirds approval to 55 percent the threshold required for cities to pass school parcel taxes.

Daysog, 40, says Sacramento needs new blood. He touts his work converting Alameda's military base to housing as well as pushing for acceptance of gays and lesbians among Alameda's moderate residents and leaders in the mid-1990s.

"I'm taking no money from special interests, and I'm committed to campaign finance reform," said Daysog, 40, an urban planner and one of the Alameda council's most liberal members for 10 years. "Politicians have to make a personal commitment to not take money from special interests and commit to systematic reform, then we can get to education and universal health care."

Ytuarte, 60, the Peace and Freedom candidate, said he wants to go to Sacramento to inject a third party voice into legislative discussion. He also says he represents the tenant and disabled perspective that is lacking in the Capitol.

E-mail Christopher Heredia at cheredia@sfchronicle.com.


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