By J. Douglas Allen Taylor
In politics, hesitancy can be taken as a sign of weakness, and so District 3 Oakland School Board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge freely admits that it is probably her own fault that she faces a serious re-election threat in the November election.
Early this year, while early incumbents were flexing their muscles in order to scare off opposition, Hinton Hodge was undecided on whether she would seek re-election. Some newspapers were flatly declaring that she wasn’t running.
By the time Hinton Hodge made her mind up to run, former Ignacio De La Fuente Council aide Richard Fuentes and schoolteacher and education administrator Benjamin Lang were in the race.
Fuentes obviously poses the stiffest challenge to Hinton Hodge. As with anyone running against an incumbent in a troubled period, he has criticized her for the poor condition of the Oakland public schools, tying her, for example, to the fact that West Oakland’s McClymonds High School has gone from close to 1,000 students at its height down to 250 students today.
But criticizing Hinton Hodge for OUSD’s current problems is a lot like Mitt Romney criticizing President Obama for the bad state of the U.S. economy. When Hinton Hodge was first elected in 2008, the Oakland schools were still under state control, and only regained local control in 2010 saddled with $89 million in debt and an $18 million budget deficit. In the past two years, the OUSD board and administration have scrambled to clean up the mess left behind by state control.
Hinton Hodge is running on her record, saying that, among other things, she helped develop a long term strategic plan for district revival and helped establish the West Oakland Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Corridor for the district.
She supports the district’s recently adopted “Full Service Community School” model and plans to advocate for “restorative justice” to help reduce violence and conflict among students. Fuentes has a three-point platform that includes reducing the student dropout rate, increasing classroom funding, and preparing students for college or a job upon graduation. Lang says he will “focus on bringing 21st Century teaching tools and methodologies to Oakland classrooms and sound fiscal practices to the administrative offices.”
Fuentes has gotten the endorsement of many of the major political organizations in the area, including the Oakland Education Association, the California Teachers Association, the National Education Association, the Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club, and the powerful Oakland Police Officers Association.
Fuentes is also being supported by former State Senator Don Perata, County School Superintendent Sheila Jordan, School Board members Alice Spearman, Noel Gallo, and David Kakishiba and, of course, De La Fuente.
Hinton Hodge’s organizational endorsements are thin, the most notable being the influential Black Women Organized For Political Action. She has also been endorsed by outgoing District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, School Board members Jody London and Chris Dobbins, and former Alameda County School Board member Gay Plair Cobb.
That has left Lang out in the cold, with his website stating no named endorsements, only that he “is endorsed by hundreds of his Oakland friends, neighbors, and colleagues with whom he has had the privilege of working in California public education for the past twenty plus years.”