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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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Candidate kickoffs: First weekend

Uploaded: Aug 30, 2016
There were five candidate kickoff events this weekend and I attended four--the one I missed was Greg Tanaka's because it conflicted with two of the others. The events for Council candidates Arthur Keller and Lydia Kou and School Board candidate Todd Collins were all well run. The logistics were handled well (indicative of a good campaign committee), and the speeches accomplished what was needed and expected. These three candidates each gave interesting speeches about the issues and their approaches, and got positive reactions from their audiences.
Disclosure: I am working on the campaigns of Keller and Kou, and have worked with each of them in civic activities for over a decade. I provided Todd Collins with campaign advice and documents that I have provided to others over the years, but don't feel that that influences my commenting--my investment in his candidacy is similar to that of other interested voters.
Aside: Collins' audience response was predominantly vigorous nodding; Kou's was clapping; Keller's a mix. Just an observation.
Note: The typical, and expected, candidate kickoff speech is heavily intertwined with what they have, or will have, on their web pages and in other campaign literature. Consequently, I am not going to replicate that here. After all the candidates have a chance to get up-to-speed, I may provide some compare-and-contrast.

Their introductory speakers were also good. Getting someone to sing your praises, and do so effectively, is harder than you might think. The 2012 Republican National Convention offered two examples of what can go wrong: Clint Eastwood's rant at an empty chair, and Chris Christy whose keynote speech was supposed to promote Romney but instead was usurped to promote his own run for the nomination in 2016 (similar to Ted Cruz at the 2016 convention). If a candidate doesn't have at least one prominent supporter who is enough of a team player to give an introduction that sets up the candidate's speech, should that candidate be taken seriously? Or if that candidate doesn't know his supporters well enough to know who would do a good job?

Aside: Barbara Klausner (former School Board member) was the introductory speaker for Todd Collins and gave the best introductory speech I have heard in a long time: strong, interesting content, well-coordinated with the speech that followed, and excellent delivery. (text).

In School Board candidate Collins' speech, what resonated most with me came early: That we should prioritize priorities. This is my phrasing, not his, and I like it because there are several appropriate reading. I am mentioning it here because I don't see it on his web pages and because it got the least reaction from the audience. He talked about being at a School Board meeting that was addressing the priorities for the upcoming (one) year. There were 24 major goals and 89 measures to be taken, and the Board was considering adding more. He emphasized that when you prioritize so much, no one knows what the priorities are.(foot#1) What I found revealing was that the reaction of Staff had registered with him--he reported that they seemed dismayed by the impossible-ness of it all. Aside: During my professional career, I have been in too many meetings where those making the decisions ignored the input of those who had to implement them, often to the point of obliviousness.

He talked not only about having a manageable set of priorities, but the right priorities. His first priority is "One year's academic growth for every child, every year", but while his website lists it, it doesn't say that this isn't currently among the District's goals.

The rest of the speech reflected what I had read on his website.


Liz Kniss' kickoff was very different. If I had to pick a descriptive word, it would have been "complacent" or "sloppy". Or maybe because she has been around so long and was speaking to long-time supporters, she didn't think that a tightly organized kickoff was necessary. Her primary introductory speaker was US Representative Anna Eshoo, who focused on the 100th anniversary of the National Parks system and the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution (women's suffrage).

Kniss' speech largely avoiding talking about the issues facing the city, or what she would do. I was briefly hopeful when she choose a theme of "What's past is prologue" (from Shakespeare's play "The Tempest"). But what she wound up talking about was growing up on a chicken farm on Cape Cod watching her father's involvement in local politics. I was expecting something more recent.

Although kickoff speeches are given to audiences that are predominantly friendly, one expects the speeches to have been reviewed carefully enough to avoid statements that can be easily misconstrued, either by wags and opponents. There were far to many of these moments in Kniss' speech and the supporting speeches. For example, Kniss talked about her experience with "sitting in meetings". This brought to mind the Republican attacks on Hillary Clinton's trumpeting of how many miles she had traveled as Secretary of State: "Flying is an activity, not an accomplishment."

If an incumbent encouraged supporters to put campaign signs along badly congested streets so that drivers would have plenty of time to look at them, what would be your interpretation and inferences?

I am not trying to be snarky, but reacting as someone who has helped with many candidate kickoff speeches over the years. My experience is that the supposed near-final draft circulates among the key campaign staff for roughly a week as they look for such problems in conjunction with sharpening what the candidate wants to convey. I think is very noteworthy that this apparently didn't happen here.

Another example of what I regard as evidence of a failure to adequately think through what was to be said: In asking for donations, Kniss complained about how expensive and difficult it was going to be to campaign during a Presidential election year. In a proper critique of the draft, one of her advisors should have reminded her that she was the primary advocate for moving Council elections from odd years to even years.(foot#2)

A supporting speaker (Mayor Pat Burt?) brought up the reduction in Council size from 9 to 7 that will happen in 2018. He argued that this could result in that Council being too inexperienced without Kniss present.(foot#3) This was an audience where many had supported the reduction, and more had been ambivalent, ignoring warnings about this very problem.(foot#4) A proper critique would have found that this might easily be turned around, arguing that Kniss isn't a complete enough Council member to warrant being on the Council after the reduction. This arises from a common observation is that she has been very passive on the current Council--when I talk to people about Council deliberations, her name is seldom mentioned (ditto Marc Berman). Expecting a naked claim of "experience" to be enough for voters is a perennial failing of politicians--witness the Presidential primaries where such candidates lost because they couldn't/wouldn't explain how that translated into what they would do (Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Martin O'Malley, ...).

So why did Kniss feel free to eschew the expectations of a typical kickoff? The assessment from many of those active in Palo Alto politics is that Kniss is going to cruise to re-election based upon big-name endorsements and name recognition and past elections, and thus they speculate that her campaign can afford to be different from those of the other candidates.(foot#5)

For my part, I have basic expectations of a candidate independent of their positions on issues before I even consider giving them my vote. Even for a well known candidate, I view the campaign as an indication of the candidates commitment and interest in the issues that will be important in the upcoming years, and that campaigning on the issues allows the candidate to hear from a broader section of the electorate. I would encourage you to look beyond a candidate's position on the issues, and look for evidence of their interest and ability to execute on what they say. In the business world, considerations of execution are often the deciding factor in whether to pursue an idea.


Relevant impressions from those who attended these five kickoff events are especially welcome as comments (trying to maintain focus).

Candidate websites and kickoff events are listed in my earlier blog "Candidate Kickoff Events: Public, not just for supporters" which I update as information becomes available/changes.

1. I would phrase this "When you prioritize everything, you prioritize nothing", influenced by my exposure to the admonition of Frederick the Great of Prussia "He who defends everything defends nothing."

2. One purported benefit of moving the Council election year was that it would reduce what the County billed the City for the balloting (overhead costs being spread over more offices and propositions). However, this ignored the increased costs to candidates, and the consequences of who would run. Another postulated benefit was that with more people voting in the major elections, there would be more participation in the local elections (real involvement, not just marking off some down-ballot choices).
However, many pointed out that it eliminated a "gap year" between Kniss being termed-out of the County Board of Supervisors and when she could run for City Council.
Discussion of that decision is off-topic here.

3. FYI: The terms of five Council members will expire in 2018 and two of those seats will be eliminated. Two incumbents are term-limited: Karen Holman, Greg Scharff. So there could be three incumbents--Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth, Cory Wolbach--running for those three seats.

4. I opposed the reduction in blogs here:
- "Reducing Council Size? Against", 2014-09-25.
- "Subverting open, fair and honest debate (Measure D)", 2014-10-26.

5. In 2012, the vote results for the 4 seats were:
- Liz Kniss: 17445
- Greg Schmid (i): 13637
- Pat Burt (i): 13201
- Marc Berman: 13057
- Tim Gray: 7668
- Mark Weiss: 5749

An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
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Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 2:42 am

Thanks for sharing for those of us who couldn't attend all the kickoffs. There are some strong knowledgeable candidates with backbone running to serve the community as you mentioned above. However, I've noticed Liz is a politician first. She focuses much more on the residents concerns in election years and big money interests (developers & big business) the other years. She carefully votes for residents in non-election years only when there are a majority of council members are voting that way but she brought up raising the height limit earlier this year in a council meeting and don't expect her to push back on over development or lack zoning enforcement if she is re-elected. I'm not sure more experience is better if you're doing a mediocre job. Note, as a person I don't have any problems with Liz just not the kind of council member I want.

Posted by Holly Ward, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 11:58 am

Since you deleted my first comment, I will try again. I am using my real name.

I object to your biased reporting on the kickoffs. Liz's kickoff was a huge success and very well attended. The other kickoffs were negative and poorly attended.

Full disclosure: I am working on Liz Kniss's campaign. Therefore my opinion is as valid as yours.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "Since you deleted my first comment, I will try again. I am using my real name. I object to your biased reporting on the kickoffs."

This is false. Neither I nor the PA Online moderators deleted any previous comment on this blog entry.

> "Liz's kickoff was a huge success..."

Disingenuous. I did not say that the kickoff was or was not a success. What I said was that it was different -- it didn't do what kickoffs are typically expected to do. And I gave potential reasons for that choice by the Kniss campaign.

> "The other kickoffs were ... poorly attended."

Again false. It's hard to count people at events because they are moving around and there are late arrivals and early departures. And it is hard to estimate because of the size of the space. Kniss' event was held in the smallest space - a patio - and was crowded. The other events were held in spaces several times larger - yards - and thus weren't crowded.*
My estimate is that the Collins event had somewhat more attendees than Kniss' (20% more?) and Keller's and Kou's had at least as many attendees (my impression was that it was significantly more). However the attendance levels at all four events was close enough - in the same ballpark - to not be noteworthy. And those levels were what is expected for such events in late August.

* Details: Using "Measure distance" in Google Maps, I estimate that the patio where the Kniss event was held to be about 1000 sqft (30' x 40' with a corner missing) whereas the yards for the Keller, Collins and Kou events appear to be about 3000 sqft each.

Posted by Barbara Spreng, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 2:25 pm

I have worked on past campaigns with Douglas Moran and can attest to his longtime interest and involvement in local politics. In his 8/30/16 blog, he writes about a “boilerplate” formula for a kickoff party and went on to describe the Liz Kniss kickoff event and campaign in unflattering terms that were unwarranted. As the coordinator for Liz Kniss’ kickoff, I would like to offer a very different perspective of the choices that we made for our party.

Doug, “complacency” had nothing to do with the huge crowd in attendance, nor with the local star quality of our speakers, from Congress Member Anna G. Eshoo, Assembly Member Rich Gordon, Mayor Pat Burt to local community leaders Alison Cormack and Gina Dalma. Together, they hit the key notes of qualities that we believe are important in a City Council Member – judgment, effectiveness, character, dedication and experience. If there was any “sloppiness” to the program, it was that these respected public servants couldn’t say enough good things about Liz Kniss. As for Council Member Kniss’ choice to focus her remarks on her personal motivation to serve, your criticism should be aimed at me. I encouraged Liz to speak from her heart about why she is running again; I was pleased she took my advice, and touched by what she had to say. Because of Liz’s many years of elected public service, she has a solid and well-known record, and her priorities for an additional term on the City Council can be found on the printed handout we had at the kickoff and her website: Web Link There will also be several candidate forums to delve more deeply into the complex issues facing Palo Alto.

So, “why did Kniss feel free to eschew the expectations of a typical kickoff” party? A) She didn’t. It was pretty much ‘by the book’ standard format. B) It’s a kickoff “party” and not intended to be a policy lecture. C) Liz and her record are well-known. We respected our guests’ time and attention with offering them new insights and minimizing speeches on subjects they can access elsewhere. In your blog, you failed to mention that guests stayed to chat -- about issues and community -- for nearly two hours past the “end time.” And while you claim to know the “assessment of many…” regarding the program, I can honestly say I’ve never heard more positive feedback for a kickoff party, including appreciation for the content of the program, from attendees.

Doug, in your own words, you are “working on the campaigns of Keller and Kou.” I appreciate your disclosure, but not the bias that was evident throughout your post. If you are going to continue to blog during the campaign where you are working for two of the candidates, I hope you will consider being more objective in your missives. I get it….you are ‘for’ Keller and Kou, and not Kniss. That’s OK; no one gets everyone’s vote. You have every right to disagree on policy matters and kickoff program choices, but I object to your guessing at our motivations. You wrote, “I am not trying to be snarky,” but in my estimation, that was precisely the tone. Liz and her campaign team are already working hard to earn the support of voters – with respect, facts and clearly stated priorities -- and will continue to reach out to voters in multiple ways until November 8th. And we will do so by focusing on Liz’s record of experience and objectives for the future…NOT on criticizing and critiquing her fellow other candidates.

Posted by Stay Positive, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 2:45 pm

Doug, I encourage you to focus on the positive. If you are supporting Keller and Kou, tell us why you think they are the right choice for Palo Alto. Tell us what you liked about their kickoffs. But spare us the negatives about other candidates and their kickoffs. Going negative is standard in campaigns for President, for the US Congress, and for big city mayors. But it really adds very little value and it adds no value in Palo Alto. In fact, it does just the opposite -- it subtracts value by contributing to a tone of negativity that is not helpful and not necessary. And it certainly doesn't encourage people to run for public office in Palo Alto. So stay positive. Thanks.

Posted by Not a Liz voter, a resident of Community Center,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 2:47 pm

I find it funny Liz complaining about how expensive it is to run a campaign during a regular election year, not only for the point that doug made regarding her push to change the year of council elections ( and IMHO it was done also to ensure that Liz would have an office to run for - a purely self serving change) but also for the fact that she is already running ads on TSF website!!!
What about Liz's health? Last election she kept it a secret that she was ill. Then announced it with a flourish after she joined the council. So,what is her prognosis now.
I also disagree with Barbara's comment about not critiquing or criticizing fellow candidates. Given that, IMHO,,Liz's accomplishments are minimal at best, I think there is a fear in her circle that if we take a close look at her tenure, she will be found wanting.
I personally would never vote for her again for any office. I remember her disgraceful handling of the eruv issue many many years ago.

[[Blogger: supplemental information on the Eruv: Web Link Briefly, it was a cable strung around the city as a symbolic wall (relevant for Orthodox Jews).]]

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Barbara Spreng

Readers should read the "spin" from the candidates' supporters (and possible surrogates) for indications about the candidate.

> "he writes about a 'boilerplate' formula"

Misrepresentation. I wrote about a rough pattern that I have observed over and over through the years. "Boilerplate" is much more that a pattern -- it involves a detailed template with minor variations/fill-in-the-blank.

> "the huge crowd in attendance"

Again, the "crowd" was what you would expect for any serious candidate at this time of year. It was "average" -- not "huge". Ask yourself why the Kniss campaign is so intent on exaggerating the crowd size when that wasn't even mentioned in my blog post.

> "nor with the local star quality of our speakers"

I didn't see this as worth of mention. It was the "usual suspects" that one expects to see at any event for local Democratic Party insiders, and they said what I expected them to say (based upon having heard it at so many similar events). Only their absence would have been worthy of note.

> "couldn’t say enough good things about Liz Kniss"

While they said "good things" in the abstract, I went to the event hoping/expecting to hear specific good things about Kniss. I was sorely disappointed.

> "her priorities for an additional term on the City Council can be found on the printed handout we had at the kickoff and her website:..."

Those priorities were bullet points. In contrast, the other candidates (Keller, Collins, Kou) all talked extensively about their priorities.

> "It was pretty much ‘by the book’ standard format."

I'm confused -- there seems to be a contradiction between this and the earlier "boilerplate" passage.
Also, notice that my critique was not of the format but of the content.

> "not intended to be a policy lecture."

I never said, nor even implied, that it should be a "policy lecture". What I did say was "Kniss' speech largely avoiding talking about the issues facing the city, or what she would do."
When a campaign relies on exaggeration and misrepresentation to respond to critiques, what does that imply about the candidate?

> " In your blog, you failed to mention that guests stayed to chat ... nearly two hours past the 'end time.'"

First, such chatting is a normal and expected part of these events, and thus not noteworthy. I mentioned it in my previous blog entry "Candidate Kickoff Events: Not just for supporters".
Second, the chatting at Keller's also went on for almost two hours past the scheduled end. Kou's was still going strong when I left an hour past the end. The Collins event also extended significantly after the close, but I don't know by how much.
Readers, is the accusatory "failed" warranted? (rhetorical)

> "I object to your guessing at our motivations."

Yet another misrepresentation. I wasn't guessing but reporting what I had heard from knowledgeable others discussing the campaigns: "The assessment from many of those active in Palo Alto politics is that Kniss..."

> "You wrote, 'I am not trying to be snarky,' but in my estimation, that was precisely the tone."

Notice "missing the point": Reiterating the point: It is the job of the candidate and the campaign to have a speech that doesn't have easy targets. A failure to perform adequate diligence is noteworthy.

> "I hope you will consider being more objective in your missives."

Notice that the "evidence" of my bias in this piece involves misrepresentations of what I said, and criticism for not shilling for Kniss.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 4:27 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Stay Positive

Politic campaigns are no place for "participation trophies" -- not all candidates are "well qualified".
For example, we had a Council member who was infamous among political insiders for not doing his homework -- his first reading of the Staff reports would too often be during the meeting. However this was withheld from the general electorate. Another was routinely confused during deliberations, for example, being unable to remember what was the front and back of a major development project.

Others had attendance problems that never filtered out. Current relevance: over the last year the Planning and Transportation Commission has had far too many meetings cancelled for lack of a quorum (details of who wasn't going to be present wasn't published). This is a potential issue in the Council race because two of the candidates are currently on that Commission.

Posted by Substance Matters, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 30, 2016 at 7:54 pm

I for one am very grateful for Doug, someone who has paid attention for a long time. Detail oriented and sharing real concerns in an objective way. He points out things he sees, asks questions, and lets reader decide.

I also think his point about what's under all the fancy exterior is 100% relevant. I am tired of feeling like I am voting in a popularity contest. I found a lot of candidates are fuzzy on just what's important to them, what their guiding values are, and where they stand on questions important to people in Palo Alto. I am not going to vote for someone just because they have all the right exterior aspects (endorsements, nice web site, etc.)...but having "enough" in place does make an impression. (If someone couldn't even take the time to articulate/communicate what they stand for...of course that would be a non-starter for me.) But all the nice exteriors alone doesn't sell it for me. Behind all the fancy presentation, what does the candidate truly stand for? And, what have they done so far to show they have a way to drive progress for us successfully? I need to know this since I am being asked to vote for them (the candidate) - to trust them to represent my wishes for the future of Palo Alto....

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 31, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I think Doug could have gone lighter and not taken so many words to tell about his opposition on Liz, but, truth be known, I was tempted to go to that event. In fact I drove by that house the day before, cased the joint, and way, this isn't where Liz lives, at 2815 Emerson, down here in my end of town where the poorer rich people live! So, if I hadn't been busy with visiting kids that day, I would have just dropped in to say "Gee, I just driving by in your neighborhood and saw all those cars parked outside, and it looked there was a party going on...could I join you?" If I had done that and been invited in I would have asked some very hard questions. And wow, double wow, getting Anna Eshoo to join the party and support you? I remember her coming to our church (Wesley United in Palo Alto) and speaking on her first run at being a US Representative. She had a very small audience but I was immediately impressed and have voted for her ever since. I had a house guest, tenant, Maddison Eshoo, who said she wasn't related, as far as she knew, but the Assyrian heritage, traced back for many generations, might get them linked up.

[[Blogger: Clarification: The house on Emerson where the Kickoff event was held was not Kniss' house, but that of a supporter. Kniss lives in the Old Palo Alto neighborhood.]]

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 31, 2016 at 6:44 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "...his opposition on Liz..."

Yes, I have deep reservations about Kniss, but I have also have serious reservations about many of the other serious candidates. I am a long way from deciding who to vote for. A campaign is about candidates addressing the reservations that various people have about them.

It is a sad commentary on current times that there are so many people who see no ground between being a shill and being an opponent. Example: In the Democratic Presidential primary I knew lots of people who had strong reservations about both Clinton and Sanders -- one even changed her choice while talking about the tradeoffs (although I wouldn't have been surprised if she slid back to the original choice). But too many of the Clinton and Sanders supporters had such certainty that they were unable to talk to the undecided, much less try to persuade them.

Posted by Former PA resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Sep 2, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Doug Moran does an impressive (and patient) job of analyzing the spins and unexamined assumptions in today's political discussion. The response "Re Barbara Spreng" is a classic. Now if we could just get a Doug Moran for Mountain View. . .

I was struck by the upshot in Holly Ward's comment: "Therefore my opinion is as valid as yours." It followed a middle paragraph consisting of assertions and characterizations. Yet in this blog piece, Doug Moran tended to draw his conclusions from data presented explicitly. What Anna Eshoo spoke about was not expressed as an opinion. Liz Kniss's support for moving the election year (then complaining about the consequences in her kickoff speech) were not matters of opinion. I see this increasingly in public discussion: people writing as if they perceive every statement (whatever its basis) as opinion, and therefore "my opinion is as valid as yours."

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