File this one under: you’ve got to be <expletive> kidding me.
I recently learned that a candidate running for City Council attempted to walk as part of the 4th of July parade this year. He was not allowed to do so.
Why, you may be asking?
That’s right, this year there are limitations on free speech with regards to Alameda’s 4th of July parade. I would be laughing my ass off at the irony of this if I weren’t so outraged by the notion that we are arbitrarily excluding certain groups because the City Attorney says it’s okay.
Here’s the rather twisted legal gymnastics used by the City Attorney to justify excluding particular groups, or in this case, one group…and really it’s one person, from the City’s 4th of July Parade.
This year, the Interim City Manager has decided to “donate” $10,000 in City funds to the Parade effort even though this has not been the practice in the past. Because this year City money is being expended and the City can’t use funds to advocate for candidates for local office or for a local initiative, the parade committee can deny any one that they see fit to deny.
But in fact, what the City Attorney’s ruling does, is open the door for a lot more subjective abuse of the ability of the parade committee to deny an application for any group that they don’t want to see march in the parade. Rather than narrowly writing an opinion which says: city dollars can’t be used to endorse a candidate and so no political candidates can be in the parade. Instead the City Attorney couches it this way:
The Parade Committee reserves the right to deny an entry which does not serve the theme or purpose of the parade, as long as alternative channels of communication are available…
Pretty chilling right? I mean if running for City Council isn’t solidly in line with this year’s theme of “Partners in Community Service,” I don’t know what is. People don’t run for City Council for the fame and glory of being on the City Council, heck, I bet you 9 out of 10 Alamedans couldn’t name all five City Council members, let alone pick them out of a line up, so yeah, being on the City Council is a big form of Community Service. As is running for City Council.
The cases cited by the City Attorney are not that compelling to support her opinion. She uses two cases, one of a parade in Parkland whose organizers have excluded ALL political groups from their parade and have for many years and one case from a plaza in New York City in the Lincoln Center for the Arts. Neither of these cases are on point because Alameda has long included political groups like the Alameda Democratic Club, Alameda Peace Network, and Code Pink in the parade. Likewise, she uses the Lincoln Center case as an example of how activities have to be narrowly tailored to the “forum’s function and purpose.” This is not compelling as well for the same reason as stated above. You can’t excluded political groups — or even select political groups — when you have embraced them in the past.
She sums it all up by saying:
The Parade Committee of the Mayor’s 4th of July Parade may restrict entries which advocate the election or reelection of a particular candidate or advocate for or against a local ballot measure, on the basis that such political advocacy is not consistent with the purpose of the traditional home-town, family celebration purpose of the Parade.
If “political advocacy” or not being “consistent with the purpose of the traditional home-town, family celebration” are the basis for denying any group entry to the parade depending on the whims of the Parade Committee, we have a much bigger problem on our hands. What’s next? Or rather, who’s next? It’s a slippery slope the City is heading out on.
The notion that because City funds are being expended as well and that it would be an “endorsement” of a candidate to allow him/her to walk in the parade is equally silly. There is not a precedent for the City to donate actual cash to the parade committee, but there is precedence that both political groups and candidates for elected office having participated in the parade previously — as acknowledged in the opinion. The caveat used is that because City funds weren’t expended, it didn’t count. It’s sort of a ridiculous premise considering that every year thousands of dollars in City money goes toward funding police for security, waiving fees, public works for clean-up, and who knows what else to make the parade happen. Maybe some people are donating their time, but I imagine that a ton of folks are getting paid, by the City, to ensure that the street closures happen and the debris is cleaned up after the horses in the parade do their business on the parade route. Simply because it’s not given in the form of a check to the Parade Committee does not mean that the money is not “City funds.”
Additionally, practically all the incumbent City Council members are running for re-election or for another office and will be allowed to participate in the parade. Simply because they don’t flash a sign that says “Vote for Me!” doesn’t give them any less of an unfair advantage given that in these local elections, it’s generally name recognition that is going to get the votes.
This hand wringing over one candidate wanting to walk amongst a million other Alameda groups feels much like that “campaign finance reform” the Mayor was so eager to push sooner rather than later. It’s the new City Government: tie the hands of your opponents for your own benefit!