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March 22-28, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Our Man Alden

By Peter Byrne


State assembly candidate John Alden is running dead last as a fundraiser. As of the last filing period for Sixth District office-seekers, ending Dec. 31, 2005, Pamela Torliatt had banked $154,000; Jared Huffman clocked in with $180,000; Damon Connolly sat on top of $207,000; Cynthia Murray led the pack with $268,000; and poor John Alden was scraping by with $43,000 for a race in which all of his opponents expect to raise and spend $300,000—each.

Alden's cupboard is relatively bare because he does not accept campaign gifts from corporations. Most of his contributions are $100-or-less gifts from individuals. "Corporate money has a corrupting influence in politics," Alden explains. He also does not take money from developers. But he is happy to accept thousands of dollars from Aimee Albertson, the director of intergovernmental affairs for San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. When asked why Albertson is into him so heavy, Alden replies, "She is my girlfriend."

In 1997, fresh out of Boalt Law School, Alden worked for a year as a fellow in the office of assemblyman Kevin Shelly. He then become an assistant district attorney for Marin County. He has chaired the Marin County Democratic Party since 2001, campaigning hard for Gray Davis, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, John Kerry and many others. In 2003, he joined a Santa Rosa-based law firm, Abbey-Weitzenberg, where, according to his federal income tax return, he made $118,205 in 2005 by litigating consumer class-action lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs, not corporations.

He promises, in a taped interview, that if elected, he will propose a bill to ban confidentiality clauses in lawsuit settlements of consumer injuries.

Alden remarks, "I became fed up working to elect Democrats who did not speak for me. I want to reform the Democratic Party. I am running a grassroots campaign based on core Democratic Party values." He defines those core values as the duty of society to care for those who cannot care for themselves, equal political rights for all and the placing of human values before corporate profits. He opposes the war on Iraq; favors re-regulation of energy in California; is against the death penalty; supports a moratorium on Indian casino expansions; advocates the quasi-socialization of what he terms a "broken" health care system; and wants commercial property owners to pay property taxes based on current market values.

Alden, 35, thinks that John Kerry was "running scared" in the last presidential election and should have come out against the war on Iraq and Bush's move to privatize public schooling (aka No Child Left Behind) and for universal health care. Alden's heroes in the assembly are Mark Leno (marriage equality), Sheila Kuhl (universal health care) and Loni Hancock (campaign finance reform). On the other hand, he says that gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides "exemplifies" the Democratic Party's core values, when Angelides is, in my opinion, a clone of the politically corrupt and ineffectual Gray Davis. Alden is reticent to criticize Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer or Nancy Pelosi, powerful Democrats who have, in my opinion, given Bush a free pass to dismantle the party's core values.

Alden's public persona is a bit programmed and lawyerly. In personal conversation, he comes across as careful and circumspect, but hardly a political visionary. He is climbing the career ladder of the very power structure he wants to reform. He does not do grassroots organizing with North Bay farm workers (although he supports drivers license reform and living wage laws). Following national Democratic party lines, he says that Bush's "war on terror is failing to make us safer, and that holes in security are not his top priority." He will have to come up with a sharper analysis than that if he intends to "reform" the cowardly party.

If the house party I attended on a rainy February night in downtown San Rafael is any indication, Alden's campaign attracts well-to-do white people over age 50. Luxury housing developers Derek and Tymber Cavasian hosted the fundraiser at their spectacular home. "We built it from scratch to resemble a remodel, because we like the lived-in look," Derek told me, pointing out the koi swimming in a patio pool.

Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey showed up to introduce "my friend" John Alden—Woolsey is not formally endorsing any candidate—as "some one who can hold back the tide to lose everything we value about this country." After Alden spoke, a man asked how he differs from equally-liberal candidate Jared Huffman. Alden fumbled for an answer until Aimee Albertson prompted him with a line about his experience in Sacramento (working in Kevin Shelly's office). Folks dropped off checks and lined up to shake hands with Woolsey, who has proven herself to be a courageous opponent of corporativism, Bush-style.


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