October 10, 2022
By The Citizen Editorial Board
On Oct. 5, The Citizen held a virtual forum with candidates running for seats on the Peralta Community College District’s (PCCD) Board of Trustees in the upcoming Nov. 2022 general elections. Following the forum, the student staff members of The Citizen convened to vote on whether they would endorse one candidate, both candidates, or neither candidate for the three open positions on the district’s governing board.
A Note From the Editor in Chief
Our staff writers, editors, and student leadership convened immediately after the forum to discuss our observations and conclusions about the interviews we conducted with each candidate. While one candidate, Area 5 incumbent Cindi Reiss, chose not to participate, all six candidates were equally considered during the endorsement process. Our staff spent over an hour deliberating over the pros and cons of each candidate – their policy objectives, their overall knowledge of the district and its problems, and their delivery.
The process of choosing our endorsements was entirely democratic. No member of our staff had more say in our choices than any other, and each of us had the chance to share our thoughts and concerns. Below you will read personal opinions and the newsroom’s observations for the candidates running in Areas 3, 5, and 7 – all written by individual staff writers and editors. A video of each interview is hyperlinked to each candidate’s name. We have also provided our endorsements and a brief summary of why we made them.
Shiloh Johnston | Editor in Chief
Tarrell Gamble – Randi Cross | Staff Writer
Tarrell Gamble was the first interview of our PCCD Trustee Forum. Gamble seemed focused on highlighting the need for an outreach program aimed at high school students in order to help improve enrollment at PCCD. From Gamble’s remarks, it was unclear whether he was aware of similar programs that are already implemented by the district. We also found Gamble’s understanding of the district’s holistic approach to campus security disappointing. There was no mention of how to specifically fix the district’s security issues beyond throwing more money at the problem.
Gamble consistently deflected to the failures of others as opposed to providing solutions. His main focus was not on changes, but on budget – yet did not mention his experience in managing money (which he has) and how that would apply to Peralta if elected. When asked if PCCD should drop the mask mandate, Gamble gave a one-word answer – “no,” missing another opportunity to provide his opinions on a solution. When asked if he would be willing to recuse himself when the Board of Trustees votes on contracts that could benefit campaign contributors, friends, or close associates, Gamble’s response was that his campaign is self funded – a non-answer that we found troubling.
Louis Quindlen – Emily Tenorio Molina | Staff Writer
With over 17 years of teaching students at Laney College, Louis Quindlen stated that his number one priority as current faculty member and hopeful trustee was to ensure that the district honors its mission of serving Peralta students. Quindlen has served on the District Facilities Committee for five years, the Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative, and taught students in the Machine Technology department – making him, in regards to the district, one of the most knowledgeable candidates of the night.
Quindlen is running to reform the district’s strategic plans and improve trustee leadership. He specifically addressed the district’s failed financial priorities.
“We have to scan our community, determine what [sic] are their needs,” Quindlen said.
He gave the example of the lack of resources dedicated to marketing to highlight the opportunities at Peralta.
“How can we say we tried to improve enrollment if we have such a small percentage of our budget going towards marketing?” Quindlen asked.
Regarding student journalism, Quindlen pointed out the importance of highlighting successes and failures within the Peralta community, as well as the training of journalists.
“It’s critical to have well-trained people that understand the power of a newspaper that informs the community about what’s going on in our communities,” Quindlen explained.
We commend Quindlen’s pursuit of improving the governance of the Board and his focus on serving Peralta students. Given his dedication and experience, we at The Citizen gave Quindlen our unanimous vote, the only candidate to receive it.
Area 3 Verdict – Louis Quindlen
The newsroom voted unanimously to endorse Louis Quindlen for the Area 3 seat on Peralta’s governing board. In our discussions, we took note of Quindlen’s deep knowledge of the district’s problems and his ability to provide direct answers and specific solutions. His experience as a faculty member gives him a perspective that informed his ideas on how to solve our facilities problems and increase student enrollment. While Tarrell Gamble provided measured answers to many of our questions, we were specifically disappointed in his comments on whether he would be willing to recuse himself if the board voted on contracts that could benefit his campaign contributors, friends, or close associates. His response was that his campaign was self-funded, a non-answer that failed to directly address the question. This was particularly concerning to us, as the district has had some instances of administrators failing to recuse themselves when there are conflicts of interest.
Both candidates appeared to be combative. Gamble was the only candidate to attack his opponent and Quindlen did not shy away from criticizing the district’s decisions and failures. While this confrontational behavior could bring real change to the board, it could also prove to be another disastrous chapter in the board’s struggle to overcome infighting. Quindlen came off as the better candidate, and it appeared to the newsroom that he could be a real advocate for students, faculty, and classified professionals on the Board of Trustees.
Shiloh Johnston | Editor in Chief
Cindi Reiss – Leo Premnath-Ray | Staff Writer
Cindi Reiss did not join us at our Trustee Candidate Forum. In an email correspondence with The Citizen, Reiss declined to participate, stating that “the candidates—who will all make very good board members—should be the focus.” As an incumbent trustee and current Board President, Reiss witnessed and was a part of many upheavals within the district. Reiss served on the Board of Trustees when the district’s accreditation status dropped to ‘probation’. She was also the Board President when the infamous grand jury report identified problematic board behaviors such as infighting and misconduct.
Still, during Reiss’ term, the district rose up one notch to a ‘warning’ accreditation status. Additionally, in the wake of the grand jury report, the trustees came together to sign a ‘Statement of Cooperation’, which acknowledged the report’s findings and named the board’s plans for improvement. The statement suggested that Reiss has the ability as Board President to rally her fellow trustees and address some of the district’s problems. This “critical work,” as Reiss described it in her email response to The Citizen, is not lost on us. However, the turbulent aspects of her tenure were also taken into account when considering which candidate to endorse.
Saleem Gilmore – David Rowe | Associate Editor
Saleem Gilmore is challenging incumbent Trustee and Board President Cindi Reiss for the Area 5 seat. Challenging an established incumbent is never easy, particularly for a down-ballot school board seat. Gilmore is running a strong race, however, and has won endorsements from several labor unions including SEIU and the Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT 1603). He also has been endorsed by two current Peralta trustees (Linda Handy and Kevin Jenkins).
Our newsroom was impressed with Gilmore’s grasp of the issues facing the Peralta district and his ability to express his views in a clear and convincing manner. His four areas of focus: reducing class cuts, hiring a permanent Chancellor, improving campus facilities, and implementing tighter budgetary controls, all address current “pain points” for the district.
When asked if he would support Interim Chancellor Jannett Jackson for a permanent position, Gilmore said he would certainly consider Jackson if she expressed interest but also wanted to look at other qualified candidates and let the shared governance process play out. He also believed that the permanent Chancellor should live in the district (or at least in the state of California).
When asked about his strong support for gun ownership (Gilmore founded the MOW gun club in Oakland and established the Oakland chapter of the National African American Gun Association), Gilmore said he supported gun ownership for personal defense but disagreed with the NRA’s advocacy of arming teachers in the classroom.
“I do not think schools should be places where firearms are,” he said.
Gilmore expressed concern about the district’s use of unarmed security guards, saying “there are times where we need to protect ourselves in a more dramatic way.” Gilmore stood out in our forum as one of the best informed and most well-spoken candidates.
Area 5 Verdict – Saleem Gilmore
The newsroom chose to endorse Saleem Gilmore for the Area 5 seat on Peralta’s governing board. We spent a particularly long time discussing this area due to the circumstances surrounding Cindi Reiss’ decision not to participate in the forum. In the weeks leading up to the forum, Reiss had agreed to attend and be interviewed by one of our staff members. Reiss subsequently declined to participate, explaining that “the candidates—who will all make very good board members—should be the focus.”
The newsroom discussed disqualifying Reiss from our endorsement process, but determined that her contributions as trustee, vice president and most recently president of the board, merited her consideration. We noted the benefits of continuity, and agreed that Reiss’ experience as a trustee gave her a leg up over newcomers to the governing board. Under her leadership, the district made progress in its accreditation rating.
Reiss also played a role in instituting the “Statement of Cooperation,” a symbolic gesture that renewed the board’s commitment to build trust amongst each other and practice good and ethical governance. This statement came in the wake of a tumultuous period in Reiss’ leadership, plagued by a grand jury report that specifically pointed out a pattern of infighting that the district’s governing board exhibited.
Reiss also oversaw a board that approved new high-paying administrative positions in the wake of declining enrollment, some of which went to people who live outside of the district and even out of state – an ongoing issue that members of the Peralta community have condemned. Ultimately, we felt that it was time for a change for the Area 5 trustee seat.
Our newsroom decided that Saleem Gilmore could be that change. We felt that out of all of the candidates, Gilmore appeared to be the most prepared for our forum. The answers he gave were informed and directly aimed at solving some of the district’s most pressing problems. He specifically mentioned the issue of administrators living out of state, and suggested a balanced approach to campus security that was neither idealistic or one sided.
He also did not shy away from the difficult questions that we asked about his position on firearms. Saleem illustrated that his personal views on guns – based on responsible self defense and personal safety, did not bleed into his belief that police in schools should be avoided.
While we were impressed by Gilmore’s level of knowledge about PCCD and preparation for the forum, we wondered if, like many politicians, that gave him the ability to tell us what we wanted to hear. Gilmore stood out as a candidate that could address some of the district’s issues with a much needed fresh perspective.
Shiloh Johnston | Editor in Chief
Sheweet Yohannes – Nebai Esaias | Staff Writer
Sheweet Yohannes said that she believed students should be involved in the community and participate in the decision-making process at the district level, a sentiment our newsroom agreed with wholeheartedly, as we believe that involving students in this process helps strengthen and unite our community. Yohannes also seemed very educated on the topic when discussing the difference between private and public security options for the district, and gave a concrete opinion on what course of action she believed the district should take, a stance not every candidate was willing to commit to.
Yohannes spoke about her background paying for college through military service, and risking her life in order to receive help with tuition when she felt that the community college education she was receiving in Washington D.C. wasn’t up to par.
The way Yohannes sounded throughout the interview stood out as humble and human, a tone that our newsroom appreciated. Despite being new to the district, we felt that Yohannes should still have known about the board’s travel policies and the recent issues that have been prevalent in regards to them. As a future trustee, we believe that doing your homework on what the board has been discussing is critical to being an acceptable replacement. As human as Yohannes sounded, she was not able to confidently answer all of the questions asked of her, raising some concern as to her preparedness and ability to handle the role of trustee.
Seth Steward – Ken Lester | Managing Editor
On paper, Seth Steward might even appear overqualified for the position of Area 7 trustee on the district’s governing board. He has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University, served in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office under current Vice President Kamala Harris, and has a laundry list of endorsements that includes unions, current trustees, and at least two Oakland mayoral candidates. It is quite a list.
As a newsroom though, it seemed to us that he was selling himself – and while he might be a great salesman, we weren’t looking to be sold credentials. We instead wanted concrete examples of how he would improve the district. We wanted to understand his knowledge of what issues the district faces. We wanted to know that he actually cares. His answers to our questions weren’t evasive or uninformed – they were exactly the type of answers you might rehearse in front of a mirror before speaking to a group of student journalists. We were, however, impressed with his ideas in response to our question on promoting equitable representation for students and staff at PCCD.
“It’s actually fascinating – we don’t have a diversity and equity and inclusion office at any one of the schools. I looked for it, and I could not find it. It’s important for us to be able to create that office and really hold up and give voice to disadvantaged communities that generally do not have an opportunity to participate in a democratic process, and the governance process, and the shared governance process of Peralta,” Steward said.
Is Steward qualified for the position? Definitely. Does he see the Board of Trustees as a stepping stone to a higher office? While that remains unclear, it’s a strategy that has been successful for others. The bottom line: he’s a politician, and regardless of whether or not he’s an honest one with good intentions, we’re not sure the board needs more of that.
Area 7 Verdict – Sheweet Yohannes
The newsroom decided to endorse Sheweet Yohannes’ bid to become the new Area 7 trustee on Peralta’s governing board. This was our decision with the narrowest margin – votes were cast for each candidate, both, and neither of the candidates. After deliberation, Yohannes won the endorsement of our staff and editors by a single vote. While our discussion as a newsroom led to near universal agreement on the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates, there was clear division on which of those strengths and weaknesses were more important, both in their ability to competently handle the responsibilities of a trustee and to do so as a true ambassador and ally of students.
Seth Steward has the credentials, and he was happy to tell us all about them. His career, education, and endorsements were all very impressive, and likely the reason he received votes from our newsroom. If he truly has the best interest of the students and the district in mind, he would be a force on the Board of Trustees. We just weren’t totally sure that was the case. He spent quite a bit of time during his interview speaking about himself, and from our perspective, not enough time talking about students, the district, their problems, and how he would implement solutions. He even took time during his closing remarks to advertise to potential viewers that they could volunteer for his campaign to help him win. This left a sour taste in our mouth that no impressive list of credentials could totally wash out.
Yohannes on the other hand, while seemingly a little underprepared for the types of questions we would be asking her, and a knowledge base of current district issues that left a little more to be desired, did give the impression to our newsroom that she was running for the right reasons. She has experience in higher education, and some in our newsroom actually saw her lack of an illustrious track record in politics as a potential boon – she has less to fall back on and she will have to work harder for us. As a newsroom, we think she will. Yohannes left us with the impression that she is running for this seat because her own community college experience needed improvement, and that she is positioning herself to help make those improvements. She seemed more accessible, and for lack of a better term – more real.
Ken Lester | Managing Editor
The candidates running for the three open seats on Peralta’s governing board are as varied in their experiences as they are in their policy objectives. While our newsroom found strengths and weaknesses in each of them, we ultimately chose to endorse Louis Quindlen, Saleem Gilmore, and Sheweet Yohannes. The Citizen believes that these three candidates are poised to best serve our diverse community of students, faculty, and classified professionals – all of which are in need of allies on Peralta’s governing board. We sincerely hope that, if elected, each of these prospective public servants will keep their commitments and help guide the district out of a period marked by scandal and turmoil into one marked by student equity and success.
The 2022 California general elections will take place on Nov. 8, 2022. For more information on the Board of Trustees and their role at PCCD, please visit the district’s website.