By Steven Tavares
Oct. 29, 2010 | "What nationality are you," Nadia Lockyer asked me as she attempted to make small talk last April at her Hayward campaign headquarters. "I'm Portuguese," I said to the candidate for Alameda County supervisor. "Do you remember the movie with Robert DeNiro where he helped the indigenous people in South America?" she said. "I think it was called The Mission," I answered and noted I had not seen the film from the early 1980s. I began sensing Lockyer was stalling me while oddly relating my ancestry with that of an obscure character in a 30-year-old film. Shortly before we started the hour-long interview one of Lockyer's political consultants dropped-in unannounced and asked to sit-in on the interview. "Sure," I said while the consultant sat on an office chair to my left while Lockyer sat on the couch to my right.
Lockyer never seems comfortable speaking publicly. She becomes aloof and unfocused by interviews and during candidates forums throughout this election season. It is a stark contrast to the persona she gives off in one-on-one contact. I have seen countless occasions where young woman absolutely gush at her presence, often asking to snap pictures with her. That all crashes, though, when Lockyer puts on her campaign hat. Instead, what nearly ever observer of this race sees is a candidate shockingly unprepared for the rigors of county supervisor and a campaign constantly befuddled by entitlement and secrecy.
A few question into the interview it became clear Lockyer was stalling me until her consultant Katie Merrill arrived at the B Street office. A pattern began to emerge where Merrill would finish and slightly recalibrate Lockyer's answers. After one question about what made her different from her then-primary opponents Lockyer gave me her stock answer about being the only candidate with county experience. It was a longer than expected answer, but when I turned to ask Merrill a related question my attention was brought back to Lockyer who was slightly nodding her head as if to seek approval of the answer she had just given. I noticed this stealth exchange for affirmation on two other moments that afternoon. A few days later, Lockyer met with a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, but has never agreed to sit down with another reporter since.
It is the hallmark of well-heeled politicians to keep the door close on access. We have seen it in full bloom as Meg Whitman has spent over $150 million of her personal fortune in her quest for governor of California. Whitman has had many high-profile clashes with the media and has largely ducked their probing questions at every turn. In many ways, Lockyer and her war chest derived nearly entirely from her husband, Bill Lockyer's campaign, has kept a tight lid on the candidate's statements and access to her. The campaign learned earlier not to let Lockyer stray from the script.
During our interview I asked about a mailer sent to voters that initially received more attention by its cost than its content. In it contained a glossy photos of her family, a letter and an actual campaign banner folded to fit inside the large packet. Shortly afterwards, some in the community began voicing displeasure with the inclusion of a photo showing Lockyer's elementary age child and their family dog. Included was his name, the puppy's name (which he is holding in the photo) and the name of their street. Critics of Lockyer who pointed out she had made the welfare of children one of her platform points were disturbed she had revealed so much information about her child in a campaign mailer. Merrill said the campaign was proud of the particular mailer, but when asked whether Lockyer knew three convicted child sex offenders lived within two miles of their home, she said she was aware. In fact, she had complained to police the year before when one of the offenders, in her opinion, overly decorated their front yard for Christmas, under the guise, she believed, of luring children to his property. "I actually think it makes him more safe," Lockyer said of the information in the mailer. "The more information that is out there, the more people there are to keep him safe." It was not the answer the campaign wanted to be put out there. Similar mailers displaying family photos did not include information about their son and the street he lived on, but the entire episode also showed how Lockyer's political connections and money quashed any criticism of her from several county social service providers. None would dare speak on the record about the situation for fear of sabotaging already shrinking county dollars to their programs. To many, it was a good bet to cooperate with Lockyer under the notion keeping silent would keep them in her good graces once she becomes supervisor.
Her perceived entitlement to the seat is clear, but many find additional discomfort by her lack of experience for the job. This angle led directly to Gail Steele, who his retiring from the seat in District 2, to declare her support for Lockyer's opponent, Liz Figueroa. Never has Steele immersed himself in the endorsement process, but her religiously frugal ways and concern over Lockyer's complete lack of local roots and considerable cash swayed her to make the surprise announcement earlier this month. The torrent of campaign money from Bill Lockyer's resources continues to flow even up to the last week before the election. According to the Chronicle, Lockyer's spending is on par with average expenditures usually seen for in a race for Congress. The money issue leads many to wonder why he Lockyers believe the seat is worth up to $2 million to win.
Lockyer's experience rests solely on one term on the Santa Ana School Board and three years at the Alameda County Family Justice Center. The thin resume has been the source of derision by many opponents of her campaign who openly ask what exactly the center does? Lockyer has never answered the question. Others call it a successful operation, but admit its importance ranks low on the list of important services made available by the county. Others contend the center was specifically created for Lockyer to launch her nascent political career, but her debut on the local political scene has proven to be gaffe-ridden.
No other mistake raised more eyebrows than when Lockyer told a group of seniors in Fremont she had just received the endorsement of state Sen. Ellen Corbett. Figueroa and then-candidate Kevin Dowling looked peculiarly at Lockyer as she relayed this information. Actually, Lockyer had not received Corbett's blessing, at all. Merrill blamed it on miscommunication between staffs, but the mistake caused a rift, according to sources. It also fit a pattern, observers noted, of Lockyer's unfocused demeanor that often appeared scatter-brained. Some described a young and vivacious professional lawyer up until a serious accident a decade ago left her infirmed. A few who knew her tell me she is not the same since the incident. Many of her answers to me and queries during public forums feature bland answers amounting to little meaning, but without standard evasion featured by most politicians.
There is some question whether Lockyer will be able to withstand the tension of the Board of Supervisors that is populated by some of the most hard-nosed politicos in the county. Supervisors Scott Haggerty, Nate Miley and Keith Carson tend to aggressively throw their weight around. It was one of the reasons the more laid back Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker soured on the constant confrontation from the trio. Supervisor-elect Wilma despite her small appearance is also no pushover. Conventional wisdom is split on whether Lockyer will be able to have a puncher's chance on this board. Some says the group, in the absence of damage to their political futures without term limits, will eat her alive. Others say, the group will use kid glove so as not to attract the ire of Bill Lockyer. Conversely, many believe her time in Oakland will only be long enough until the next open seat in the Legislature becomes available. You don't spend $2 million to settle on a supervisorial seat, goes the thinking. In politics money can't buy love, but it sure can buy votes.