I am a lifelong registered Democrat. I served on the Oakland school board for 12 years. For my day job, every month I pay dues to a public-sector union that recently gained a significant salary increase for its members.

Yet, I have big concerns about the stranglehold that organized labor has on the local Democratic Party leadership and the process of electing leaders in our community.

I am hesitant to write this essay, knowing that it could trigger a torrent of criticism against me. Yet I’m compelled to do this because I am saying what many people are thinking but are not comfortable expressing due to political repercussions.

In September, the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, a relatively unknown yet highly influential political organization dominated by staunch labor backers, held the final meeting in a process to determine which candidates would be the “official” Democratic Party candidates in the November election. In an ultra-liberal city such as Oakland, this endorsement is often considered a direct route to winning elections. Here’s a sampling of a few of the choices the Democratic Party establishment made.

For Oakland mayor, the committee could have supported Loren Taylor, a smart, pragmatic City Council member who brings strong experience from inside and outside government, listens to his constituents and knows how to be effective. Instead, they endorsed Sheng Thao, also a City Council member, who has focused on cultivating ties with party insiders.

Thao has shown that she waffles on issues such as police funding and does not understand important governmental processes. In a recent East Bay Times interview, Thao demonstrated that she does not know how a bond measure that she voted to put on the ballot would work. Thao is supported by public sector unions, reportedly because she agreed to stay out of an election in 2021 for an open seat in the state Assembly.

For Oakland School Board District 4, the committee could have endorsed Nick Resnick, an experienced teacher and current Oakland Unified parent who now is CEO of a company that develops curriculum. Instead, they endorsed Pecolia Manigo, who spent the summer protesting the school board’s decision that unions opposed to close schools in order to maintain fiscal solvency. Manigo was recorded on video breaking, entering and leading a crowd of parents and students into a locked Parker Elementary School.

For Oakland School Board District 6, the committee could have endorsed Kyra Mungia, a former teacher who works in the mayor’s office, where she facilitated the deployment of computers and internet to tens of thousands of students across the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, is implementing a program to provide housing for Oakland teachers, and has a master’s degree in urban education and a certificate in education finance. Instead, the committee endorsed Valarie Bachelor, a union organizer who has lived in Oakland for two years. She has neither classroom experience nor experience as a parent in the school district.

It’s time for those of us who care deeply about democracy and about electing qualified leaders who can guide us through the myriad challenging problems we face to put a stop to the party-insider track. Talk with your fellow voters. Question the recommendations of the local Democratic Party. Research the candidates’ experience and positions. Access Voters Edge, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the candidates’ websites and reputable media outlets.

Let’s show the Democratic establishment that we want candidates who are competent and qualified, not mouthpieces for a party line that favors union loyalty over qualifications.

Jody London, a Democrat and union member, represented District 1 on the Oakland School Board from 2009-20.