Dellums Watch: Keeping Tabs on Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums

Because we care deeply about Oakland, we want Mayor Dellums to succeed. However, we strongly opposed his election because he never held a municipal position in Oakland and has lived in Washington for the last thirty-five years. We are wary of some of his supporters, and wish to keep a close eye on local political machinations. This blog will be focused on politics and people, not policy perscriptions (unlike FutureOakland).

May 07, 2007

I'm blogging elsewhere

I am now blogging at If you're interested in what's going on in Oakland's politics from a Smart Growth and youthful perspective, check it out!

Also, I'm no longer using the handle Oakland Native, but dto510.

January 19, 2007

Good luck, Mayor Dellums

My very first vote, on an absentee ballot while away at college, was for Jerry Brown as mayor of Oakland. Later, when he announced the 10k plan and spoke of his ambitions for Oakland, he articulated my own hopes and dreams for our beautiful city. Since high school I was determined to be a part of downtown, and to see it regain its rightful place as the center of the East Bay. As I wrote in my blogger profile, Oakland is amazing and more people should live here. The benefits of our growth include entrepreneurial and cultural opportunities, civic resources, environmental justice, and political clout. Conservatism, by which I mean a reluctance to embrace change, is the greatest threat to our dynamic culture and economy. I started this blog to support moving Oakland forward, by explaining how arguments against our growth and success are narrow, illogical, and even selfish.

While obviously the namesake of this blog won the election, I feel that I accomplished the goal of adding a culturally and economically informed voice to the very important election-year discussion of our future. While Ignacio de la Fuente’s mayoral agenda of bureaucratic accountability and aggressive economic expansion best described my priorities, I also share Mayor Ron Dellums’ desire to inspire Oaklanders and emphasize unity. The election is behind us, and now our arguments are over legislation and ideas, not personalities or politics. I am eager to be part of moving Oakland forward, to again repeat both Ignacio’s and Dellums’ campaign slogans, but I can do this best by working constructively, not by blogging as DellumsWatch.

As I wrote before, the shrill tone of local left contributed to the divisive display at Dellums’ inauguration. This blog is obviously polemical; it was meant to create an issues-based but negative campaign against our former congressman, in response to the Stop De La Fuente blog. I don’t regret any of my posts, and it’s completely appropriate to attack political candidates in a truthful, well-supported, and explicit manner, especially to a self-selected audience. That tone is no longer appropriate, as there are no candidates to attack, only sitting elected officials who have the power and desire to improve Oakland. The Grand Lake Guardian, NovoMetro, the East Bay Express, and Tribune blogs all started after the mayoral election, and I look forward to even more people taking Dellums up on his call for involvement by sharing their opinions. I will be doing so on an oh-so-polite and constructive blog, to be named soon.

January 15, 2007

Assessing inaugural week

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums’ gala week of inaugural events did not prove to be in as poor taste as the contributors to this blog feared, although the murder of a Adams Point resident over a parking space, which happened while Dellums hobnobbed with big donors at the exclusive cocktail reception before the black-tie dinner, underlined the need for city leaders to focus on our gravest problems. J. Douglas Allen-Taylor nonetheless managed to blame the murder, which apparently resulted from a dispute over parking in the dense neighborhood, on Jerry Brown and dense transit-oriented development (in response to which the EBX had a rare cocktail-hour blog posting). Partisan squabbling aside, there were some positive and negative signs for Oakland.

Mayor Dellums’ inaugural address produced predictably mixed reactions, with his supporters reveling in his refusal to “cop-out” by offering any sort of concrete agenda, while his detractors point out that he’s moving slower than molasses in his goal to provide leadership for Oakland’s future. Most people are more concerned by the rude and disrespectful manner with which Dellums’ supporters treated the City Council and the election of Ignacio de la Fuente as City Council President. Local blogger Miss Carnivorous points out the tension between black and brown Oaklanders in her “anti-liberal” blog, and followed that up with a long, un-PC discussion of race relations in which she calls Dellums a “black nationalist,” which is a bit of an exaggeration. He’s not actually a former Black Panther, but there is clearly a great deal of race-based support for the mayor. A USF journalism professor also commented on the racial divide exposed by the inauguration uproar, which was also the topic of a press conference organized by East Oakland community leaders.

Left-wing bloggers, however, saw the incident as an indication of how the “people” dislike Ignacio and his pro-developer Council allies (who, of course, include Larry Reid and Desley Brooks as pro-development, and Nancy Nadel as his ally). Long-time community activist Pamela Drake, on the Grand Lake Guardian, says that it showed that the audience members "were ready to hear the new mayor talk about change and would accept no less from the Council." Sanjiv Handa, writing for the Post, said the same. On the contrary, it shows how those who attend public meetings, and Dellums’ most passionate supporters, are dogmatic and unrepresentative proponents of their narrow ideology. The average Oaklander was clearly appalled and embarrassed by Dellums’ supporters’ behavior. Leftists, though, think that anger at Ignacio and the council majority is appropriate. Let’s not forget that the harsh words and overzealous tone of the public comments against Ignacio set the tone for the audience’s outburst later. Even AC Transit Director (and failed City Council candidate) Rebecca Kaplan used a speaking style more appropriate to a political rally to make her technical point about the desirability of consensus-based committee appointments. Sanjiv Handa and the Oakland Post regularly couch their reports on the City Council is extreme and divisive language. In the current Post, Handa invents the following scenario:
In a privately negotiated deal, Reid was scripted to win the Council presidency on the second round of balloting - following a 4-4 deadlock in the initial casting. However, Ignacio de la Fuente... double-crossed Reid and decided decided he wanted a fifth two-year term. He leaned on Councilmember At-Large Henry Chang to re-nominate de la Fuente - allegedly in return for a promise to make Chang vice mayor.
Unfounded assertions alleging city hall or developer deals are a staple of the Post, which encourages disrespect toward our elected officials. Practically, though, Ignacio and Dellums will be able to work together despite the display (especially since Dellums has nothing to propose).

The reader doesn’t need a review of every inaugural event, but a few were telling of the mayor’s administration. The Hyphy-Soul Showcase, which was meant to connect Dellums with Oakland’s vibrant youth culture, was thinly attended. Worst of all, it incorrectly described Hyphy music as “home-grown hip-hop with a neo-soul flair,” which is completely wrong. Hyphy, rather, combines West Coast electro rap with Oakland’s post-rave underground electronica scene, creating a fresh new dance sound that has none of the guitars, sweet vocals, or retro panache of Neo-Soul. At the event, held at Sweet’s Ballroom (which is a Jerry Brown-era historic redevelopment project), Mistah FAB, a successful local hip-hop artist, gave a speech proclaiming his wish to be a good role model for the kids. He then launched into a song about thizzin’. Mayor Dellums gave a speech repeating both his tired “I don’t have an ‘S’ on my chest” line and his befuddlement with contemporary technology of "instant communcation" which most people take for granted. Between lackluster attendance and a somewhat confused message, the Hyphy-Soul event confirmed, rather than dismissed, the difficulty 71-year-old Dellums will have connecting with the young people who are transforming and even “gentrifying” Oakland.

Overall, many of the events were disorganized and sparsely attended. The black-tie event ran out of gift bags and engraved glasses. The Experience Oakland art-walk was less about the mayor than the art galleries. Young Oakland was unsatisfied with the Hyphy event. The “Hands Around the Lake” Event drew fewer than 2500 participants, although the transition hoped for at least 5000 (and were aiming for 10k), and extensively promoted the cute event. The Grand Lake Guardian reports that union activists (probably from the city employee's SEIU chapter, local 790) were overrepresented at the ceremony, though it affirmed that Dellums is going to work with Ignacio.

Perhaps Mr. Dellums will realize that the greatest threat to Oakland’s unity are people duped by the extremist rhetoric of media publications from the Oakland Post to BeyondChron, as well as the selfish and divisive anti-growth proposals sure to come from his task forces. Fortunately, the repeated pledges of the City Council and the mayor to work together suggests that Oakland can focus on issues with which there is more common ground, such as the need to get a handle on the crime wave that is sweeping mid-sized cities across the country. Jerry Brown’s appointment of an OPD lieutenant and his relocation of the Attorney General’s office from Los Angeles to Oakland indicates that he will be working on our crime problems with the enormous resources afforded to the state. If Dellums and Brown can work together (and their shared emphasis on rehabilitating prisoners indicates that they can), Oakland may be able to make real progress on some of our most vexing social issues.

January 08, 2007

Dellums sworn in; De La Fuente reelected

Ron Dellums' formal inauguration kicked off only eight minutes late to a packed, but not nearly full, Paramount Theater. The School Board was sworn in, and they reelected District Two member David Kakishiba as President. City Auditor Courtney Ruby was sworn in, and gave a perky speech promising to work hard and dramatically expand public knowledge of "what works, and what doesn't work." Reelected City Councilmembers Pat Kernighan, Jean Quan, and Desley Brooks took their oaths of office; while the first two brought only immediate family members to stand with them, Desley Brooks asked 32 people to stand behind her. In her well-received speech, she thanked her district and her staff members.

The main event, of course, was the election of the City Council President. Nineteen speakers (and one speaker without a card) addressed the Council and the audience, with most of them urging a vote for Nancy Nadel (who was not nominated) or for "change." Several of the speakers were extraordinarily rude, going on well over their comment period while eviscerating Mr. de la Fuente for not involving "the public." The audience (though not me) may have found it ironic that, while speaking in favor of public comment, the speakers demonstrated the rude, disrespectful and unproductive nature of so much of the public comment the Council receives. Rebecca Kaplan, of the AC Transit Board, noted that her below-the-radar agency rotates the Board Presidency and makes committee appointments by consensus; while that may work for a public agency, the chaos of even this mini-meeting demonstrates that the Council, as a policy-making body, needs a firm hand on the reins.

Sanjiv Handa blamed Mr. de la Fuente (in whose favor only three people spoke) for what he said is "the lightest meeting schedule of any city council in the United States," which is hard to believe. Later, he called the councilmembers up for reelection in two years De La Fuente's "henchpeople," and accused them of "excluding the public every step of the way." Defending the city staff's report on the condo conversion act, he said that council did not need additional legislative analysts, since they do a "very poor job of analysis." Those of different political viewpoints may argue the exact opposite (ie, the poor staff report on condo conversions is a reason to hire additional legislative analysts), but of course Mr. Handa is entitled to his opinion. With the comment period concluded, Desley Brooks introduced a substitute motion to appoint Larry Reid council president, which failed. Ignacio de la Fuente was then reelected Council President on a vote of 6 - 2, with only Reid and Brooks voting no.* Nadel's vote for him was greeted with catcalls and cries of "coward!"

Mayor Dellums felt compelled to interject himself as the audience cried for Ignacio's head, saying that "we must go forward in a civil manner, with a civil discourse." It is this uncivil discourse that Mr. Handa and others (like Ken Katz) defended in their comments against Ignacio being council president. Larry Reid, appearing hurt that Ignacio voted against the motion to make him president, promised that we "will see a new Larry Reid," which met with applause from the audience. Ms. Nadel, defending her vote for Ignacio, said "the council isn't there yet," referring to the five votes leftist advocates would need for their divisive and radical agenda. Pat Kernighan told the audience that they shouldn't assume Ignacio is their enemy, since "the entire council is excited to support Mayor Dellums and work together."

Mayor Dellums' address, which refreshingly lacked many of his campaign-trail cliches, explicitly rejected laying out an agenda or priorities for his administration, since we "must focus on all the issues simultaneously." Perhaps referring to his narrow, racially polarizing victory, called for Oaklanders to "delight in our diversity but not be paralyzed by parochialism." He also committed to seeking additional resources from philanthropists like Bill Gates and from Washington DC. Acknowledging the important perspective of young people (among whom I count myself), he remembered that "when I was West Oakland Ronnie D, I knew what's happening," but now is mystified by the world of "instant communication" with which young people have grown up. He repeated his promise to "appoint young people to every board and commission in Oakland."

On the whole, the ceremony was lovely, but marred by the rude and divisive comments made by public speakers and through the audience's catcalls, particularly those made by Sanjiv Handa and other backers of Ms. Nadel. Her own vote and speech reflected the consensus of our elected officials that we do need to move forward effectively, and ignore artificial and ideological divisions. While she and some in the audience clearly looked forward to the elections of 2008, the newly elected officials on the dias are eager to get to work on the problems of today.

* I incorrectly reported at 2:43 that Ignacio was reelected 7 - 1 (Brooks).

January 04, 2007

More grief for Dellums

According to the EBX's Will Harper, Tony West will not join Dellums' staff. I revealed that Mr. West was in line to be chief-of-staff in November. While apparently that's not the case, Harper says that insiders thought West was going to be a high-ranking staffer, so the reader knows that my sources aren't making things up. In the same blog, I also reported that several sources say Deborah Edgerly is remaining City Administrator; her attendance at Dellums' inaguration confirms this. Interestingly, a Berkeley public-schools activist (and occasional Berkeley Daily Planet contributor) named Dan Lindheim was also there.

Dellums' protege Barbara Lee assumes a post on the House Appropriations Committee today. She now has a chance to do something productive for Oakland, for the very first time in her eight years as our representative. Perhaps Dellums' presence in Oakland will make her more concerned about her district than impressing the Congressional Black Caucus.

A op-ed in today's Chronicle, written by Oakland education professor Kimberly Mayfield, reminds Oaklanders of the bogus story of Dellums' election. Conveniently characterizing our former representative's narrowest of victories as "formidable," she recalls the "grassroots" effort of the petition drive. As many Oaklanders may remember, the petition drive was organized by the city employees' union, who did not attempt to hide that fact (they were wearing their purple union shirts at every event where they trolled for signatures), which is pretty far from a grassroots group. They are being rewarded with half-price tickets to Dellums' most fancy inaugural events, of course. Since the anti-Oak-to-Ninth groups were able to raise about 25,000 signatures in one month, 8000 signatures over three months now looks pretty poor. Ms. Mayfield is joined by Kitty Kelly Epstein in Holy Names University's education department and as a Dellums activist; Ms. Epstein is local blogger Deckin's bete noire. Why does an education degree always seem to be in the hands of socialists? There are these two, and, of course, Ms. Aimee Allison.

Finally, national hip-hop culture blog PlayaHata criticizes Dellums for missing his first day of work, comparing him to Ice Cube's character in Friday.

January 03, 2007

Local media down on Dellums

Not a good start for Mayor Dellums.

SFist, whose Oakland correspondent considered, but rejected, joining a task force, calls him "last-minute mayor" for his "slapdash inauguration."

Carla Marinucci of the Chronicle unflatteringly compares Attorney General Jerry Brown's low-key inauguration, and Schwarzennegger's lavish but two-day fete, to Dellums' inaugural week.

Chip Johnson gratuitously criticizes Dellums' early request for a raise. It seems to me that City Councilmembers, whose attendance at public hearings and votes are critical to running the city, deserve a raise before the mayor (who makes about twice as much as they do).

Will Harper, of the Express, warns his readers not to expect "radical changes" from the (likely one-term) Dellums mayoralty, calling the man "a bold orator but a cautious politician."

UPDATE: CBS 5 ran a story this evening entitled "Oakland's Inaugural Bash Draws Big Corporate Bucks," and their political analyst says, "ethically, it's questionable." Ethics are not the problem; the real issue is bad taste at a time of record-setting murders, as well as the hypocrisy of the old socialist soliciting corporate contributions.

More of the tone for Mayor Dellums' administration will be set next week, with the gala events of inauguration week. Already, it's off to a bad start, with the actual inauguration a week too early, and rumors that the Paramount ceremony has been oversold. The Tribune's Brenda Payton will likely cover the events. As some of you may recall, she wrote a ridiculous column accusing retail consultants and Mayor Brown of being racist by favoring The Beach Chalet over Everett & Jones for a lakeside restaurant concession. By assigning perhaps the only pro-Dellums Trib reporter, the newspaper seems to be cutting the new mayor some slack. It is doubtful that the Chronicle or Express will be so kind.

December 22, 2006

Plus ca change...

During the divisive and narrowly-decided mayoral election in June, leftists speculated that, with a sweeping Dellums victory (which didn't materialize), Nancy Nadel would be an appropriate City Council President. Despite the obvious fact that Nadel didn't endorse Dellums, lefties lump them together as ideological soulmates. As ignorantly simplistic as that assertion is, Oakland's malcontents hunger for a change on the City Council. The Trib's Heather MacDonald now reports that Nancy Nadel announced her candidacy for the Council Presidency at Tuesday's meeting. Of course, MacDonald wrote an article that, despite its introduction and conclusion, makes it clear that Ignacio will be reelected. Nadel's ill-fated intervention in the District 2 race has diminished her council credibility, and, frankly, I have no idea what she wants to accomplish by voting against Ignacio. Unless she's tired of being Public Works Committee chair.

As I said a month ago, Mayor-elect Dellums managed to avoid losing credibility by staying out of the District 2 race. While the Express has speculated that Allison's and Alona Clifton's defeats mean he has difficulty translating his political popularity to his allies, in truth his pull is untested. That is, until recently.

During the condo conversion debate, Dellums aides were said to have lobbied councilmembers (Brunner and Kernighan were the swing votes) against the ordinance. I found this dubious, since Desley Brooks, Dellums' only actual ally on the Council, pushed the legislation. Nonetheless, SF's obscurantist blog BeyondChron declared that Dellums was instrumental in the ordinance's defeat. Aside from the very unclear nature of Dellums' involvement, the ordinance was not defeated, and instead referred to the same committee that will study so-called inclusionary zoning (and hopefully reject it as an unfair supertax on transit-using first-time homeowners). As the Council realizes how awful the current regulations are (which Quan and Kernighan didn't seem to get until the discussion had already reached its hysterical peak), a condo conversion ordinance will pass next year. If anything, it's likely to be less tenant-friendly than this year's, because many landlords were very unhappy about the overly generous protections in the bill (the Rental Housing Association refused to support it), which nevertheless failed to attract much tenant support.

Dellums may or may not have lobbied Kernighan and Brunner, and the outcome was, at best, a temporary victory for the Tenants' Union (who really should support conversion reform, since there are no tenant protections or caps in the 1981 ordinance). But Dellums did intervene in an issue at the Tuesday Council meeting, and the outcome was decisive. According to the East Bay Express and the Trib, Dellums personally lobbied against Jerry Brown's final appointment to the Port Commission (which has been pending since January). Planning Commissioner Mark McClure was confirmed 5 - 1 - 2, with only Desley Brooks voting no. This is a clear instance of the mayor-elect failing to influence the council majority on an issue. Dellums' intervention was inappropriate (since McClure was not, despite what the EBX reported, a "last-second" appointment), and now Ron Dellums has been handed an early Christmas present: his first defeat.

My fellow Jerry Brown fans also received an early holiday present this year. According to Matier & Ross, the Attorney General will establish his office on the top floor of Oakland's State Building, immediately behind City Hall Plaza. Insiders are already excited by the idea of him speaking at Council meetings and taking an active role as a resident. I'm sure Nancy Nadel will appreciate her constituent's concerns.