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).

June 04, 2006

Will Ron Dellums Offer Us Transparent and Inclusive Government?

Cross-posted at Mayor of Oakland: An Optimistic Perspective

Ron Dellums has made the need for transparent and inclusive government one of the key points in his platform. I wholeheartedly agree that this is a commendable and absolutely necessary goal. But I see no evidence that Ron Dellums will encourage said transparency. Of three candidates, it is Ron Dellums whose campaign has been marked by a specific absence of transparecy and accessibility to citizens.

It is only Ron Dellums who has explicitly violated the city's campaign rules, listing the titles of his endorsers in the voter guide when no other candidate was permitted to do so. Such an occurence should have been prevented by the office of the city clerk, but myseriously, the active Ron Dellums backers responsible for putting together the guide allowed his violation to slip through. It is especially irksome because this is not the first time Ron Dellums has attempted to mislead voters in campaign filings. In March, Dellums tried to list his occupation on the ballot as "retired Congressman" in an attempt to hide his lobbying activity since he retired mid-term from his Congressional seat. When informed that he wasn't allowed to lie about his current occupation, he elected to leave the space blank rather than advertise to voters what he's been up to since his retired.

My fears are further raised when I look at the behavior of Ron Dellums's most visible supporters.

Ron Dellums's sole City Council endorser, Desley Brooks, is disturbingly free with the public dime. Aside from revelations that she has funneled city funds (often in amounts $1 below the limit that triggers City Council review) to organizations that orchestrated the "Draft Ron Dellums" campaign, Desley Brooks has raised many eyebrows for her largesse with the taxpayer's money. Some of this money has gone to good causes, to be sure, like the free concerts she sponsored at Arreyo Park (the concerts were one of the few fund uses that were approved by the whole Council). Other expenditures have been harder to justify, like expensive hotel stays and week-long trips to Ghana. Other Councilmembers believe where the money went is irrelevant.
"What I worry about is that the public trusthas been undermined," said Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel), chairwoman of the council's Finance and Management Committee.
...
Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland) said she does not believe she could use unspent funds to help non-profit groups or other civic organizations. "I never even thought it was an option," Brunner said, calling for a thorough analysis of the rules. "This was a gift of public funds. We should know how it was used."
Brooks has previously come under fire for hiring her boyfriend's daughter at a rate of $60,000/year while the daughter was attending college full-time out of state. Is this the sort of person we want running our City Council? Is this is sort of transparency we're going to see under a Ron Dellums administration?

On his web page, Ron Dellums asserts:
Dellums is a "bridge builder" not a wedge wielder. Throughout his career he has demonstrated this ability to bring all sides to the table to resolve issues, removing obstacles, mediating between warring interests, and breaking down bureaucracies to get things done.

This may have been his record in Congress, but this "bridge builder" quality has been markedly absent in his campaign for Mayor. Look at the narrowly averted Oakland teacher's strike. While Ignacio De La Fuente urged both sides to work towards a compromise, even offering to help mediate the negotiations, Ron Dellums actively encouraged the teachers to strike. Perhaps this was the smart political move, given that many Oakland parents were strongly behind the teachers, but Dellums's behavior was dangerous for Oakland's student. Ron Dellums further demonstrated his disdain for mediation in his repeated calls to declare a "state of emergency" in Oakland with respect to crime, allowing the police chief to act unilaterally with regard to scheduling and usurp all power from the police union. Ignacio De La Fuente, acting in the best interests of the city, choose not to declare the state of emergency, but rather worked with the police chief and the union to redeploy officers when they are needed, increasing the number of officers on the street during high-crime hours from 40 to 104.

Ron Dellums further claims that he wants a "participatory" government. On his website, he describes a six-month long "planning period" where Oaklanders can come together and decide what they want for the city:
Dellums is committed to maximum participation and will meet regularly with youth, with seniors, with neighborhood organizations, with educators, and others in public events ranging from Summits to neighborhood forums, in order to engage everyone in the long-run health of the City.

Ron Dellums has been noticably inaccessible to our citizens throughout the entire campaign. Ignacio De La Fuente has met with everyone who he can - he has visited people's homes at over 200 house parties, he has visited schools, he even spent an evening talking with young people at a series of downtown bars, in an attempt to find out the concerns and needs of as many Oaklanders as possible. He has held 50 neighborhood forums for people to come out and talk to him and question him about his plans for the city. Ron Dellums, in contrast, has been almost completely unavailable to the public. If he is so concerned about citizen input, why has he refused to listen to it during his campaign?

I am further disturbed by Ron Dellums's inaccessibility to the media. I have heard from several people that he has a frightening habit of getting angry when reporters ask him questions that he feels are unfavorable towards him, something that was confirmed for anyone who listened to the Mayoral debate on the Ronn Owens show on KGO. Dellums's short temper coupled with his refusal to speak with reporters who have written about topics he rather go unmetioned makes me extremely wary of how he will govern when he becomes Mayor. How can one talk about accessibility when he denies access to those in the media who ask tough questions?

Ron Dellums often talks about ending the "pay to play" environment in city government. But he neglects to give any actual proof that such an environment exists. What is he talking about? Many people criticize Signature Properties Oak to Ninth project in this vein, but their is no evidence to back up the accusation. The property was open to for bid, and two different companies choose to bid on the land with two different projects. Signature got the project, and then spent more than a year inviting citizen input - they conducted public neighborhood meetings, small group discussions about the project, and one-on-one interview with Oaklanders. They then revised their plan based on the community input they had received - altering the project from the original conception so that it provides almost 30 acres of open space for the people of Oakland to enjoy. And what about the other company, whose bid lost? Are they running around talking about "pay-to-play" or favoritism? No. They just moved on and started working on other projects. Mayor Jerry Brown's tenure has been notable for ending the sweetheart deals that ruled our city for so many years and creating an environment where merit, not cronyism, determined who gets contracts.

In contrast, look at the behavior of Ron Dellums backer Dorothy King. She put in a bid to operate the new restaurant on Lake Merritt. Her bid lost to another operator, one who had offered to contribute twice as much money as she had towards the expensive renovation, not to mention offering a much more appropriate style of food. What does she do? She holds a press conference claiming that she tried to bribe the Mayor to get the contract, and claiming that the fact she didn't get the contract could only be explained by racism.

Between the way he has conducted his campaign, and the behavior of his main supporters, I have no faith that Ron Dellums will bring us an open or transparent government. In fact, all evidence points to a return to the days of cronyism and lack of citizen access. Do we really want to backtrack?


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