A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento



J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
UnderCurrents Column
Berkeley Daily Planet Newspaper
May 30, 2003

The administration of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown often totters on the edge of both absurdity and obscenity, sometimes threatening to split itself in half and fall on both sides simultaneously. Such a time, it seems, is when the mayor puts out word that he might be interested in running for the office of California attorney general.

One would think that, not yet five months into his second four-year term, Mr. Brown has some work left on all that mayoral stuff he so recently asked us for the chance to do. But this is a restless man, Jerry Brown, seeking out political office these days like the International Boulevard homeless folk collect cans.

This leaves my California Republican friends with the delicate task of trying to push Mayor Brown into running for attorney general in the 2006 Democratic primary without hiding the glee they would feel if he were actually the Democratic nominee.

Jerry Brown “deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done in terms of public safety in Oakland,” Republican communications consultant Dan Schnur tells the San Francisco Chronicle, “but if he ran for state attorney general, he’d run right into a Rose Bird-death penalty buzz saw.”

The likelihood is that you have no idea what Schnur is talking about in his “Rose Bird-death penalty” comment, which is why this is a Republican smokescreen for what they really think is Brown’s vulnerability. It was 1977, some may remember, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Rose Bird as chief justice of the California Supreme Court, only to be supremely embarrassed (if it is possible for Brown to be embarrassed) when Californians voted Bird off the bench (in 1986) because of Bird’s opposition to the death penalty. Brown, who has managed to get away with appointing three members to the Oakland Unified School District Board while successfully avoiding any responsibility for their actions or for the crisis in the Oakland schools, has certainly had enough time and practice to be able to distance himself from the opinions of the late Ms. Bird.

But there is not nearly enough time or room between Mr. Brown and the little man in black whom the Republicans somewhat conveniently failed to mention in their list of Jerry Brown vulnerabilities: his aide and confidante and used-to-be-roommate Jaques Barzaghi. It would be interesting and perhaps entertaining to see how Mr. Brown should reconcile his projected role as state attorney general with his silence on the official city finding that Barzaghi was a sexual harasser in the workplace while on the city payroll on Brown’s staff. The attorney general, after all, is charged with enforcing California’s sexual harassment in the workplace laws.

Interesting, too, is Brown’s assertion in the Chronicle that he “has solid law enforcement credentials through his work combating crime in Oakland.”

Must be a different Oakland he’s talking about than the one where I drive around. A few days after Brown talked up his crime-fighting successes, Oakland had its 41st homicide of the year. We are now up to 46, putting us in line with last year’s ghastly toll.

I’m not a big believer in crime statistics as an indicator of what is actually going on in a community. A low number of reported domestic violence assaults, for example, might not mean there’s little domestic violence. It might mean that police are not taking the crime seriously, and, therefore, many women are opting not to call 911. A rising rate might mean just the opposite–that more women are gaining confidence in police willingness to investigate such crimes, and so more are coming forward.

In other instances, police effectiveness in one area might boost the actual incidences of crime in another. When police do their jobs and bust some of the mid- or high-level drug lords (such as happened with Felix Mitchell some years ago), the established order of drug dealing is disrupted and organizations fight for control of lucrative corners. Thus, breaking up a drug gang can lead directly to an increase of drug-related murders in the short run. Looks bad in statistics, but if the community knew the cause and were prepared in advance by a city administration that talked straight with its citizens, they might be more willing to accept the temporary consequences.

Brown, however, is not one for talking straight with citizens. In fact, in between elections, he hardly talks to us at all.

And so it’s statistics ... and general perceptions ... that California voters will be weighing in 2006 when we decide on our next attorney general.

Unless Brown gets awfully lucky and Oaklanders suddenly start practicing One Love for the next couple of years, thus dropping the crime rate dramatically and consistently for all categories, what folks are going to remember about Oakland and crime and Jerry Brown are last year’s triple-digit homicide rate, the Raider riots, the Riders (regardless of whether they are acquitted at trial), the $11 million police misconduct settlement, the dismantling of any semblance of “community policing” (even by the city administration’s own low standards of that term), and Oakland’s failure to find safe and legal outlets for its black and Latino young adults (see sideshows).

It’s a good bet that California Republicans, who have not had a lot of statewide success in recent years, would dearly love to be able to run against somebody with that kind of record.