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
Oakland Unwrapped Column
UrbanView Newspaper
October 25, 2000

"I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where’er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass. …What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do! They think me mad…but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened! … Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me… The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrent’s beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!"
Captain Ahab--"Moby Dick"

There is an eerie, unsettling quality developing around Mayor Brown’s quest for his military academy—a feeling that we’re sailing into strange waters close to the edge of the known political world, where the normal rules governing that sharp tension between constituent service and special interest agendas no longer apply. More and more, the Mayor’s opponents describe the military academy drive as an "obsession," and the terms "miscalculation" and "mistake" are becoming part of the private explanations of even the Mayor’s supporters. By all logic, Jerry Brown should have given up on this struggle at least at the time of the county school board defeat. And yet there he sails away, down the Bay toward San Jose, vowing that even if that city’s East Side Union High School District rejects his request to sponsor the military school, he will travel from district to district, never lowering his guns nor unfurling his banners until he finds a school board that will support him.

"If it isn't San Jose, I've got a bunch of other [potentially sponsoring school districts] in my back pocket," the Chronicle quotes Mayor Brown as saying.

This is where one begins to wonder if Brown has lost his perspective on this issue. Even if the Mayor finds a sponsor, his instincts ought to tell him that a military charter school on Oakland soil run by an out-of-town school district would be a potential political disaster—a powerful, physical rallying point for his opponents. Oakland kids marching around in the uniform of a "foreign" city? Jerry’s Mercenaries, they’d call them, with a rap song aired every night on Soulbeat.

But observers…myself included…have been focusing on the military aspect of the issue, and that’s the source of our puzzlement. Why should Jerry Brown be suddenly obsessed with the military to the point of potentially damaging his political career? But maybe that’s not the point.

When the Brown ran for Oakland Mayor two years ago he named the establishment of charter schools as one of his main issues, and still lists it among his goals on his official city website. In early 1999, an article in the Chronicle began: "Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's education policy can be summed up in two words: charter schools." The Mayor-sponsored arts charter school was approved for a 2001 opening by the Oakland School Board. But then came the defeats for his proposed military academy by the Oakland District and the Alameda County Board.

But advancing his charter school agenda is probably not what has the Mayor on his round-the-state quest. No, it’s something else, I believe.

Jerry Brown came into Oakland like a storm, overwhelming the politics of this city. After granting most of Brown’s wishes for two years…his landslide election, the passage of Measure X…Oakland is beginning to tell him "no." And maybe it’s this simple fact that the Mayor can’t stand.

Once I expressed my disappointment to an acquaintance of the Mayor’s that Brown doesn’t spend more time trying to educate the public on policy questions. "I thought as an academic he would enjoy pointing out the fallacies in the arguments against him," I said.

"The problem is," she replied, with a sad smile, "is that the only fallacies he sees in the arguments against him is that you don’t agree with him."