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
November 31, 2001

Keeping on top of politicians is a little like raising children. One has to chastise them for the small transgressions early on, lest these things grow into seriously bad habits.

We should have done something the first time the Mayor decided to give his annual State Of The City report to the private Chamber of Commerce rather to the Oakland public at Council chambers in City Hall. It was a test of us, I think, and we failed. That’s where the idea probably began in Mr. Brown’s head that this Mayoral thing was a position with more authority than responsibility. Good for him. Not so good for us.

The problem escalated when the Mayor decided that it was not necessary to hold press conferences where he would have had to answer tough questions about his job performance and the conduct of his staff members. Instead, he likes to meet with reporters one-on-one every now and then, or else give out statements about things that are somewhat removed from his job duties. Now he’s not even bothering to show up to break tie Council votes, one of the few duties we asked him to take care of when we passed Measure X.

A couple of weeks ago the Mayor was at it again, in the press criticizing his old friend, the Governor, over something the Governor did or did not do about that now-discredited terrorist threat against the bay area’s bridges.

Terrorism is on everybody’s minds these days, and needs to be dealt with, but not to the neglect of other duties. We are in the midst of an epidemic of murders, here in Oakland. One of my daughters went to a double funeral the other day, the services—one behind the other—of the two women shot and killed in East Oakland a couple of weeks ago. It was actually a triple homicide, with another young man killed at the same time. My daughter used to go to the after school YMCA program with one of the young women, back when they were students together at Howard Elementary. She has pictures of them from that time, little girls smiling shyly for the camera, like Khalil Gibran’s young arrows, aiming for a future that one of them, now, will never reach.

There is something terribly wrong in a city where the funerals of the children’s friends outnumber the funerals of the parents’ friends.

The Mayor has said nothing about this string of Oakland murders, as if he believes it is someone else’s responsbility.

Two years ago, when he took his oath of office, Mayor Brown made only a couple of promises. Significant reduction in crimes of violence against Oakland citizens was one of them. "It can never be right to tolerate an atmosphere where crime and the fear of crime undermine the rights of citizens," he told us on that cold January day. "All persons in our community should be able to feel secure in their homes or on the public streets and at any hour of the day." Many of us took him at his word.

The truth is, not a single Oakland citizen has died this year in a terrorist attack. Yet Oakland victims are falling like Louisina canestalks to the harvester’s hook, killed, mostly, by other Oakland residents. And about this the Mayor says nothing.

Does he not care?

Does he not know?

Is he meeting secretly with his City Manager and Police Chief and other city leaders, working on some plan?

Or is he just hoping that we’ll just run out of bullets, or bodies, or breath? Or does he think that we won’t notice that he’s the one sitting in the big chair up at Frank Ogawa Plaza?

To the Mayor’s core of advisors, keeping quiet about the murders in Oakland may seem like a very clever political strategy, designed to position him for higher office. But to me, it borders on criminal neglect of the duties Jerry Brown has already accepted.