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
May 23, 2001

My, my, my…what you learn about yourself when you read the news from back east.

The local papers recently announced that the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tanky kind of organization out of Britain and New York, has given Mayor Jerry Brown its 2001 "Urban Innovator" award. What the local papers failed to mention was that the Institute has also invited our mayor to join the Advisory Board for its Center for Civic Innovation.

Why? According to the Institute press release, "Mayor Brown is transforming Oakland by improving the efficiency of government services, bringing order to crime-ridden streets, attracting businesses and residents to the city center, and ensuring that public schools focus relentlessly on results. … [He] has exhibited a pragmatic and principled approach to his city’s problems, many of which were caused or exacerbated by 30 years of standard liberal ‘solutions.’ … Today, thanks in no small part to Mayor Brown’s courage, Oakland residents have a newfound sense of pride in their city and its potential. Oakland is beginning to become a full participant in California’s booming economy rather than a laggard beset by crime and disorder."

You’ve got to wonder where these guys get their information from. Presumably from Mayor Brown himself, who always reminds me of Baron Munchausen, puffing up the size of the dragons and demons and armies he faces in order to expand the scale and scope of his own exploits. Not coincidentally, Brown always seems to leave out the messy details of the problems he leaves in his wake.

"Improving the efficiency of government services"?

City services have become more efficient under Jerry Brown? Wow! That’s a revelation! The first thing that comes to mind is Oakland’s central computer, which is the backbone of all city service. While City Manager Robert Bobb continues to insist that these are only minor glitches, the computer itself continues to have difficulty with basic tasks like…um…figuring out time slips and printing the correct checks for city employees.

"Bringing order to crime-ridden streets"?

True. Major crime is decreasing in Oakland, and I have often heard Mayor Brown claim credit. What he fails to provide is details on exactly what he has done to bring about this crime reduction. Replace Police Chief Joseph Samuels with Richard Word? Yes, but I can’t remember either Word or Brown telling us what the new chief has done differently from the old chief that would lead to a reduction in crime. What I suspect is that major crime is down in Oakland simply because the crack epidemic is ebbing…the same thing that is happening in thousands of cities around the country who don’t have Jerry Brown as mayor.

And, of course, the Manhattan Institute doesn’t mention the price Oakland has paid to for this "bringing of order". Among other things: criminal charges against Oakland police for a reign of terror against Oakland citizens (the "Riders" scandal), a federal lawsuit against the police department based on allegations of widespread brutality, and allegations by the American Civil Liberties Union that Oakland cops discriminate against dark-skinned Oakland citizens when making traffic stops (racial profiling). (For the record, the Manhattan Institute does not think there is such a thing as racial profiling. "There's no credible evidence that racial profiling exists [in America]," it says, and adds, "yet the crusade to abolish it threatens a decade's worth of crime-fighting success.")

"Ensuring that public schools focus relentlessly on results"?

Yes, Mayor Brown has formed the Oakland Military Academy and the Oakland School of the Arts. Neither charter school has held a single hour of class time. Until they do, it is impossible to assess their impact on the Oakland public schools. And beyond that? Well, I can’t figure that the Mayor has ensured much of anything about the public schools except confusion at the Board meetings. But maybe there’s something going on that he’s not telling us about.

Still, I don’t have any problem with the Manhattan Institute giving our mayor its "Urban Innovator" award. From what I remember from English class, "innovation" means making up things as you go along. If that’s true, Jerry Brown certainly qualifies. This seems to be an administration without a plan.