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
June 21, 2000

Moms Mabley used to tell the joke about the husband who bought his wife a parrot as a surprise present. The wife mistook it for a chicken and cooked it for dinner. When the husband found out, he was furious. "You idiot!!" he shouted. "Do you know how valuable that parrot was? That cost me $300!" "What’s so valuable about a damn bird?" the wife asked him. "What’s so valuable? Why, woman, that bird could talk!" The wife snorted and got up to clean off the supper dishes. "Well, then, it ain’t got nobody but itself to blame," she said. "If it could talk, it should have said something."

For the past couple of weeks, since the School Board turned down his military academy proposal, the Mayor has been all over the country, criticizing the Board for its decision. Last week it was in a speech before the nationally prestigious Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., criticizing what the Chronicle called a "Soviet-style resistance to change." Earlier, Brown was quoted in the Tribune as calling the school board "flat-earth society" members who "jealously guard" a failing school system. He told the Trib that the military charter school "is about excellence. This is about quality. There’s going to be kids (attending the school) from all kinds of background."

To which I can only say, if the military academy was all that, then Brown should have said something when it counted.

Let’s just drop all the pretense on this one. The National Guard College Preparatory Academy proposal failed to pass in large part because Mayor Brown didn’t do his job in building community support for it. If he needs anyone to lay blame on, he needs to look first at himself.

Groups like PUEBLO and the American Friends Service Committee mobilized a key constituency...Oakland public school students...to oppose the military academy. At hearings held before the School Board, these students were joined by several parents who said they didn’t want a military school in Oakland.

In contrast, most of the citizens who showed up to support the academy were retired military people and ministers. I’m not bad-mouthing these folks; many of them made a good case for the school, and they certainly have the right to express their opinions. But the key ingredient...parents who wanted to send their children to an Oakland military academy and students who wanted to go...was conspicuously missing. Both Dan Siegel and Wilda White pointed out this fact in giving reasons for their votes against the academy. If parent and student supporters are out there, Brown’s folks needed to get them to the board meeting. If they aren’t out there, then what’s the point in having a military school? Having a choice doesn’t make a lot of sense if nobody is going to choose it.

Compare this with the Mayor’s arts academy proposal. Opposition to the arts academy was high, and its curriculum components and finances were both on shaky ground. But it won School Board approval in large part because many parents and students (as well as many members of the arts community) spoke out in support.

But the most important person missing from the School Board’s military academy hearings was the Mayor himself. City Manager Robert Bobb did the best he could in making a case for the academy. But Bobb is a technician, not a politician, and the issue needed its chief advocate to come out and tell us directly and personally why the military academy was needed.

Ask a lot of Oaklanders why they voted for Brown two years ago, and many of them will cite the fact that he showed up at community meetings and house meetings and forums and made his case directly to the people. Since he has become Mayor, however, Brown has begun to abandon the personal touch, relying instead on such things as those slick, Three R mailings to communicate with his constituency. That may be fine for politicians running a statewide or national campaign for office. It’s not what Oaklanders expect from the man who is in charge of running our city.

If the Mayor had time to fly up to Seattle for the National Mayor’s Conference and then to D.C. to speak to the Brookings Institute, he certainly had time to walk over to the Robeson Building on Second Street to make his case before the School Board.

After all, it’s right downtown.