By now many of you have read the news accounts and heard all about the clash over Monday’s “election” of a council president. [See “Tomorrow’s inauguration will be carried live on KTOP TV-10 and online.”] At worst it was purely entertaining. “Phew,” emcee and newsman Dan Ashley said, “the East Bay Symphony will now play Handel’s ‘Royal Fireworks,’ which seems appropriate.” At best, it was a citizenry letting off some steam and asserting its disgust at business as usual—that is, the backroom dealing which continues to ignore the obvious desire for change.
The morning started off well, sunny and warm, folks coming from everywhere, some of us even by bus. Many happy hugs and handshakes were given and received outside of the Paramount as people gathered.
First up was the installation of newly elected and reelected school board members, who all spoke about the need for a return to local control. Gary Yee used his strongest language ever to denounce the No Child Left Behind Act and the continuing control by the State of every aspect of school governance. (Ron Dellums called it “dropping a bomb on democracy.”) David Kakishiba was reelected as board president and delivered a confusing follow-up to his previous address about the problems caused by the takeover by detailing all the improvements that had come about during the same period.
Of the 2000 attendees, most applauded the hope that local democracy was just around the corner for parents, children, and teachers. To start things off right, Sanjiv Handa signed up for Open Forum during the school board’s meeting and he did not disappoint. He reminded the Board to consider the Brown Act and Oakland’s Sunshine Ordinance when conducting the public’s business. (I had to bring Randy Ward before the Public Ethics Commission once for a flagrant violation of those laws during a pivotal school board meeting.)
Courtney Ruby took the oath of office next, introducing her friends and family to the crowd and promising to open the auditor’s office to the public. She was delighted and delightful.
Next, while reelected council members brought their family members to the stage and introduced them and thanked them for their support—but none more so than Mr. Dellums during his later speech over the support of the “love of his life”, his wife Cynthia—speakers cards were handed out and 19 people signed up for the first Open Forum of the year.
Pat Kernighan made a nice speech about her priorities: public safety and the need for all Oaklanders to share the responsibility to work with our young people. Jean Quan touted the importance of improving our schools, and then Desley Brooks took the stage with 32 of her closest family and friends, many of whom were clergy. She quoted some well-known passages from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” that referred to the truth being
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools.
Anyone who has watched the struggle between De La Fuente and Brooks (which lately seemed to have been muted by their alliance on housing issues) got the hint. She also differed with Pat and Jean on how they and others speak about youth as being “at risk” rather than seeing our youth as creative jewels with much to offer our community; and she asked us to “reinvest” in them.
So everyone waited, wondering what would happen at this Special Meeting of the City Council in which the next president of the council would be chosen. We had all heard rumors about who might be elected—including Henry Chang, Larry Reid, and the campaign to elect Nancy Nadel to the post.
Ignacio De La Fuente took the reins and stated that the usual Open Forum would be postponed until after the president’s election. The crowd issued its first boos, and Larry Reid objected, demanding that the public be heard first. The speakers then lined up and began touting their choices.
A few spoke to Ignacio’s cause, many more proposed Nancy as president, and a few also spoke to Larry Reid’s suitability. The vast majority (including our own Ken Katz) addressed only a heartfelt hope for change. The crowd grew impatient quickly and, as if it had learned by De La Fuente’s example (or by the long morning), shouted down speakers with “Time’s up!” They commented and harangued the speakers who nominated De La Fuente, applauding Nadel’s and Reid’s supporters. They were ready to hear the new mayor talk about change and would accept no less from the Council. They wanted to get on with it and to hear themselves talk freely for the first time in almost 8 years. Apparently there were some who threw out horrible ethnic slurs. I didn’t hear them but wouldn’t be altogether surprised by them.
We tout our diversity but have not learned to enjoy it. The pressures of urban living in one of the most expensive parts of the world often spread envy and insecurity over our desires to “just all get along.” City Hall, for as many years as I’ve been living here, has fanned the flames by nagging at us about the scarcity of resources (while blowing money on consultants and projects, and sports teams) and watched us scramble for the crumbs. So the constant infighting should be no surprise to anyone.
Many of us had thought that De La Fuente would be wise enough to back off by electing an ally who would do his bidding, but we were wrong. His need for power and recognition overcame his pragmatism. After Henry Chang had nominated him (before the Open Forum display), things did not go smoothly. Words flew when Desley tried to nominate Larry Reid and it would be easier to watch the reruns than recount it all. But there was more truth told, in my opinion, than barbs thrown. Desley and Larry spoke of the deals that had been made prior to the meeting. Although it seemed that Larry had tried to get in on the making, he acquitted himself well when, after prompting by Sanjiv (who said “we’ll never know how many deals were brokered”), he proposed that Vice Mayor be revisited in order to give Council Member Brooks her due.
Henry Chang had already been voted in, and Desley turned down the offer of a revote for vice mayor saying, “the deals have been cut” and “I don’t need a title to be effective.”
At Desley’s reception following the event, Kathy Neal announced that De La Fuente, who determines the City Council committee assignments, had already issued his payback for insurrection—they had received no committee assignments. Larry declared his newfound loyalty to his Sister Desley Brooks and afterwards told me that he expects to be voting regularly with Desley and Nancy. At the meeting he had proclaimed, “Larry Reid got a different attitude.” I’ve heard this sort of promise from Larry before, so I’ll be watching closely to see if he fulfills it.
During the shouting match that ensued in the audience over De La Fuente’s reelection to president, Kernighan tried to speak to the crowd to explain that she thought Ignacio would not stand in the way of change, but she forgot the first rule that all teachers know: you can’t calm a crowd from a sitting position—so she was drowned out. It may take some doing for folks to trust that she’ll listen to the new mayor even though she spoke of his inspiring her during her address. This was perhaps only an acknowledgement that Ignacio’s staff did significant work for her hard-fought reelection campaign. But some, like this author, may have believed it was the voters that elected her, not the power brokers. I believe that the next four years will provide a plethora of chances for her to demonstrate her willingness to work for change.
The new mayor, who had actually been sworn in the previous week, stepped up to the podium and quieted the crowd by calling for respect and asking the audience to serve as appropriate models to the young, a mantra for him. After seeing this demonstration of his personal power, one local pol pointed out that it would be hard to “imagine Ignacio trying to intimidate Ron” as he has been known to do to cow staff and other council members.
After a video presenting an impressive piece of public art to be officially unveiled next year, our beloved Congresswoman Barbara Lee (after a standing ovation) introduced “her old boss” as a “former social worker.” She called him “the father of coalition politics” who will be the mayor of the “greatest city on earth.”
J. Alfred Smith, Sr. lead a long and vigorous prayer speaking about the “stressed, oppressed, and repressed” who need our help and then Ron spoke. Many of his words have already been written and recorded so I won’t repeat them here. But members of the press complained to me that we’re still awaiting some specifics. However, the message I got is that he’s still reading the reports the citizens have made through the task forces so he can move forward with us, that he will listen as no other mayor has to the youth, and will do whatever can be done to get us the resources we need.
He avoided the trap of 100-day promises, 4-point plans, and percentages for this and that. The most important aspect of governing is, in my opinion, a paraphrase of the old saw that when the people lead, great leaders learn to follow. The audience, however unruly, even wrong they may have been, asserted that they are no longer willing to just sit in their seats and listen. The Council and the new mayor would do well to hear them, to hear us. We will not be silenced and, therefore, we also must learn to lead.