UnderCurrents: Missing Councilpersons and Hissing Republicans

Friday February 27, 2004

I have often said that in the 16 years since I’ve been back in my home town—almost all of them living in Oakland’s District 7—I have never actually seen my councilmember inside the boundaries of my district. That takes in three separate councilmembers: L eo Bazile, Dezzie Woods-Jones, and now Larry Reid. For the record, I am not claiming that none of my councilmembers have never set foot in the district. Just not in the places where I frequent, during the times that I frequent them. And I am also not clai ming that they are purposely avoiding me. It just so happens that I ain’t happened up on them, is all. 

You can say the same thing, I suppose, for my mayor and my at-Large city councilmember. Except that I can now see Mayor Brown on television every night, if I want, urging me to buy my car at Oakland’s Auto Row. And for the last several days, At-Large City Councilmember Henry Chang has been showing up on enormous billboards along International and MacArthur, peaceful, benevolent, smiling down upon me as I drive by, reassuring me that he is out there, somewhere, helping Oakland to move forward. Since this cannot be a message of common accomplishment—Oakland east of the Fruitvale seems, after all, to be moving in a distinctly backward direction these days—one can only assume that the Chang billboards are a parent admonition for me and my neighbors to just hustle and catch up, now, or we are going to have to be left behind. 

That my at-large city councilmember is normally so invisible—his own way of describ ing himself, by the way—is apparently by design. We learn from this morning’s Oakland Tribune, and I quote extensively, that: “Councilmember Danny Wan, who is helping to orchestrate Chang’s campaign, said his colleague is not comfortable trumpeting his ac complishments and worries about stepping on the toes of the other council members, who are elected by district.” 

“He’s quiet,” Mr. Wan is quoted in the Tribune as saying, “but speaks up when it matters.” The operative “when it matters,” one might suppos e, is when Mr. Chang must come back before the voters for re-election. And having known and studied politicians much of my adult life, it is my distinct impression that the only time this category of citizen does not trumpet its own accomplishments is whe n it simply has no notes to play. 

Meanwhile, in a matter totally unrelated to Mr. Chang, one notes with some concern the reports in the Los Angeles Times coming out of the recent California state convention of our good friends, the Republicans, in Burlingame. Each political party is allowed to pick its own issues to highlight and, not being a registered Republican myself, I leave it to my Republican brothers and sisters to decide upon their own. Still, it is the way in which they choose to present those issues that is somewhat disturbing. 

In speaking about the reluctance of Attorney General Lockyer to be dictated to on the issue of gay marriages by Gov. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Howard Kaloogian remarked “I don’t know where the attorney general stands on this. Perhaps he stands in line.” The line to which Mr. Kaloogian refers, presumably, is the recent gathering of gay and lesbian couples lining up to marry in the city and county of San Francisco. It’s one’s right to take a position on one side or the other o n gay and lesbian marriages, of course, but this takes us back to the old, locker room days when calling someone a “fag” was a proper and acceptable put-down. The Los Angeles Times certainly saw it that way, characterizing Mr. Kaloogian’s remarks as “ques tion[ing] the sexual orientation” of Mr. Lockyer. That Mr. Kaloogian is no fringe demonstrator standing on the convention steps, but rather one of the three candidates in the Republican primary for the United States Senate, makes it all the more disturbi ng. 

Mr. Kaloogian, the former state assemblymember from Encinitas and the former chairperson of the Recall Gray Davis Committee (I suppose he prefers “assemblyman” and “chairman”, but since it’s my column, I’ll call him what I want), also figured promine ntly in the other incidents of baiting at the Republican convention, aimed at illegal immigrant workers. 

At a Kaloogian rally just outside the convention hotel, the L.A. Times reports two boys wearing “Kaloogian For Senate” T-shirts carrying posters read ing “No Terrorist Driver’s License” (referring, one might remember, to the law—passed by the California legislature and later rescinded under pressure of the election of Gov. Schwarzenegger—to grant drivers licenses to illegal immigrants). The posters, th e Times also reported, had photographs of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. 

These are people who feel, I suppose, that the sweet little Ecuadorean ladies cleaning toilets for a living over in those Marin County mansions hide explosive devices up their dra wers. 

Also at the Kaloogian rally, the chairperson of the Glenn County Republican Party complained that “the main street in our little town (some 100 miles north of Sacramento) looks like Tijuana.” As in, a lot of Mexicans, one wonders? 

Republican Unite d States Congressmember Tom Tancredo, who came out for the activities from his home in Colorado, blasted Republican President Bush’s proposal to legalize some of our presently-illegal immigrant workers, stating that “People are still coming across our bor ders with the intent to do terrible things to us,” though one might think that the terrible occurrence might be if that Ecuadorean woman stops cleaning those Marin County toilets, forcing their lovely employers to get down on their knees and do it themselves. 

And another Republican delegate, this one from Millbrae, simply cut to the chase, hanging a sign around his neck reading “No Way Jose.” 

How far a step is that, one wonders, from “Nigger Go Home?” One wonders. One worries. A beast seems about to be unleashed.