Even when you’re crawling around on the bottom by your own admission, it’s sometimes possible to sink to a new low. And so comes the item “Dellums vs. De La Fuente?” by East Bay Express columnist Will Harper in this week’s “Bottom Feeder” column about a possible heavyweight matchup in the 2006 Oakland mayoral race.
Several months ago, the anticipated match was between Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente of the Fruitvale area and Councilmember Nancy Nadel of West Oakland. There are several other “name” candidates in the race-including Oakland School Board members Dan Siegel and Greg Hodge and Alameda County Treasurer Donald White—but it was Mr. De La Fuente and Ms. Nadel who were expected to get the most attention from the media.
There was already an interesting spin in the race before the name of retired 9th District Congressmember Ron Dellums began surfacing as a possible candidate. Media outlets were saying that Mr. De La Fuente was the frontrunner in the race, even though the last time he ran for mayor he came in a distant fourth in an 11-candidate field. That was 1998, the year Jerry Brown first won, and to show how bad Mr. De La Fuente was defeated, he got a little over 5,000 votes in that election, while Mr. Brown got almost 44,000.
One of the things that hurt Mr. De La Fuente in 1998 was high negative ratings among many Oakland voters. Those high negatives never went away. And so, while media outlets were consistently calling Mr. De La Fuente the 2006 mayoral frontrunner, Oakland political insiders were pointing to two unreleased but respected political polls that showed Oaklanders feeling more comfortable with Ms. Nadel than they did with Mr. De La Fuente. In my mind, even while Ms. Nadel was taking some peculiar turns away from her normally reliable progressive positions, she and Mr. De La Fuente were dead even last winter, and the race was up for grabs between them.
That all changed when a group of Oakland black political activists began a very public campaign to woo Mr. Dellums into the race, and Mr. Dellums said that he was considering it, with an announcement to come by the first of next month. Even a possible candidacy by the powerful and still popular Mr. Dellums sucked all of the air out of Ms. Nadel’s room, taking away many progressives and black activists who would have supported her.
It also set up a possible Dellums-De La Fuente 2006 mayoral race to succeed the outgoing Mr. Brown, if Mr. Dellums decides to run. That would pit two powerful, savvy, experienced, well-financed candidates against each other, candidates with contrasting visions and politics that would give the citizens of Oakland clear and distinct choices for the future direction of the city. Living in a democracy, you can’t ask for better than that.
A Dellums-De La Fuente race would also bring a lot of media attention to Oakland, although Oakland citizens would probably prefer that it not be the type of attention that Mr. Harper demonstrates in his most recent “Bottom Feeder” column.
In the Sept. 21 “Dellums vs. De La Fuente?” item in that column, Mr. Harper decides to focus on what he says is one thing that Mr. De La Fuente and Mr. Dellums have in common: serious criminal problems suffered by one of their adult children.
“De La Fuente’s son, Ignacio Jr., currently faces rape charges,” Mr. Harper writes. “Dellums’ son, Michael, has spent the last 25 years in state prison for killing a man in 1979 over a $20 bag of weed. How the two dads have dealt with their troubled sons also shows their contrasting styles. De La Fuente, at least for now, has struck by his son, even attending some court hearings. Dellums, who has publicly lamented the plight of young black men who end up in prison, has seemingly forgotten his own imprisoned son: In his memoir, Dellums acknowledged all his kids except for Michael.”
What, exactly, does that paragraph tell us about the character of either of these two men—Mr. De La Fuente or Mr. Dellums—or how they might govern as mayor of the City of Oakland? Nothing, as far as I can see. It doesn’t even tell us if they were good parents, since even children raised by loving and attentive parents sometimes go wrong and get into trouble, particularly in these difficult days, despite the best efforts. And the accounting of the two instances of how the two men have dealt with the two situations—Mr. De La Fuente showing up at court hearings and Mr. Dellums leaving an acknowledgment of Michael out of his memoir—also tells us absolutely nothing about the two men’s relationship with their sons, or exactly what they might be doing behind the scenes, one way or the other.
It’s just gossip. And sometimes, even for a political gossip column, that’s not enough to pass the test for publication.
The Dellums item has a history with the Express. In 2003, when Michael Dellums was coming up for parole on the murder conviction, Mr. Harper wrote a piece about the issue called “Not-so-favorite son” in the newspaper’s “7 Days” column, the predecessor to “Bottom Feeder.” In that earlier item, at least, Mr. Harper attempted to give some possible context to Mr. Dellums’ relationship with his son, stating that Michael “was born during the divorce proceedings that ended his first marriage” and adding that when asked in a 1988 East Bay Express interview “‘Your son by your first marriage is in jail for armed robbery and murder. Do you feel that you could have done something different, as a parent, to have prevented his troubles?’ Dellums tersely replied, ‘You’re in an area that I don’t want to get into. And I did not raise him. ... I don’t want to deal with that.’”
I don’t have a clue as to Mr. Harper’s motivation in writing these pieces. I will simply note that I find it interesting that in the item when Mr. Dellums was retired and seemingly out of local politics and living in D.C., Mr. Harper included information that might explain Mr. Dellums’ actions—or non-actions—towards his son. But in the recent and later item published during a time in which Mr. Dellums is now considering running for political office in Oakland again, the explanatory information is left out, and you have to have a long memory—or do an internet search—to find it.
In any event, sometimes the allegations against an adult child has the possibility of reflecting on their politician parent and in those instances, it is entirely proper for the media to link parent and adult child together. That’s the case with State Senator Don Perata and his son Nick, both of whom are under investigation by the FBI and a federal grand jury for allegations of working together for illegal political payoffs and kickbacks. The key phrase here is “allegations of working together.”
But at least as far as the information available to the public goes, that is not the case with the problems of the sons of Mr. De La Fuente and Mr. Dellums. As far as we know so far, both Ignacio De La Fuente Jr. (the Councilmember’s son) and Michael Dellums acted on their own, as adults. Unless someone has some other information that changes that, the De La Fuente-Dellums sons “Bottom Feeder” item is something that should have been left on the bottom, where it belongs.