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As Dellums Waits, a Crowded Field Of Candidates Eyes Mayoral Race By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday October 04, 2005

Former Congressmember Ron Dellums has extended for a week his deadline for announcing whether he will run for the office of mayor of Oakland in 2006. 

Oakland educator Kitty Kelly Epstein, one of the leaders of a petition campaign to convince Dellums to run, said this week that Dellums will be in Oakland on Friday to hold what he is calling a “discussion” with the press and the public on his mayoral plans. 

Several candidates have announced their intention to run to succeed Mayor Jerry Brown, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits. Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel, Alameda County Treasurer Don White, and Oakland Unified School District Advisory Board members Dan Siegel and Greg Hodge have all said they will run for mayor. Hodge has indicated that he would drop out in favor of Dellums if Dellums decides to run. 

Regardless of who runs—or wins—the challenges facing the next Oakland mayor will be formidable after eight years of Jerry Brown. Below are listed three of the most prominent. 


Strong Mayor 

In the 1998 vote that first elected Brown, Oakland voters also passed Measure X, which granted Brown so-called “strong mayor” powers. Before Brown, Oakland’s mayor was little more than the most prominent member of the City Council, serving as the council president, with no powers of hiring and firing. This is the same form of government presently in place in Berkeley. 

Oakland Measure X—slightly modified by Oakland voters under Measure P in March of 2004—took away the Mayor’s City Council responsibilities except to vote in case of a tie. It also gave the Oakland mayor veto power over council legislation, the power to hire and fire the city manager, and ultimate supervisorial powers over city employees. 

But critics of Brown say that although the mayor fought hard to gain the “strong mayor” powers, he has left them largely unused during his time in office. His most prominent actions were the firing of City Manager Robert Bobb in 2003, and the hiring of the new Oakland chief of police earlier this year. They have also charged that Brown has paid less attention to his Oakland duties now that he is running for the 2006 Democratic Party nomination for California attorney general. 

The first task of the new mayor, therefore, will be to fully assume the “strong mayor” powers that most Oakland residents have not seen applied in their lifetimes. 


Police Issues 

Oakland’s new mayor will have to struggle to build a consensus over the city’s beleaguered police department. 

Violent crime is still an enormous problem in the city, with homicides projected to be in the 80s for the second year in a row (after several years of more than 100 murders), muggings and armed robberies holding naggingly steady, and many open air drug markets operating seemingly with impunity. 

But while many Oakland residents welcome the police and want more of them on the streets enforcing the law, large numbers of Oakland citizens consider the police department to be in serious need of reform. That contradiction may have reached its peak in 2002, when Oakland voters approved Mayor Brown’s plan to hire 100 more police, but then defeated companion proposals to pay for them. Last year, Oakland voters approved a compromise plan to both hire extra police officers but to fund violence prevention programs as well. 

Brown will hand over a plateful of legal problems related to the police when he vacates his office within a year. The city is still operating under a federal court consent decree after a 2003 police misconduct settlement—the so-called “Riders civil case.” 

That consent decree resulted from charges by more than 100 Oakland residents that Oakland police conducted a campaign of kidnapping and beating citizens, planting false evidence, and lying on police reports and on the witness stand. Monitors appointed by the federal court continue to report back to the court on Oakland’s progress in eliminating those problems. 

In one of their reports, the federal monitors criticized Oakland police for conducting strip searches of subjects on city streets, exposing suspects’ genitals and buttocks in the public while searching for possible hidden drugs. Late last month, three Oakland residents filed a class action suit in federal court, saying that Oakland police had conducted such a public strip search on them. 

In addition, the Oakland Police Department is facing an investigation by the Alameda County Grand Jury of allegations of abuses of overtime. 

The new mayor’s challenge will be to rebuild full public confidence in the police department through reforms. To accomplish those reforms, the new mayor must either come to an accommodation with the powerful Oakland Police Officers Association union—or else break it. 


Downtown Development 

For years this has been the Holy Grail of Oakland mayors, the rebuilding of the once-vibrant downtown that went downhill during the era of mall-building in the communities surrounding Oakland. 

When he first ran for mayor in 1998, Jerry Brown promised a downtown retail revival by building scores of new residential neighborhoods in the downtown area, filled with mostly upscale-income citizens. This was the so-called 10K Plan, and earlier this year, Brown announced on his blog that it was “85 percent complete.” 

But while many new residents have moved into the downtown area, the promised retail component has not surfaced. And so instead of retail following automatically behind residents, as Brown implied, the city is once more trying to coax retail into the downtown area. 

That old policy was reiterated by City Council President De La Fuente recently when he said that “Mayor Brown has done a very good job of nearly fulfilling the goal of 10,000 (residents) downtown, so our next challenge should be to bring retail back downtown.” 

Brown tried to meet that challenge through the heavily subsidized Forest City development in the Telegraph Avenue-San Pablo Avenue area near the Fox Oakland and Paramount theaters. One of the challenges facing the new mayor will be to decide if the Forest City development is important enough that the subsidies should continue, or if a new retail downtown development plan should be built from scratch.