Public Comment

Commentary: Ron Dellums: The Practical Visionary

By Paul Rockwell
Friday June 02, 2006

Ron Dellums is running for mayor of Oakland at a time when the people of Oakland are desperate for a change in leadership. The Board of Education has lost control of its own schools,the education of our own children. Under its current president, Ignacio De La Fuente, the City Council cannot even protect the safety of its own citizens. The security of life and limb is the first test of government, and De La Fuente has failed the test. He talks tough, he postures. But Oakland now has one of the highest murder rates of any city in the U.S., triple the national average. Our city is the crime capital of California, and entire sections of Oakland live in fear. Forty-six residents have been murdered in three months.  

Paralyzed by a crime wave, De La Fuente’s City Council lacks the courage and political will to declare a state of emergency.  

Nevertheless, the election of Ron Dellums, whose programs offer hope for change, is by no means certain. De La Fuente has already built a political machine, and Nancy Nadel may well become a kind of Ralph Nader in Oakland’s mayoral showdown June 6th.  

With the help of the San Francisco Chronicle and the East Bay Express, De La Fuente is promoting an insidious caricature of Ron Dellums, a misleading image that is taking its toll on public consciousness.  

De La Fuente portrays Dellums as a kind of outsider who lacks practical skills to run the city. He claims that Dellums is a mere dreamer with his head in the clouds. Dellums has nothing to offer, says De La Fuente, but “pie in the sky.” The Chronicle (April 28) argues that Dellums is not grounded In Oakland affairs. He’s too grandiose, too big for Oakland. Dellums is “eminently qualified to become Secretary of State” but not mayor of Oakland, Chronicle editors contend! Remember the male chauvinist tactic for isolating women from power? Put them on a pedestal.  

If De La Fuente’s caricature of Dellums strikes a cord, De La Fuente could actually win on June 6th. 

It is time to set the record straight 

Ron Dellums is hardly an outsider swooping down from Mars. He’s a homeboy. He attended Oakland Tech and McClymonds High Schools when he was a youth. He worked in Parks and Recreation, and he knows first hand about poverty and despair in Oakland. When he worked at Hunters Point Bay View Community Center, he gained invaluable experience mentoring at-risk kids in the ’hood, an experience that enables him to understand the roots of crime.  

In 1967, Dellums became an effective leader on the Berkeley City Council, familiar with zoning regulations, city finances, community planning agencies. Dellums knows about pot holes and day-to-day issues that arise in local government. Even in his early years, Dellums realized that corporate power can be made to respond to well-organized efforts on behalf of the seemingly powerless. 

Because of his down-to-earth achievements in local politics, Bay Area voters sent Dellums to Congress and kept him in Washington for nearly 30 years. 

Contrary to De La Fuente’s propaganda, Dellums’ practical achievements on behalf of Oakland are impressive and manifold. 

His ability to raise revenue, to form coalitions, to unite adversaries, led to the construction of Oakland’s Chabot Science Center, which houses a nationally known telescope. The Astronomy Center is a vast resource, an entire world of wonder and information, for Oakland students. 

It was Dellums’ savvy that brought the Federal Building to downtown Oakland. 

Larry Hendel, staff director of Local 790 of the Service Employees International Union, notes that the airport and the port are the great success stories of Oakland. “Their success depended on the audacity of Ron Dellums. Years ago the port was too shallow for super tankers. There was a point where our seaport survival was at stake. Dellums got the federal funds to get the port dredged. Now super tankers that once docked in L.A. come to Oakland. Dellums saved us. Dellums was the key.” 

The Chabot Science Center, the Federal Building, the bustling port are not “pie-in-the-sky” ideas. They are practical achievements based on coalition-building, fund-raising, and skills in negotiation. Dellums is a brilliant, practical negotiator who earns the admiration of friends and adversaries alike. It is almost a miracle that the former Chair of the Armed Services committee, surrounded by Hawks, got out of Washington with his principles and faith in tact.  

It is a rare moment when a beleaguered city gets an opportunity to elect a statesman. Ron Dellums is one of the most respected Congress persons in the world. Remembered for his role in helping to end apartheid in South Africa, for stopping production of the heinous MX missile, he is returning home to Oakland, a city he served for thirty years. That is why some parishioners are singing an African-American spiritual: “Let Not This Harpist Pass.” 


Paul Rockwell is an Oakland activist.