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A Year of Mixed Results for Dellums’ Administration

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday December 28, 2007

There is only one phrase to properly describe the first year of the administration of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums: “mixed results.”  

It was a year in which the new mayor logged in several notable political triumphs and successes and began to make good on his promise for longtime structural reform and a change in the political climate in the city. But it was also a year in which the Dellums administration appeared to stumble out of the gate in several areas, particularly in regards to its own staff operations.  

In addition, while Dellums retained his popularity among his followers, who appear willing to allow him time to put his programs into place, the mayor came under withering criticism throughout his first year from many Oakland residents or media observers who believe he is going too slow. 



Easily the most recognized political triumph of the Dellums administration in 2007 was the settling of the Waste Management sanitation workers lockout. 

Two days before the July 4 holiday, Oakland’s waste disposal company locked out some 500 sanitation workers in a contract dispute, replacing them with management crews and teams hired from the outside. For the next month, despite the replacements, trash piled up in many neighborhoods in Oakland, overflowing bins and raising citizen concerns and tempers. 

How the local media handled the Dellums administration’s actions in the dispute was indicative of how Dellums was treated in the press throughout the year. When officials of Waste Management and Teamsters Local 70 entered federal mediation to try to end the contract dispute, Dellums was asked by the mediator to sit in on the talks.  

Each night, footage on local television stations showed Dellums and his Budget Director (now interim Community and Economic Development Director) Dan Lindheim, going into or leaving the mediation talks. Regardless of that, local newspapers wrote repeated fierce criticisms of Dellums’ actions, charging that he had acted too slow in entering the talks, and that the talks appeared to be going nowhere.  

The day before a settlement was announced in late July, the Daily Planet reported “on Thursday morning, while Teamsters and Waste Management negotiators were meeting with Dellums and Lindheim in a federal mediator’s office in Oakland, working out the final details in the contract settlement, the San Francisco Chronicle was publishing an article by reporter Christopher Heredia saying that ‘next to the uncollected garbage, the biggest stink in Oakland right now might be the dispute over how Mayor Ron Dellums has handled his first major crisis, the lockout of trash haulers.’ ” 

The next day, at a City Hall press conference announcing the lockout settlement, both Waste Management and Teamsters officials said that no settlement would have occurred at that time without the mayor’s intervention, and Oakland City Attorney John Russo noted that the Dellums administration began taking timely and appropriate steps to protect the city’s residents and help end the lockout as early as two days after the lockout began, dispelling the criticisms that the administration had entered the dispute “too slowly.” 

The second major triumph of the Dellums administration in 2007 was the arbitration victory in the Oakland Police geographic accountability issue. 

Facing a nagging violent crime wave carried over from the last few years of the administration of former Mayor Jerry Brown, Dellums and his Chief of Police, Wayne Tucker—a carryover Brown appointee—proposed streamlining the stretched police resources by dividing the city into three geographic districts, a first step in the institution of a comprehensive community policing system in which officer patrols would be limited to specific geographic districts.  

As a first step in implementing the geographic district plan, Tucker said it was necessary to move the department from cumbersome and overlapping 10-hour per day shifts to more manageable 12-hour per day shifts. The Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) police union balked at the plan, and it went to arbitration. 

In the past, the politically powerful OPOA had been able to block most city attempts to limit their powers over police operations. In November, however, the impartial arbitrator ruled for the city, paving the way for the implementation of 12-hour/day shifts and the Dellums-Tucker three division plan. 

Dellums’ third major triumph in 2007 was the confirmation of controversial West Oakland health activist Margaret Gordon as an Oakland Port Commissioner, a major test of the mayor’s ability to move his policies through the Oakland City Council. 

Dellums originally nominated Gordon with a Council confirmation vote scheduled for Council’s last meeting before the summer recess, but the mayor postponed the vote after indications that Gordon’s nomination would be defeated. Opposition to Gordon was led by Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, whom Dellums defeated in the 2006 mayoral election. Over the summer, however, Dellums conducted an intense Council lobbying campaign. He and Gordon met with opposed Councilmembers, sometimes several times. By September, the lobbying campaign had been so successful that De La Fuente himself announced he was voting for Gordon after seeing that she had enough votes to win, and Gordon was nominated with only one councilmember dissenting. 

Another success for the Dellums administration in 2007—not yet a triumph—was the growing political alliance between Dellums and Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dellums said repeatedly during the 2006 campaign—and then again throughout his first year in office as mayor—that his vision of establishing Oakland as “the” model city that could pave the way for state and national urban redevelopment was dependent on funneling in federal, state, and private money to the city. The city’s own budget, Dellums said, was too packed with necessary items to be able to develop innovative new programs. 

When Schwarzenegger came to the Fruitvale to announce—at a press conference flanked by Dellums—his support for a privately-financed Oakland initiative to help homeowners in the subprime mortgage crisis, the Daily Planet wrote that “by throwing his name and prestige behind the project, Schwarzenegger appeared to be encouraging Oakland's role as a state center of pilot project innovation, as well as using it, as he said, to ‘encourage foundations all over the state to follow this fantastic example.’” 

Just as important to the Dellums administration’s plans—though not as widely publicized—was the mayor’s growing partnership with the city’s business community. During the 2006 mayoral campaign, critics had said that if the progressive (and sometimes radical) Dellums were elected, he would drive away business and development from Oakland. That has not appeared to happen. Instead, Dellums has forged an alliance with the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, with the chamber co-hosting the mayor’s economic summit in May. 



Ron Dellums suffered no major political losses in 2007. Instead, the mayor’s setbacks during the year can be described more by the Old Testament passage at Hebrews 11:1 of “evidence of things not seen.” 

The major thing not seen in the Dellums administration in 2007 was a smoothly running, stable staff. There was turnover in the two most visible positions—chief of staff and public information officer—as well as unpublished reports of turf battles and squabbling between staff members, leading to a popular impression that management of the mayor’s staff was in something of a disarray. How much of that popular impression was true was difficult to tell from the outside, though it was clear that Dellums’ office staff was not operating at optimum efficiency. 

In January, Dellums hired 61 year old Dan Boggan, an Alameda County Medical Center trustee and former Berkeley City Manager and NCAA executive, as his first chief of staff. Boggan’s selection came as something of a surprise, as many observers had speculated that Dellums would give the job to former San Jose City Councilmember Tony West, who had spent the summer and fall working on the incoming mayor’s transition team. West, however, ended up with no role in the administration. 

But Boggan himself would last only six months on the job, resigning in early July. While Boggan came under criticism from some Oakland groups for remaining on several corporate boards while working as Dellums’ chief of staff, there was no indication that this criticism had anything to do with his leaving the Dellums administration. 

Boggan was replaced by former Clinton White House staffer and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom advisor David Chai. 

A month after the Boggan resignation, a second key Dellums staffer also resigned, Director of Communications Karen Stevenson. Stevenson’s tenure in the administration was marked with mixed results. On the one hand, she organized several Dellums full-media press conferences during her months in office, a marked departure from former mayor Jerry Brown, who chatted often with individual reporters but never held a full press conference in eight years in office.  

On the other hand, whether because of Stevenson’s efforts or in spite of them, Dellums held a rocky relationship with most of the media during her time in office. That relationship hit bottom during a disastrous August press conference, called to highlight the mayor’s new violence prevention plan, in which Dellums called a reporter “cynical” for questioning whether that plan would work. The mayor’s “cynical” comment dominated media coverage of the event, with little attention given to the details of the violence prevention plan itself. 

Shortly after Stevenson’s resignation, Dellums announced the hiring of former Red Cross media executive Paul Rose as her replacement. 

Nothing in the Dellums staff problems appeared to be fatal to the administration. There was no evidence of open staff revolt, and many important Dellums initiatives were moving steadily forward, including the police reorganization plan and the reorganization of the city’s zoning infrastructure, neglected under eight years of Jerry Brown. But an administration operates on the engine of its own staff, and as 2007 neared its end, mayoral staffing problems continued to be the major impediment to the carrying out of the Dellums Program in Oakland.