If Mayor Ron Dellums is losing popularity in Oakland, as has been suggested by recent polling data, it wasn’t apparent in this week’s National Night Out events in the city.
City staff members have estimated that there were 380 Night Out events in Oakland this year, up from last year’s 315. In the events, neighborhoods around the country sponsor evening block parties in an effort to take back their streets from violence and criminal elements.
With a rolling entourage that included Police Chief Wayne Tucker, Re-Entry Employment Specialist Isaac Taggart, and several city staff members—but pointedly not his usual personal bodyguards—Dellums visited four evening events in Oakland’s flatlands communities, where he chatted with citizens one-on-one, responding to questions and concerns about the city’s nagging crime and violence problem.
Significantly, as if the mayor were a national celebrity rather than a political figure, many residents lined up to have pictures taken with Dellums with everything from SLR Nikons to cellphone cameras.
In the parking lot of JJ’s Fish & Chicken off of International Boulevard in East Oakland, one giggling young woman shouted out “thanks for being our mayor” to Dellums after a brief conversation. A line of older residents, many of them from the nearby Allen Temple Arms senior citizen facility and many in wheelchairs, beamed at the mayor and gave him words of encouragement as he talked with them briefly and shook hands with them, one by one.
At 30th and West streets on the West Oakland-North Oakland borderline, where a group of children were playing a lively game of ping-pong in the middle of the street, he told residents that he was familiar with their neighborhood, pointing out that his uncle, the late labor leader C.L. Dellums, used to live down the block.
After residents told the mayor and the chief that three recent shootings had taken place near the spot where the night out event was being held, Tucker told one resident that he remembered the neighborhood from his boyhood, “but it’s changed a lot since then.”
And at San Antonio Park along 19th Avenue, after a pleased event organizer greeted the Dellums entourage with the shout, “Oh my God, I didn’t know we were going to have so many celebrities,” the mayor spoke briefly in Spanish to a predominantly Latino crowd, telling them later in English that “I studied Spanish a long time ago, and I remember only a little.”
Translated by mayoral executive assistant Marisol Lopez, one woman earlier explained to the mayor how she had to intervene in the park several days before after gang members had accosted two youngsters, believing them to be members of a rival gang. The woman said that the incident was defused, but she worried about the ongoing violence in the San Antonio Park neighborhood stemming from gang rivalries.
The mayor gave no speeches during his two-hour tour, generally speaking individually and quietly with residents while Tucker and mayoral staff members circulated through the crowd, passing out cards, giving out information, or taking down the names of residents who requested personal assistance.
If nothing else, the mayor’s reception showed that despite months of pounding in the press and from political opponents, his popularity remains undimmed among many residents and in many Oakland neighborhoods.
But all was not positive.
A young white woman, Beck Stroud, who said she moved with her partner to the 31st and West Street neighborhood six years ago “because we couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco,” asked Dellums, “Why haven’t you delivered on your promise to have walking cops in our neighborhood?”
Stroud said that young neighborhood residents are being badgered by drug dealers, who crowd the entrances of locations like the local Boys And Girls Club and neighborhood grocery stores, soliciting youngsters as they enter.
A neighbor pointed out that uniformed officers now do foot patrol a block away from Stroud’s residence, and Dellums told Stroud that his drive to fully staff the Oakland Police Department uniformed patrol by the end of this year would free up more officers to walk more foot patrols. But she later told a reporter that she considered his answer “political mumbo jumbo. I just want politicians to do what they promised, that’s all.”
Dellums had planned to visit two hills night out events along with the flatlands events, but a North Oakland hills stop was canceled before the tour started, and a visit to the Glenview community was abruptly canceled as well—without explanation—while the entourage was en route.