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Opinion: The Oakland We Knew and the Mayor’s Race

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 “The level of indifference (Mayor Schaaf) has shown to (homelessness) has been, until very recently, stunning,” says Pamela Drake in her blog.

By Pamela Drake

It’s hard to know how seriously Oakland folks will take this contest at a time when we are glued to Twitter, trying to understand the circus in Washington—but local politics are also a reflection of broader issues coming home to roost.

Libby Schaaf was a local apparatchik for a number of party politicians before she was elected to a single term on the council. She then ran what a pundit described as a “stealth campaign” for mayor.

While everyone was busy blaming Jean Quan for all our ills and taking pot shots at Rebecca Kaplan, Libby Schaaf was tooling around town making goo goo eyes at reporters about her Oaklandish cred. [That was some ish alright.]

After she released her secret weapon, an endorsement by Governor Jerry Brown, she turned out to be the top vote getter in that Ranked Choice Voting surprise.

Now almost four years later, we are experiencing a human disaster like none we’ve seen in our 152 history. Thousands of Oaklanders are living in squalor on the streets and whole neighborhoods have been destabilized by gentrification.

Of course, Ms. Schaaf cannot be blamed for the sudden rise in homelessness, but the level of indifference she has shown to these conditions, has been, until very recently, stunning.

To add incompetence to neglect, this administration managed to misplace $2.2 million desperately needed anti-displacement funds granted by the state. Eventually, they found (the money) but still had trouble distributing it in a timely manner. Meanwhile tent cities continued to proliferate.

Yes, she has raised private funds for Tuff Sheds, probably an improvement on tents, and that’s nice. But when activists of the Homeless Advocacy Working Group, HAWG, offered a list of solutions, I wouldn’t say they were shown the door but just left to sit in the waiting room.

Meanwhile, the mayor created another highly paid position in her office to deal with the problems hiring Darin Ranelletti, Policy Director for Housing Security. Phew, I feel better already.

She spent her first day as mayor hanging out with police officers, because she felt their morale needed boosting and then was blindsided when it came out that they had been engaging in a sex trafficking operation.

When it was also discovered that the department had been involved in cover-up after shameless cover-up, her administration did issue a loud slap on the wrist.

Her next response to this crisis in confidence was to attempt to limit the independence of the proposed charter amendment that set up a Police Commission.

It turns out that her negotiation style is classic my-way-or-the-highway. When she demanded the power to appoint almost half of the commissioners, no compromise was brooked.

I have to add that neither she, her city administrator nor the city attorney have stopped trying to put obstacles in the path of a truly independent police commission even after the voters overwhelmingly supported it.

There have been a number of disasters and scandals during this administration’s first three years, but little has stuck to Schaaf given the mostly positive press she garners locally and nationally: the Ghostship Fire, the cover-up of the new police chief’s complicity in an ICE raid in West Oakland, at least four police shootings in one summer, not to mention the accelerated exodus of native Oaklanders, especially Black Oaklanders from the Town.

Additionally, this mayor has managed to look like a hero against the Jeff Sessions anti-immigrant onslaught while doing nothing to ensure our city’s sanctuary policy is upheld.

She even told a group of immigrants fighting to maintain their Temporary Protected Status in the US who have started a nationwide bus tour to call attention to their plight that she was too busy to meet with them.

My Ranked Recommendations are: 1) Cat Brooks, 2) Pamela Price, 3) Saied Karamooz. If these campaigns work together in the Ranked Choice Voting system, there’s a chance we can beat the incumbent. (That means ranking everyone but the incumbent in almost any order.)

For the complete article by Pamela Drake, go to: https://draketalkoakland.com/2018/08/20/the-oakland-we-knew-and-the-mayors-race/

Slug…

“My Ranked Recommendations are: 1) Cat Brooks,   2) Pamela Price,   3) Saied Karamooz. If these campaigns work together in the Ranked Choice Voting system, there’s a chance we can beat the incumbent. (That means ranking everyone but the incumbent in almost any order.)”

Commentary

On Ishmael Reed’s Inclusion and Van Jones’ Amazon Prime

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor. 

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Ishmael Reed/Photo by Emil Guillermo

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor.

That Oakland. You know it? It’s the backdrop of a profile in the New Yorker magazine on Ishmael Reed, novelist, playwright, poet, and resident of Oakland. Hills? Oh no, the flats. Reed is a jazz guy; He B-flat. 

Hopefully, the joker in Reed laughs at that pun. It’s because of Reed that I am a writer. But let me not forget Flossie Lewis, my high school English teacher, and current Oakland resident. Lewis set me up. Reed delivered the punch.  

I first met Reed in St. Louis, Mo., where he was the “artist in residence” for Washington University’s first Writer’s Program. Intended to become a better Iowa Writers Workshop, it had all white writers like William Gass and Stanley Elkin. Reed was the token-in-resident. I was the token minority grad student. When one writer told me to stop writing about my Filipino family, Reed was there to tell me to put them back in. 

That’s what Ishmael did for me. 

The New Yorker profile published on July 19 compelled me to pull out Reed’s work again. “Mumbo Jumbo” (1972) re-read during the pandemic jumps off the page and is funnier than ever. People coming down with a virus that makes people dance the boogie?  It was a finalist for the National Book Award and considered for the Pulitzer Prize. 

The New Yorker also details Reed’s life with his wife, the dancer/choreographer/director Carla Blank, and their daughter, the poet Tennessee Reed. And you’ll learn how the writing all started–as a jazz columnist in the Black press for the Buffalo Empire Star.

That’s the enduring value of the ethnic media, the Black press, and newspapers like the Oakland Post. It’s still a place where diverse voices can let it all out.  

Asked about his legacy, Reed was simple and humble. “I made American literature more democratic for writers from different backgrounds,” he said. “I was part of that movement to be heard.”

I heard that. 

Van Jones’ $100 Millon Speech

Ishmael Reed is one of the only MacArthur Genius grant winners I know.

But Van Jones is the first winner of the Courage and Civility Award, which he received on July 20. Yes, that Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center. Way before CNN. I hope he remembers how he was a guest on my old New California Media roundtable talk TV show on the ethnic media more than 20 years ago on KCSM-TV. 

Because the Courage and Civility Award is $100 million unattached–from Jeff Bezos.

I wasn’t crazy about Richard Branson’s flight, so you know I’m not out-of-this-world over Bezos’s 63-mile jaunt, which I call the Neo-Space Age’s white flight. You can go beyond the suburbs.
Bezos has been hammered over not paying his taxes, and how spending billions of dollars into space travel during a time of real humanitarian need on Earth is on its face one word–obscene.

To his credit, he did what all rich people of money do when they stretch the limits of tasteful behavior.

They use their money by giving it away. It’s how the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Sacklers, the Mellons, etc., etc., can live with themselves. Albeit, far away from everyone else. Hence, the Courage and Civility Award. 

Jones was gracious about the hun mill gift. 

“I haven’t always been courageous,” said Jones.  “But I know people who are. They get up every day on the frontlines of grassroots communities. They don’t have much. But they’re good people and they fight hard. And they don’t have enough support.”
All true. And then he delivered the penance for Bezos sins.

“Can you imagine,” said Jones. “Grassroots folks from Appalachia, from the Native American reservation, having enough money to be able to connect with the geniuses that disrupted the space industry, disrupted taxis, hotels, and bookstores. Let’s start disrupting poverty. Let’s start disrupting pollution. 

“Start disrupting the $90 billion prison industry together. You take people on the frontlines and their wisdom and their genius and creativity, and you give them a shot. They’re not gonna turn around neighborhoods, they’re gonna turnaround this nation. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Then Jones had this for Bezos. “I appreciate you lifting the ceiling off of people’s dreams,” Jones said, then turned back to us. “Don’t be mad about it when you see somebody reaching for the heavens, be glad to know there’s a lot more heaven to reach for. And we can do that together.”

Bezos’ $100 million doesn’t buy a lot in the space biz. But handing it to Jones? Let’s see the disruptive good it can do on Earth.

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Bay Area

Council Approves Additional Public Safety Investments

Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland Community Centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response. 

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Stop typography on a sidewalk in Sterling Virginia during the fall photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador via Unsplash

Councilmember Sheng Thao

Councilmembers, community leaders, and city staff,  approved public safety investments for Oakland recommended by Councilmember Sheng Thao

These additions, approved Monday afternoon, included investments that align with the city’s reimagining public safety goals. The City Council unanimously approved Councilmember Thao’s budget amendments, which included investments in:

  • Traffic Calming and Sideshow Prevention
  • Faster 911 Response
  • Restoring Foot Patrol officers in business corridors during the holiday season
  • Business District Ambassadors
  • Adding Public Restrooms near homeless encampments
  • Investments to job training and resources

“My top priority is public safety, which means addressing violent crime, street safety, poverty, and homelessness,” said Thao.

“These budget amendments invest in our community and increase our Police Department’s ability to prevent and respond to violent crimes. These amendments will also protect our business corridors so Oaklanders can feel safe while they shop, and in turn, invest in our Oakland businesses.”

Said Oakland Police Chief LeRonne L. Armstrong, “I would like to thank Oakland City Council Member Sheng Thao and other Council Members for their vote and support with additional funding.

“These funds will provide walking officers in our business districts across the city during this holiday season. The funds allow us to restore much needed public safety services, walking officers, while our community and visitors shop across our city.”

Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland Community Centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response.

“These amendments also help address decades of divestment from our BIPOC communities in East Oakland,” she said. “By bringing investments into street safety, beautification, and city services. It is important that we stay committed to equity for East Oakland.

“Our office made a point to work with Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor to bring these amendments forward, and I thank them for their strong partnership in this work,” said Councilmember Thao.

 

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Commentary

Community Responds to OPD Chief’s Call for Help in Stopping Violence

Oakland Chief of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has reached out to the community asking for support, and rightfully so.  For this is not just an Oakland Police Department fight but our fight.    

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stop gun violence sign photo courtesy Chip Vincent via Unsplash

Seventy-five.

That’s the number of homicides that have occurred so far this year here in Oakland.  There have also been at least 300 acts of violence injuries perpetrated against the citizens of Oakland, many of them gun related.

Oakland Chief of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has reached out to the community asking for support, and rightfully so.  For this is not just an Oakland Police Department fight but our fight.

Those 75 families who lost loved ones to senseless acts of reckless violence are families from our communities. They’re our neighbors, our co-workers, and our friends.

The word of God reminds us to “Love our Neighbor as we love ourselves.” The Bible compels us to want the best and do the best for one another.

What would you want if one of your family members were one of those 75 who had been shot and killed in the streets of Oakland? What would you want?

The answer is simple.

You would want someone to care!  To shout with outrage and do something to end this cycle of violence!

On July 27, a group of community activists met with Armstrong to discuss how they could come together organizing in a city-wide community coalition to bring holistic ideas to create a wrap-around approach to combating violence. Those ideas include a) mental wellness, b) community chaplaincy, c) ask the formerly incarcerated to mentor and encourage youth in crisis, d) job development, e) entrepreneurship opportunities, and – last but not least — address our ever-growing homeless issues.

For more information on how you can be a good neighbor, please call 510-688-7437

All for the Peace — “Shalom” — of our Great City.

Pastor Scott is the president of Pastors of Oakland and leader of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries.

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