How funny, I was just talking about this last night. I’m not particularly interested in speculating on who’s going to be Mayor two years from now – I’d rather focus on what’s happening in the City right now. But I’m sure that Chip Johnson’s column today about Don Perata, barring indictment, running for Mayor of Oakland in 2010 will get some of my readers fired up, so rather than having the issue clutter up the comments section of an unrelated post, I’ll give you guys a space to duke it out.
Here’s my take on it. For me, whether or not Don Perata would be a good Mayor is irrelevant. I am not in favor of his run because he’s simply too polarizing a figure. Whether he is or isn’t corrupt, people who don’t like his positions would bring up the FBI investigation left and right, and every time he does anything, good or bad, you’d have to listen to people whining about how evil he is and how this is some elaborate conspiracy to benefit some campaign donor or other. I just don’t want to deal with it.
And maybe that isn’t fair to Perata. It definitely isn’t fair to Ignacio De La Fuente, who I think would make a great Mayor, but I also don’t want to see run in 2010 for the same reasons. I feel bad for Ignacio – random people are constantly trying to tell me how evil he is, but, when pressed, of course can’t name a single thing he’s done they have a problem with. Sometimes they’ll bring up an issue where De La Fuente was actually on their side – they just assume he was against their cause because they have this bizarre idea that he’s pro-business, and therefore, apparently, against anything and everything good. (I realize that there are people with specific complaints about Ignacio, but you’ll never find a politician who hasn’t upset some group at some point. What I’m talking about is more general perception among the less engaged public.)
So, that’s sad for them. And maybe that means we’ll miss an opportunity for real progress that could happen under their leadership. But the political environment in Oakland is just so poisonous, and I don’t think that’s healthy for the City. It certainly doesn’t encourage people to become engaged. The blame for this totally toxic environment lays largely on the shoulders of, for lack of a better word, the local left, and the politicians that tend to align themselves with them. I can think of no clearer example of this than the early fall City Council meeting where the Council rejected Planning Commission nominee Ada Chan. On the one side of the room, you had those opposed to placing Chan on the Commission, who sat quietly through a very long meeting and, when the time arrived, came to the podium and explained their objections in a calm, rational, and specific manner. On the other side, you had a large group of activists wearing Ada Chan stickers, literally (and loudly) booing and hissing these speakers. They held a freaking rally for her on the steps of City Hall before the meeting. And yet, when the time came for the Council to weigh in, Jean Quan and Jane Brunner unfuckingbelievably accused those opposed to the nomination of “politicizing” the appointment, and even dared to lecture them for having an opinion. It was one of those things that you’re watching and still can’t even believe it’s happening. How can people be so completely divorced from the reality in front of their faces? I just don’t get it.
The polarization is such that it’s almost impossible to have a rational, reasoned debate on many of the serious issues facing Oakland. I think it’s sad that we have to let the opinions of people who consistently behave like spoiled children at public meetings dictate our leadership choices, and while I don’t think we should let that extend so far as supporting whichever candidate they endorse (we all know how well that turned out last time), I do think that, for the purposes of creating a more civil public discourse, we should have a Mayor that they don’t hate with some totally bizarre and disproportionate passion.
For my part, none of the names mentioned in Chip Johnson’s column excite me. Jane Brunner and Jean Quan are both completely unacceptable, being themselves active contributors to the unproductive and divisive atmosphere I’ve been complaining about. If Robert Bobb, as Johnson suggests, helped write the Mayor’s late and incomplete budget, with its heavy emphasis on cuts to direct services – well, that’s hardly an encouraging example of his leadership abilities. I don’t know enough about Tony West to have an opinion either way.
What I’d really like to see in Oakland’s next Mayor is someone who will work towards more transparent and inclusive governance. This was a major complaint many people had about Jerry Brown, and now, on the heels of that, we’re stuck with an administration that I don’t think could possibly be less transparent or more insular. It’s time for that to end.