"What do I care what Jerry Brown thinks? What do I care about people dancing on the winds of politics?" - Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums
Three weeks after the fact, Mayor Dellums has finally responded to the derisive comments made in this space by former Oakland Mayor Brown (see "Run Jerry Run" post, below). Brown, a critic of Dellums from almost the moment the longtime Congressman took over at City Hall, told me (and a few other people) at Redwood Regional Park on May 29 that "Oakland could use a mayor; it hasn't had one since I left office." He referred to himself as "the last Mayor of Oakland."
I was surprised those comments didn't cause more of a stir at the time, but I suppose references to notorious Nazis tend to suck all the air out of the room.
The beleaguered Dellums held a rare news conference yesterday to finally reveal his plan to close a $31 million budget deficit. It was also the media's first opportunity to ask for his reaction to criticism from Brown, and others, who consider Dellums an absentee mayor, missing in action while his city drowns in red ink.
The often prickly Dellums, never one to suffer media fools, insisted he is the "master strategist" of Oakland, the fully in command CEO of the city, and hardly MIA, despite his frequent absences from City Hall and his failure to attend City Council meetings or participate in budget negotiations.
When Dellums was drafted to run for mayor, many a pundit wondered how the aloof and imperious retired Congressman would take to the nuts-and-bolts, fill-the-potholes duties of a big city boss. When I asked him that very question for a campaign profile piece during the race, he scolded me, telling me it was the wrong question, and that the most important issue was his vision for making Oakland a "model city." It turned out to be exactly the right question, and the answer is what many Oaklanders feared it was at the time. Not thrilled with their options, they put Dellums in office anyway, and I know many who deeply regret it. The two previous mayors, Elihu Harris and Jerry Brown, struggled to control the violent crime that has been Oakland's sad emblem for years. But at least they left a rich legacy of downtown renewal, new construction and a burgeoning arts and culinary scene. And they were very much hands-on chief executives, visible around the city, showing up at the scenes of major crimes and emergencies, becoming the face of the city they were elected to lead.
In contrast, Dellums has been a phantom. He had a burst of energy in his third year in office, but in this, his final year, that has dissipated. His legacy may well be one of debt and a decimated police force, gutted to keep the city's books in balance. Mayor Dellums insists he is focused only on doing his job, not the winds of political fortune - but that's partly because he knows he is just about done dancing, and there are no new partners waiting.
NB: I've got a stack of blog items piling up on the races for governor and senator, which I will try to get to as soon as the KCBS workload allows...