Just after I wrote the Oakland News Now blog post “White Oakland Celebrates Loren Taylor Win Over Desley Brooks,” I received this text message from a friend of mine who I will not name so I can maintain our friendship. But this person wrote something I had to publicly present, respond to, and build a post off of.
My friend wrote…
So, Zennie. I read your “White OAKLAND Celebrates” blog and I am choosing to not go public with my comments to you. I have always respected you, Zennie, but sometimes you truly come off as a little condescending and hypocritical. You have written amazing things about Desley (and rightfully so) but you continue to put your arms around your “dear friend” Libby, who orchestrated the smear campaign to get rid of Desley. REALLY? All signs pointed to your friend in arranging for political fundraising efforts to remove Desley, and to support Loren. Furthermore, (and I understand that being close and friends of elected officials becomes a “balancing act”) you’ve welcomed the newcomers with welcome arms. I’m not judging you, my friend, because we’ll always be friends, but be careful how you speak of the absolute truth
I had to respond to that.
First, my friend forgets that I’m the one who said to Libby she should run for Mayor. That’s something my friend, and also Libby, plainly forgot.
I said that on, if memory serves, Thursday May 14th 2009, and while I was visiting her parents for dinner and she stopped by to pick up her kids (as her folks were watching them). Moreover, my Mom went with me, and so was witness to what I said to Libby.
I told her I thought she would make an excellent Mayor of Oakland, and to think about the idea. I told her she knew enough people in Oakland to be effective. I didn’t make a long speech. It was more of an absolute. Kind of like “You must do this.”
Rather than do that, she ran for Oakland District Four City Council, and I and her folks walked the precinct with her. That was fun, and I have the vlog to prove it…
So I did that for someone I’ve known for a while, and I believed would do a great job, and who’s folks have been like second parents to me.
But the message I’ve gotten, and from too many people this Election year in Oakland, is that I’m supposed to completely dump my friendship with her, and trash anyone she supported, just because of some decisions and actions she took that some of those same people read as being “anti-black.” I get that.
But since I’ve seen a different Libby than the one my friend has in his mind, I could not do that. Moreover, since I’ve maintained a staunchly interracial social network for all of my life, why the hell would I just switch and go against that, this year?
I make zero apology for backing Libby to be re-elected. This, as much as I think and have told Libby time and again that she needs to have lunch with Desley and with Cat Brooks.
Libby’s got some kind of thing where it seems that she’s managed to draw outspoken black women as her political enemies rather than friends and backers. Desley Brooks and Cat Brooks, are two examples.
But, it’s not as if Libby’s not outspoken against racism. I’ll never forget this speech she gave three years ago….
As I have said before, and I’ll say again, Libby needs to make friends of the very women she’s been at odds with. During the political part of our long friendship, I’ve tried to make that happen myself. Here’s an example.
In October of 2013, when Libby was District Four Councilmember, I privately told her to stay out of the political war that then-and-now Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby issued in the form of an awful report that had Brooks and District Seven Councilmember Larry Reid as if they were criminals for, off all things, interacting with city staff in the same way that other elected officials have for decades.
It was sad, and silly, and surprisingly racist for someone, and now I’m talking about Courtney Ruby, who I didn’t picture as being that way as all. Libby called me the day of that Oakland City Council vote on Courtney’s stupid report, we talked for well over an hour, and I said to her “Stay out of it. You want to be Mayor, so stay away from Courtney on this.”
Moreover, that night, I told Libby that she should just smile and listen when Desley blasts her, and don’t argue with her in public – Libby did and got through that without a YouTube-video exchange that could have hurt her politically.
I did that because I wanted to see her succeed.
That night, and after the report, Libby and I were walking through the hallway and Desley came out of the side office door. I said “You two sisters need to have lunch. You’re too much alike.” They laughed. Sadly, they never had that lunch.
That’s a loss for Oakland.
And when it wasn’t helping Libby steer clear of racial controversy, it was testing the waters for her initial run for Mayor of Oakland. I did that via a 2010 April Fools entry in my Oakland Focus blog and at my SFGate City Brights Blog space.
For those of you who don’t know, I have a kind of tradition of issuing entries on April Fools Day that are fictional stories rather than true April Fools Day jokes. The intent is to take a fear expressed in Oakland politics and society and actually bring it to life. In this case, the fear was that Libby would run for Mayor of Oakland. So, in part, I wrote this:
The new of Oakland’s new candidate throws a curve into a race that had become staid and predictable. Libby Schaaf takes on Mayor Ron Dellums, Don Perata, Councilmember Jean Quan, and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan for Mayor of Oakland. With her vast network of friends, Oakland roots, and supporters and involvement with the City of Oakland, Libby Schaaf will take votes away from all of the candidates, from the incumbent Mayor Ron Dellums to At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who reportedly went on a East Coast trip to secure backers for her own planned run for Mayor.
The Legendary At-Large Councilmember-emeritus Henry Chang was present and smiling from ear-to-ear, saying “Only in Oakland. Libby could win.”
After her speech, the room, filled with many Oaklanders who’ve been involved in helping to make a better city of Oakland, was buzzing. When asked what the next steps were, Libby said “I have to sit down with my advisors, and my new staff member Lirpa Sloof and we’ll roll out our vision and plans for Oaklanders to see and get behind.
Mayor Libby Schaaf. It has a nice ring. I can’t wait to see what Lirpa Sloof comes up with.
The post scared the hell out of Oakland politicos. I was introduced to Locally famous political consultant Larry Tramutola by mutual friend and now Irvine City Manager John Russo, the next week after the post appeared, and at the Columbo Club on Claremont Ave. The first thing Larry did was put his hand on my shoulder and said “You know. You scared the hell out of all of us with that April Fools joke saying Libby was going to run.”
At the time, Larry’s client was then-California Senator Don Perata, who would eventually lose to Oakland District Four Councilmember Jean Quan that year.
As far as I was concerned, my job was done: I put Oakland on notice that Libby could be a force.
I make zero apology for helping my friend of 30 years or so. But what’s happened as she has been Mayor, had a number of people I know, blacks who have been involved in Oakland, really pissed off.
For example, and for some crazy reason, she and her staff at the time, black women including the chief of staff, seemed to send the message they had issues with hiring brothers to work in the Mayor’s Office. That was a constant behind the scenes talk around town.
Then, there was the Donald Lacy / Love Life issue. Libby should have never, ever been against Donald. The Love Life slogan was his was of mourning the murder of his daughter in Oakland. Libby should have gotten on Donald’s side and never left it.
What Libby has to do in order to succeed is this: make friends and allies of the very people she complains about, and stop rewarding staff members who reflect her insecurities. They don’t help her grow at all.
The Lord gave Libby a gift: a weak field of candidates to run against, and a turnout that favored her re-election. That said, Mayor Schaaf is luckier still that Cat Brooks had not started her campaign six months earlier. I firmly believe that extra time would have given Cat a chance to gain more support in the Oakland Hills. That would have changed the picture of the Oakland Mayoral election.
Libby’s job is to not blow the gift the Lord gave her.
In 2010, I told Jean Quan that the Lord gave her a gift in her wild and crazy rank-choice voting win. Jean thought she was all that, didn’t listen, and lost to Libby in her bid for re-election.
We As A City of Oakland Let Black Oakland Fade Away
I’ve been around Oakland a while – since April 8th of 1974. The Oakland I knew and know is interracial and multi-cultural. But, for much of our time, Oakland seemed as ashamed to be black, even as it was mostly black in numbers. I think that’s why we’ve wound up where we are with this population shift. Big events like The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame have become the stuff of distant memory.
But even then, we were racially mixed: Oakland’s first black Mayor, Lionel Wilson, had a wonderful wife, Dorothy. She was a card. I remember running to them one late night at the Safeway in Rockridge. She was dancing in the aisle and he was just letting her be the free spirit she was. She was white, and it was never an issue as he got elected again and again to run our City. And that was during the 70s, Ok?
When I ran the effort to work on bringing the Super Bowl to Oakland, I had just as many black folks around City Hall laughing at me, as anyone white, and that includes certain columnists around town who should have known better. My point is, Oakland has never really embraced being black, and that includes many of us in Oakland, so we have that to blame as much as anyone might be upset with Libby and gentrification.
So, we all have some work to do. But the main thing we can’t do is let our city be divided. That’s not what gave us our strength, and it’s sure as hell going to ruin us.
During my Super Bowl work, my support was interracial: it consisted of friends and associates from different walks of life. That’s the way I roll, its an Oakland way, and I make no apology for it.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media