In 2013, then Oakland District Four City Councilmember Libby Schaaf, was all set to support an effort started by now former Oakland Auditor Courtney Ruby and now former Oakland District Two City Councilmember Pat Kernighan to oust Oakland District Six Councilmember Desley Brooks and District Seven Councilmember Larry Reid for, of all things, doing some of the same actions that Pat herself has done in calling Oakland City Staff in relation to projects for her district.
That year, Brooks was to be up for relection in 2014, To offer the voters of Brooks’ District Six a choice, Schaaf helped one of her office aides, Shereda Nosakhare to become a candidate for the seat. Ms. Nosakhare is black.
In the election, Brooks beat Nosakhare, as well as three other candidates (Beebe Menorial Church’s Michael Johnson, Vincente Cruz, and James Moore), gaining 42 percent of the total votes (when ranked choice voting shares were considered) versus 30 percent for Shereda, who finished second. With the support of Oakland’s black clergy, and her loyal constituents, Brooks beat back what many blacks in Oakland saw as a racist attempt to silence an African American woman for being outspoken and intelligent. It’s not that, but something more complicated.
For reasons having to do with what I call “the desire to mirror emotions”, Libby Schaaf, now Mayor of Oakland, has chosen to wage war against Brooks rather than do what I said she and the Oakland District Six Councilmember should have done in 2013: have lunch and find a way to come together. Additionally, Kernighan never wanted to try, and was the person who at that time was working to influence Schaaf against Brooks. I told Libby (my friend since 1990 and who I told should run for Mayor of Oakland on May 14th 2009 and with my Mother as witness at Libby’s parents home), to avoid Pat and seek her own aliance with Desley Brooks. Even though I said this before both of them on October 15th 2013, she never did and neither has Desley.
Instead, Schaaf was content to keep her distance from Brooks and form aliances with women who were are not like Ms. Brooks in temperment. Councilmember Brooks, if you want to understand her, can be best described as a an African American woman who is the passionate ‘corporate heretic’ of the Oakland City Council. Brooks essentially believes that the City of Oakland does not work to better the lives of, or understand the unique problems faced by, black Oaklanders.
(It’s that view which is behind Brooks’ idea of using some Measure KK funds for job training. Brooks says that many blacks in Oakland lack basic skills to be competitive in today’s job market, and don’t even know a construction skill. That the main critics of her idea tend to be white, upper middle class, and over 40 only fuels her perception that this is as much a race problem as a class problem in Oakland. That her idea is called “illegal”, even though it’s not, only hardens many to disagree with those who blast Desley.)
So, Desley regularly passionately pushes back against ideas she feels advance that problem – it just so happens, at times, other Oakland Councilmembers are at the receiving end of her quips. The elected official (or someone who can’t see beyond the need to match her anger at the moment) who can take the outburst as nothing more than a kind of referendum on how much their thinking runs affowl of her view of social justice is rare.
On top of that, Desley is very smart and does not suffer fools gladly. She expects you to have some basic level of common sense, and when that’s not evident she lets you know it. You can’t take it personally, but many do.
So, we have hurt feelings on the part of Annie Campbell Washington and Mayor Schaaf, and others. And then there’s Elaine Brown and her $4 million court victory, and what comes is the common process of wading in the weeds of what caused that disagreement. That’s something I’m not going to do here, but it is demonstrative of the problem.
See, none of these disagreements hurt Brooks’ main issue worth repeating: Brooks essentially believes that the City of Oakland does not work to better the lives of, or understand the unique problems faced by, black Oaklanders. The reason why Councilmember Brooks has so many fans is they see her as fighting (litterally) for them. And into the ring of battle steps Libby Schaaf.
Mayor Schaaf, once again, has hand-picked a person to support against Brooks: Loren Taylor. The Oakland business man and involved family man was the focus of a press release announcing Libby’s support. But if you read it, she’s trotted out a group comprised of one promenent black religious leader and a set of “formers”. Have a read: “Allen Temple Baptist Church Senior Pastor J. Alfred Smith, Jr., former Alameda County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Arnold Perkins, former Oakland City Council President Pat Kernighan, Shiloh Church Senior Pastor Javier Ramos, 100 Black Men of the Bay Area Chairman Muhammad Nadiri, and many others.”
One Oakland black community leader got wind of Pastor Smith being named, and said “this is going to be a big issue at the next Oakland black baptists meeting (which is this week).” For Libby to take this move, and for Loren to accept it, invites the development of a counterveiling effort from other African Americans in Oakland against his run for the District Six seat. The simple reason is that, while Libby sees herself as someone who has a lot of black female friends, and does, those who aren’t her friends (black, white, Asian, Latino) see her as disconnected from the black community and the problems of Oakland’s poor. So, they took offense to what they see as this political ploy of Libby, once again, backing another black person against Brooks,
“Libby,” said another black Oakland leader “is feeling her oats and thinks she’s got the election in the bag,” in observing not just her support of Mr. Taylor, but her blast against Brooks after Councilmember Washington announced she was stepping down after this year. Annie took time to explain that her reasons for quitting had to do with a City Hall environment that was “toxic” and “corrupt”. Where Washington did not name names, Schaaf did, and once the blast, including calling Brooks the “Donald Trump Of Oakland”, hit social media, many of the comments were divided by race: young blacks blasing Libby; older whites on Nextdoor praising her.
While Libby may believe the voter turnout will favor older whites, and that there’s no really strong challenger to her seat as Mayor, a continued effort against Brooks that would seem to divide the black community could cause an African American voter backlash. And with rank-choice-voting, there’s no telling how that could impact the 2018 Oakland Mayoral Election.
What Libby and Annie and others, including Loren and his supporters, need to stop doing is trying to match Ms. Brooks level of expression of anger, and instead understand what drives that emotion: she wants a better Oakland, not just for blacks, but for Oaklanders who have less. In this, Desley’s very much like Oakland activist and mayoral candidate Cat Brooks, who also has a similar relationship with Mayor Schaaf. In her case, Brooks has tried to have Libby recalled, then stormed her house and camped out in front of it because she believed the Mayor was not truly commutted to solving the Oakland homeless problem.
What Libby must do is the take the hard road: be the leader who mends fenses with Desley Brooks, rather than challenges her. In other words, stop interpreting her passion as anger – and then mirroring what Libby thinks is her anger. It’s not. Rank Choice voting gives her that opportunity without upsetting Loren Taylor. If Libby thinks her personal capital as Mayor of Oakland and dislike for Brooks will propel Loren Taylor into the District Six seat, she’s in for another lesson. Bettter to avoid what would surely be another embarrassing political loss and work to connect with Councilmember Brooks.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media