Oakland should re-elect Libby Schaaf as Mayor of Oakland. The reason is simple: to stabilize a city management structure that’s in a seemingly constant state of flux. This is no slap at the candidates for oakland mayor 2018, but a nod to a problem.
Oakland had a new Chief Administrative Officer / City Manager every 2.21 years going back to 1998. Oakland’s system of strong mayor combined with rank-choice voting has created constant political instability.
By contrast, when Oakland had a council-manager form of government up to 1999, and where the Mayor had one vote and no power to hire and fire the head of administration, we had three City Managers, Henry Gardner and then his deputy Craig Kocian, then Robert Bobb, helm Oakland from 1981 to 2002. Between that record and the once-common rate of two-term and three-term Oakland Mayors, Oakland Government was stable. Not so, today.
If Libby were to lose, she would be the third straight Oakland Mayor to serve just one term, with the late Ron Dellums and Jean Quan being the others. That translates into a new direction and set of policies every 4 years and make it harder to get much needed civic programs funded and under-construction.
This, in a climate where the World economy and the tech-class has fueled the growth of the ranks of citizens who have more than enough money to live, jobs that don’t need people to do them, and communications systems so personal, it makes it harder to send one message that everyone can hear and respond to.
That kind of instability is dangerous to the very social health of a city. We need Mayor Schaaf to remain as a breakwater to that giant wave of change.
On the matter of civic identity, Mayor Schaaf should be applauded for paying attention to something called the “Oakland Brand”. When she started her campaign, it was all about being “Made In Oakland,” and it really served to galvanize the City before the giant gentrification wave hit. In her second term, the Mayor should do everything she can do rebuild the Made in Oakland marketing approach.
On the matter of Mayor Schaaf as a leader, a lot of the way she’s been treated by some detractors has been sexist. Early on, she was described in ways that seemed to imply there was something wrong with her being a cheerleader – that her voice should not be taken seriously.
In fact, the Oakland Raiders have been said to have blasted her behind the scenes for that very image – and Libby saying to the media she didn’t want public money used on a new stadium didn’t help matters from the NFL team’s point of view.
I can personally say that Mayor Schaaf has complained to me about Raiders Owners Mark Davis not returning her phone calls regarding a new stadium, and on several occasions in 2015.
But what if the mayor was a man – a male Mayor of Oakland? Would the Raiders have been so quick complain about that person? Would Davis have returned that person’s phone calls?
Fortunately, and for the record, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell never treated Libby that way, and the two have a good relationship. The NFL’s style is to respect and stand on ceremony, regardless of race or gender. That has been my personal experience with the league.
It’s no wonder Libby enjoys working with the Oakland Athletics and the organization’s President, Dave Kaval – they respect her as the Mayor of Oakland and have worked with her, impressively. And Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts told me that had Libby been Mayor of Oakland “earlier”, the Warriors would have stayed in Oakland.
Some others assumed Libby was racist just because of her combination of speech, looks, dress, and confident expression – and being white. In all of this, it’s easy to forget that she’s Oakland’s first white female mayor. Thus, Oakland as a whole was confronted with a challenge to the stereotypical idea of what a leader looks like: a man, regardless of color.
How San Francisco Bay Area society responds to female leaders is not talked about because we as a collective don’t want to admit we have a ‘vision problem’. Take a look at the way Salesforce Transit Center Developer Maria Ayerdi Kaplan was treated as the Transit Center was nearing completion. Her story here at Oakland News Now points toward an overall problem of a male-dominated construction industry not taking a woman leader seriously.
But I digress.
Others seemed to assume that Libby was racist just because of her combination of speech, looks, dress, and confident expression – and being white. In all of this, it’s easy to forget that she’s Oakland’s first white female mayor.
It didn’t seem to matter what Libby did – give a “State of The City” speech in support of Black Lives Matter, or support job fairs for African Americans in Oakland – she seemed plagued by that unfair perception. Libby has spent far too much time fretting over that wrong-headed point of view, and in the process of trying to rid herself of it, actually took actions that fed into it.
One of those actions was not supporting Donald Lacy’s “Love Life” campaign, and setting up a political battle Lacy won. Indeed, considering that the real prize wasn’t race, but the legacy of his murdered child, Libby should have never allowed herself to be seen as going against the famed actor and comedian.
Yes, Libby has made some mistakes, from the Police Sex Scandal to the Ghost Ship fire, to the initial “Tuff Shed” plan for the homeless, to publicly attacking Oakland District 6 Councilmember Delsey Brooks rather than working to gain her as an ally.
Indeed, one could argue that Libby could have channeled the rise of Cat Brooks by giving her a seat in the Mayor’s Office. Such an act of political genius would have smoothed her path to re-election. Instead, Mayor Schaaf’s in a tough political battle for the future of Oakland against the same Ms. Brooks.
Indeed, Libby’s political battles against two black women, both with the last name of Brooks, could have been avoided if the Mayor worked to establish good relationships with them.
Schaaf Has Grown Into The Oakland Mayor Job, And Deserves A Second Term
Yet, with her missteps, it must be said that Mayor Schaff has grown into the job of leading Oakland. She has maintained a focus on reducing the homeless problem, improving transportation, reducing crime, and shaping growth.
With all of the coverage on the sensational, it’s perhaps too easy to miss the fact that under Libby, streets that needed improvements in lighting and in pavement, got them. Grand Avenue where I live, for example, has several new traffic control lights, including one that has been in demand for years for Grand Avenue and Bellevue.
That traffic control light is the product of the work of the Oakland Department of Transportation, or OakDOT. This is one program that was an objective of Mayor Schaaf’s early on as she ran for office in 2014. Today, when one looks at its many accomplishments, it’s hard to say it wasn’t a good idea and it’s not working. OakDOT is improving Oakland.
And, as I think about it, Libby has really managed to get Oakland working, again. That’s something she should be proud of. We can improve, but we’re working on getting better and that’s a good thing.
What I want Libby to do, and this is personal, is relax, pray regularly to the Lord, learn to see politically-related actions as small, and let them roll off her back.
Cat Brooks Would Be A Transformative Mayor Of Oakland, But The First Years Would Be Rough
Cat Brooks would be a transformative figure if she won, and be Oakland’s first black female mayor. Indeed, her personal and professional rise has been the story of not just the campaign, but of Oakland this year.
But as much as Cat Brooks is more than capable of being Mayor of Oakland, the job of Oakland Mayor is hard to say the least – and that’s putting it mildly.
The main problem for Ms. Brooks, front and center, would be the giant set of expectations her followers would place on her. She would go from speaking truth to power to being “the power.”
Moreover, Oakland would have to sustain a new process of watching new staff-members get used to an old Oakland City Hall. It would take Brooks two years to get her political sea legs, and out of that would come a politician, not an activist. On the other hand, if Brooks can navigate that path, and not lose herself and her friends, she should be bronzed before her first term is up.
The hot light of reality is much different that the cold room of theory.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media