Oakland desperately needs a nuts-and-bolts mayor to fix its ongoing problems.
Oakland’s leadership crisis troubles me.
I was born in Oakland’s Kaiser Permanente Hospital. I can still remember my mother’s many visits to Pill Hill during the 50’s and 60’s as she prepared to give birth to my next brother or sister.
Back then, my family lived with my grandparents in the house where my mother grew up across the Oakland line near Ashby and San Pablo Avenues in Berkeley. We later moved to San Leandro, but Oakland was still a big part of my life.
I recall trips with my mother and grandmother on the AC Transit bus to the long-gone Capwell’s Department store in downtown Oakland.
Later, as a teenager, I was a frequent visitor to the Oakland Main Library near Lake Merritt and DeLauer’s 24-hour book store on Broadway – an Oakland landmark.
I attended Oakland Raider games with my dad at Frank Youell Field before the Oakland Coliseum was built. I can still remember a young coach Al Davis pacing the sidelines during games.
During the summers of my first two years of college I lived and worked at St. Patrick’s Church at 10th and Peralta Streets in West Oakland with the Bay Area’s sole African American Catholic priest – Father Clarence Howard.
Father Howard was a quiet man and he was widely respected throughout West Oakland’s tough neighborhoods. One Sunday morning a black judge by the name of Lionel Wilson attended church services and greeted Father Howard warmly. In 1978, Lionel Wilson became Oakland’s first African American mayor.
Eventually I moved away from my family’s San Leandro home. But I kept my eye on Oakland politics.
Today, Oakland suffers from the bewildered rhetoric and bumbling policies of Mayor Ron Dellums. No American politician more clearly evidences the impotence of ideological rhetoric as a prescription for curbing urban violence than Dellums. His bombastic sermons echo Fidel Castro. At times, the most violent parts of his city resemble an American Baghdad. Dellums is painfully out of touch with the law enforcement best practices that have turned around other big American cities.
But Oakland is fortunate to have one of California’s most able politicians protecting its interests in Sacramento – State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata.
Termed out in 2008, many are hoping Perata will return home and run for mayor of Oakland. No movie star, as blue collar as the Black Hole, Perata started out as an Alameda milkman’s son and worked his way up to become the most powerful Democratic politician in California.
Perata taught in Alameda County schools for more than 15 years before he became an Alameda County Supervisor and later, Oakland’s state senator. His colleagues quickly saw his leadership potential and elected him to lead the state Senate in 2004. Perata might be the most effective grass roots politician active in California today.
I know firsthand the hard decisions that a Senate Pro Tem faces. From the 1980’s through 1994, I served as Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti’s political advisor on numerous campaigns. Roberti’s precedent-setting law banning assault weapons provoked a multi-million dollar recall campaign against him financed by pro-gun zealots.
Perata has embraced the pressure-filled position and thrived. He brokered the $37 billion infrastructure bonds that are rebuilding highways, bridges, airports and ports. Moreover, pioneering legislation on global warming, health care, education, water and energy conservation bear the imprint of Perata’s iron fist.
Oakland desperately needs a nuts-and-bolts mayor to fix its ongoing problems. There is no better political mechanic operating today than Don Perata.