What's At Stake In The 2014 Oakland Mayoral Race

KQED News

By Cy Musiker

On Nov. 4, Oakland voters will be ranking their top three choices from among 15 candidates running for mayor. As part of our Election Watch 2014 coverage, we’re previewing issues on the minds of voters — among them crime, gentrification and the economy. KQED’s Cyrus Musiker talked to some Oaklanders about what they want from their next mayor. Here are their profiles and comments.

David Lorie lives in a house with a classic white picket fence in in lower Rockridge, a prosperous neighborhood within earshot of Highway 24 and a BART station. He’s also among the residents who raised funds for a private security patrol, one of many that have sprung up in Oakland, because the police department is stretched too thin.

“By their own admission they don’t have the resources to fully patrol the area,” he said.

And he told me why the security patrol was needed during a walk around his seemingly peaceful block.

“Right there is my neighbor who was mugged at gunpoint by three different people on the corner right by my house. Right here that three-plex is a renter who was mugged at gunpoint coming back from Trader Joe’s.

“An extremely important element of any vision for the mayor of Oakland has to be security and public safety,” Lorie said. “I would just like to hear that people [the candidates] are thinking about it and looking for creative solutions.”

You can hear those concerns echoed in the blue-collar Fruitvale district in the words of Jose Dorado.

He was born and raised in Oakland’s Jingletown neighborhood. And now he owns Dorado’s Tax and Bookkeeping Service, just off Fruitvale Boulevard, and chairs the Maxwell Park Neighborhood Council, a crime prevention group that also acts as a community liaison to the police force.

Dorado keeps a T-shirt hanging in his office bearing the words “Respect Our City,” which he dons when he helps patrol First Friday events.

I asked him for the top issue he wants the next mayor to deal with.

“First and foremost, as has been the case for many years, is public safety,” Dorado said. “There are some merchants that tell me just flatly, ‘Look, I look across the street to see when everybody is closing up, because that’s when I close up, because I’m not going to be here alone.’

“I know there would be more business attracted, if in fact we have less crime. And certainly here in the Fruitvale, there would be far more opportunities for businesses to thrive.”

Oakland’s violent crime rate has fallen, but a recent poll and these interviews suggest that public safety remains the top issue for voters as they choose the next mayor.

Bruce Nye thinks the next mayor should strive to achieve full staffing for the police force of 925 officers, as determined by former Police Chief Anthony Batts. Nye is a board member and co-founder of the group Make Oakland Better Now.

“There is one robbery and one burglary investigator assigned to each of the five policing districts in the city of Oakland,” Nye said. “So, what can you do with that? Obviously, not very much.”

Nye was just as keen for the next mayor to close a terrible chapter in the city’s policing history. The Oakland Police Department has been under federal court supervision for 12 years because of the Riders scandal, at a cost of millions of dollars, as city officials have failed again and again to make good on reforms.

“We’ve been hearing for years that success is just around the corner, that we’re going to be out of this within a year,” Nye said. “That doesn’t happen. So we really need to have a strategy for the administration for how we end this.”

Nye’s group is also worried about a budget deficit and unfunded pension liabilities predicted in a report by Oakland’s former city administrator, Deanna Santana. Nye said he wants to hear how the next mayor will bridge a budget gap totaling more than $1.5 billion.

“And this is a city with a total budget of about a billion dollars a year,” Nye said. “So that is an enormous, enormous number.”

But no mayor gets to focus on just one issue.

“Everybody says crime, crime, crime. But what really needs to happen is we need innovators and not dinosaurs in City Hall.”

These are the words of Konda Mason, the CEO and co-founder of Impact Hub Oakland, a shared workspace and business incubator in a former auto showroom in Oakland’s booming Uptown neighborhood.

“Crime is just about the lack of hope, because resources are not there, because the economic disparity in this town is just huge,” Mason said. “And if we want to get to crime, what we need to get to is jobs. Closing that access gap. Given a good job, I can’t believe I’d pick up a gun and take your iPhone.

“We need to change the internal culture of City Hall to deal with the 21st century economy. There’s no innovation officer in Oakland. The infrastructure needs rehabilitating.”

Mason is one of the voices of Oakland’s new economy. Mark Everton is a voice for an older set of businesses — the city’s booming restaurant, hotel and tourism trade. Everton wears many hats. He’s general manager of the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square, chairs the board of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and co-founded the Oakland Restaurant Association. He offers a very short agenda for the next mayor.

“Don’t muck with it. What we’ve got going is working. If that could be my mantra to whoever is coming into office. It’s working,” Everton said.

“What we’re really looking for is for the incumbent mayor or for the incoming new mayor to keep that heat alive, to take the steps necessary to allow businesses to flourish and operate, get a handle on our public safety issues, and make sure that public safety is not a detriment to keeping that renaissance we’ve seen in the restaurant and the tourism scene from flourishing,” he said.

That renaissance and an influx of San Franciscans seeking lower rents has had a downside, though: gentrification.

That’s one reason I talked to Jessamyn Sabbag, deputy director for Oakland Rising, a group working in the flatlands of East and West Oakland, areas that have missed out on Oakland’s economic boom.

When people say Oakland is the new Brooklyn, she says, it often means low-income renters are losing their homes to better-paid workers. So Sabbag wants the next mayor to support a tenants rights measure stalled in the City Council, and the higher minimum wage on the fall ballot.

“For us here at Oakland Rising, the next mayor should be all about providing programs and services and a vision for Oakland, particularly to keep low-income working-class immigrant communities of color who’ve been here for a long time in their homes. And in healthy and safe communities.

“And safe and healthy communities are far more than just cops on the streets, but there is sufficient funding for really good programs and services, ranging from libraries and parks and after-school programs to good economic development that provides living wage jobs so families can support themselves and really thrive. To good health care, to strong education and after-school programs.

“More resilient neighborhoods won’t produce as much crime,” Sabbag said.

This brings us back to public safety, in a neighborhood that’s seen little of downtown’s economic gains.

Every Friday evening for the past two years, the Rev. Damita Davis Howard has led a peace march through deep East Oakland, with its high rate of violent crime.

On the Friday I attended, about 30 people had gathered from all over Oakland at a tiny church on 86th Avenue. After a prayer, Howard led the march through a neighborhood of iron gates and fierce dogs, and she told me her priority for the next mayor

“There ought to be a kumbaya of all of the neighborhoods of Oakland. … And if you don’t get the harmony from North Oakland all the way to the San Leandro border, if you don’t think about each and every neighborhood, each and every family, then I think you do an injustice to the whole city,” Howard said.

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