From Mayor Quan to Mayor Schaaf
Libby Schaaf ran for mayor while still in her first term as a city councilmember from a conservative leaning district. She beat out a mayor, Jean Quan, who had made finding new ways to combat violent crime a major thrust of her term, a term that took place during an economic crash, the loss of state financial support, and an uprising known as Occupy Oakland.
Oh and the Oakland Police Department faced a complete takeover by the feds after years of not being able to reign in their vicious racial profiling under federal oversight. [Some of us began to design a ballot measure for an independent police oversight board during that period. It developed into measures LL and S1 and has given us the most powerful citizen oversight board in the country.]
The ultimate weapon against the rise in homicides in the flatlands was developed under Quan as Operation Ceasefire which focuses on the small group of people most likely to be engaged in gun violence in a cycle of threats, shootings and revenge. Much of it acknowledges that many shootings happen because the shooters fear retaliation and so lash out first. That police unit has expanded from warnings, the stick, to also providing programmatic carrots.
It’s been difficult for Ceasefire to be effective this year as in-person meetings, so integral to Ceasefire, have been all but eliminated. On top of that, the mayor and her administrator cut its funds in December as part of emergency reductions to many departments including OPD and Oakland Fire.
The firefighters union let be known that the city admin was trying to implement big cuts to their firefighting ability so the mayor and her administration had to back down on the severest cuts in a town in a state where fire season has been declared year round.
So here we are after a year of pandemic, recession, social isolation and economic desperation, and the mayor who spent her first day in office visiting with police officers and reassuring them of their importance to her (and by extension, us), is now the politician who quietly hacks away at police services that benefit folks like the frail elders in Chinatown or those who live in the fireprone hills-in the dark of night. Then she pivots to the public and points the finger at others and with the help of gossip columnists like Phil Matier, it almost worked.
Libby, as she likes to be known, is the quintessential mean-girl-next-door that you remember from junior high. But let’s not only talk about her style-the way she smiles at inappropriate times and in ways that raise the hairs on the back of your neck-it may sound like so much teen-girl-gossip, but from what I have observed, she tends to bring that out in lots of people, including apparently me!
I first began to notice Libby as a slick politician when as the D4 CM, she slyly cut the renter protections that the city council was trying to enact that day in Committee. She did it so smoothly that even her BFF Pat Kernighan hardly noticed. [Pat at the time was incined to pass an ordinance that provided for fair rent increases rather than Libby’s Chamber-induced overreach.]
Poison Pen Letters via Email
As mayor our Libby moved onto more overt methods of propagandizing her agenda. During the battle royale for the independence of our nascent police commission, when it looked like she could lose control over OPD and that the charter change measure might get a chance to work, Libby sent out messages to all those whose email addresses she knew, thousands of us, denouncing the Council for trying to approve appropriate staffing including the independent attorneys that the measure provided for.
The mayor managed to create enough obstacles to the smooth functioning of the Police Commission to force accountability proponents to offer another measure that would close the loopholes to independence that she had exacerbated and it won, foiled again!
Libby’s emails were slightly effective though- they were cut and pasted by her most ardent, one might say, gullible, followers and returned to their targets, Oakland City Council members who dared to take policy positions that differed from hers. She did the same on the budget process calling the city council’s proposals not to cut services to neighborhoods such as closing parks in East Oakland, irresponsible, portraying her council opponents as crazy.
BTW, the more interesting back story to these proposed cuts was that the then city adminstrator assured us no one would lose a job as a parks worker from the cuts because, despite its inclusion in the previous year’s budget, the administration had chosen not to hire for those positions anyway. After all what do parks mean to families who live in underderserved neighborhoods like East Oakland?
I’ve said it in this space before but it bears repeating. Every city manager/administrator hides funds for contingencies. Any council member or community activist worth their salt, makes it their job to track down those hidden funds and demand they be spent the way community members, workers, and constituents want it spent.
But I have never, NEVER, in all my years of watching and being engaged in city government, seen an administration that just flat out ignores the wishes, ordinances, and resolutions of its elected POLICY MAKERS like this one.
BTW, an ordinance is the local nomenclature for a law. It is nullification of legally passed policies-lawlessness to ignore them- and must be called out, not through poison pen emails or by hyperbole against those with whom one differs but stated as simply and plainly as possible as I’ll try to lay out here.
To Reimagine/Defund or What?
I’ve been a long time member of the Coalition for Police Accountability and am proud to have been part of the successful push for a powerful Police Commission and citizen oversight of our troubled police department [and a member of coalitions to reduce the power of white supremacist sheriffs in this state, watch this space.] I love the terms reimagining public safety and demilitarizing the police, not so much defund the police.
I’m glad that the Defund folks have raised the profile of an issue so overdue for serious change. But when I read the tortured explanations of what it means or doesn’t mean, or might mean, my messaging brain lobe, which is fairly well devloped, threatens to short out. I won’t get into those arguments because the definitions are too broad and muddled.
Reinvest in US, is my slogan. A civilized society requires universal healthcare, childcare and higher education, not to mention, public transit and housing as a human right. If defund worked to explain all of that, I’d use it. Meanwhile, we may have to be more specific about what we want in place of bloated military/police budgets.
In any case the reimagine or defund folks are surely to blame for the increase in crime, trash and whatever else ya got-even if the department has not been defunded but actually increased, year after year? Or so sayeth the mayor.
Austerity, Investment or a Police State
Are these our choices in Oakland now? Maybe that’s hyperbole or maybe it’s not. The mayor envisions serious cuts to services at a time when more and more Americans are suffering and living in fear of economic and health catastrophe. And in Oakland people will always tell you that crime is on the rise whether it is or is not, so public safety is also paramount in people’s minds.
Given the mayor’s statements, this progressive city council has to gear up to fight the Draconian cuts that would affect the already hardest hit folks in a town now almost unaffordable to anyone but the very rich. Additionally most city workers, whose livelihoods are threatened, live here, spend their wages here and care passionately about tha Town. You might recall how they willingly gave back promised increases during the Great Recession and when it was time to reward their dedication, the mayor offered them neglect and disrespect instead.
But, is the mayor crying wolf, just spitballing here, I would say, probably no. All state and municipal budgets have taken heavy hits during our multiple crises and until the feds vote to come through and disperse funds to our local governments, we’ll be looking down the barrel of fast emptying coffers (whoops-wild analogy anomalies/mixed metaphors, couldn’t help myself there.)
But during a time of such crisis, political debate and transparency, engaging with the city council and the public is even more necessary. If cuts must be made, they need to be done carefully and with as much buy-in as the whole bureaucracy is capable of reaching for. The mayor must understand this or face more failure to achieve what might be needed.
Mayor Falsely Blast Councilmembers
So by now you’ve probably heard about the press conference where the mayor turned around and pointed the finger at new Council President [and my rep and former boss, the best boss I ever had] Nikki Bas as the cause of recent episodes of violence and crime in Oakland’s Chinatown for daring to reimagine a city budget that wasn’t top heavy with police services and police lawsuit payouts. While Nikki Bas and Rebecca Kaplan proposed a budget last June with laser like cuts to vacant positions and nonessential services in OPD, that budget did NOT pass.
However, in December while no one was looking or able to comment, the manager and the mayor cut neighborhood services like walking patrols in Chinatown, teen services, the sideshow detail, and Ceasefire. And yep tried to cut your firehouses. It’s almost Trumpian that the mayor, our Libby, mean-girl-next-door, could blame her handiwork on these two leaders not named Libby.
But there you have it and who can blame her? Afterall if you’re an ambitious youngish corporate Democrat who loves police unions and charter schools and are looking for your next job, AND you’re the mayor of a city where the crime rate is soaring, trash is piling up everywhere, and tent cities play whackamole with your corporate non-solutions, what would you do?
The murder rate is higher now than it has been in years, you can’t hold onto a police chief [remember Comedy Central’s take on Oakland] I mean you’re almost termed out and you just achieved a city council antagonistic to your agenda, though you tried as hard as you could to get them ousted, failing more spectacularly every time, well, gotta do something, amiright?
So don’t ask our Libby to apologize, it’s not her style anyway, but shed a tear for her or maybe save it for Oakland’s struggling residents who have 2 more years of this to endure.