Debra J. Saunders
There are no "Brown for Mayor" signs on Oakland lawns, even though the very popular Jerry Brown is running for re-election. "We don't have any lawn signs," campaign manager Maureen Erwin explained. City Attorney John Russo doesn't think that's a savvy decision. "You want lawn signs, not only because they are little billboards to the world at large, but generally the sort of people who would display a lawn sign tend to be community leaders," he said. Of course, Dao Mayor has his usual unconventional approach. "I'm not impressed with that form of visual pollution," he said. Then, he deadpanned, "I reserve the right to use lawn signs in the future." His barely visible campaign is a far cry from four years ago, when Brown was the standout in a field of 11 candidates. Today, he only faces one challenger, former City Councilman Wilson Riles Jr., and the national media are nowhere to be seen. Another change: He'll get my vote. Brown has been tonic for Oakland. His celebrity cachet has added a hipness to Oaktown and also draws business to the town once famed for having "no there there." There's there there, and there's there in City Hall. Who'd have thunk it? When Brown first campaigned for mayor in 1997, he presented a plan to transform Oakland to a quaint Italian hilltown like Perugia. He promised to revitalize Oakland by helping small enterprises, such as sailboat building and urban organic gardening. Then, he started listening to Oaklanders. Before the 1998 race was over, Brown, too, saw big business and large employers as Oakland's sole economic salvation. As 1998 rival Shannon Reeves noted, now when Brown goes to shopping mall conventions, "the developers love" Brown. And Brown loves it when they love him. This year's sole "Brown for Mayor" campaign mailer opens up to a 17-by-22-inch wide-angle photo of a prosperous looking Oakland, with a vibrant downtown at its heart. True to Brown's minimalist spirit, it reads: "Re-elect Mayor Jerry Brown" on one side, "Oakland on the Move" on the other. The rap against Brown four years ago was that he'd get elected, then lose his focus and start contemplating his navel. Or another office. Wrong. "Almost to a fault," Russo countered, Brown has stayed focused on the four areas he emphasized during the campaign: schools, crime, downtown and the arts. The rap against Brown in this election -- as voiced by his opponent Riles -- is that Brown is too focused on downtown development. That is, Brown should spend more city money on neighborhoods outside of downtown. Thus, Brown has made the ultimate transformation. He has become the hard-edged realist, while his critics live in a dream world where blighted neighborhoods (they think) can thrive if given a larger portion of a sagging budget. It could only happen in a city where the vocal classes -- not the voters -- are so far left that, as Reeves noted, "If you're for building a shopping center in downtown Oakland, you're conservative." Brown has taken off the rose-colored glasses. To critics who damn him for opposing "inclusionary zoning" -- ordinances that require developers to build a percentage of affordable housing units or pay a fee -- Brown had this to say: "They throw around illusory solutions, like forcing investors to spend money in ways they don't want to, never acknowledging the fact that the investor has the right to just not come to Oakland." What the anti-Brown, anti-development folks don't get, Russo explained, is that "we live in this world and this budget. And Oakland needs the revenues. You cannot continue to go forward and provide a humane face and humane policy for city government without more business development and more revenue coming in on the tax side." You don't get better schools and safer streets by nixing businesses building and working in Oakland. When he was governor, many moons ago, Jerry Brown sang that small is beautiful. As Oakland's mayor, he sees where bigger is better.

Debra J. Saunders


 
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