NovoMetro

Education in Oakland

Archive for January, 2007

“Turning the Corner Update

Posted by novometro on January 22, 2007

Last week, I wrote a story about how cooperation between local shopkeepers, neighborhood groups, and Oakland PD helped clean up a bad corner. Krista Gulbransen from the Maxwell Park Neighborhood Council writes Monday that I omitted some key players in my account: “(The Maxwell Park NeighborhoodCouncil) chair Jose Dorado was the one who suggested the door-to-door effort and connected with Preston to make it happen.” 

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Chasing Stories

Posted by novometro on January 11, 2007

A reporter for the East Bay Express wrote a breathless account of his journalistic derring-do following the inaugural ceremony for Mayor Ron Dellums Monday afternoon at the Paramount Theater. Apparently, Mr. Dellums had invited reporters for the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle for a Q & A after the event, but failed to include the East Bay Express reporter.

Refusing to be left out, the East Bay Express reporter brushed past security guards as he tracked the new mayor through the hallways of the Paramount’s backstage. He caught up with Mr. Dellums and the other reporters just in time to ask Mr. Dellums what it meant for him “to have to interrupt the day’s events to quiet a crowd that was enraged about the re-election of the City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.”

The episode was meant to illustrate that the new mayor’s promises of a transparent City Hall might be hollow. I suspect that the East Bay Express reporter’s difficulty was more the handiwork of overstimulated security guards than willful opacity on the part of the Dellums team. Either way, chasing Mr. Dellums through the bowels of the Paramount is a waste of time.

It’s true, the new mayor doesn’t seem to like reporters very much. As the East Bay Express reporter noted, Mr. Dellums’ pastor’s first request of God during the inaugural ceremony was to protect the new mayor from the press. I don’t think he needs much help in that department. Ask the mayor a question (as a journalist) and he will fix you with a hard, meaningful stare. Then he will narrow his eyes as if to say, “The words I am about to tell you are so important it makes my eyes sting.” He will then tell you something so polished it sounds like he has been delivering a version of it for 40 years. And, of course, he probably has.

Expecting something interesting to emerge from a mayoral press conference is like expecting something interesting to emerge from President Bush’s address to the nation Wednesday night.

In our upside down universe the details of a new phone from Apple are a closely guarded secret complete with decoys and disinformation campaigns, while a military “strategy,” upon which actual human lives are balanced, is broadcast to the entire world.

If Mr. Dellums is serious about running an open City Hall, and there is no reason now to suspect that he isn’t, he will allow city employees to speak freely to the press. He will publish his official calendar online, revealing the people he meets with when he is working on our dime. He will post his statements of economic interest online and encourage other city officials to do the same. I would love it if he one-upped the Fair Political Practices Commission and published his statement of economic interest quarterly rather than the annual file the FPPC now requires.

And there are plenty of things we can do as citizens of Oakland to ensure openness in our local government. There is no reason to rely on the media to chase down the story. First, we can share information and expertise as broadly as possible. Very often, as Malcolm Gladwell writes in a recent New Yorker article, “secrets” are often sitting in broad daylight waiting for decoding.

People on the inside can make use of new websites like wikileaks.org, which is designed to expose corruption and repression in poor, brutal countries, but can also be useful in the west.

Through collaboration, no reporter will ever have to chase a politician backstage again. Unless he wants to.

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Lessons from Oakland

Posted by novometro on January 10, 2007

The fracas that threatened to spoil Mayor Ron Dellums’ public swearing in ceremony Monday bore more than a just an undertone of racial tension. The last of a dozen public speakers calling for Ignacio De La Fuente to surrender the City Council presidency was a black man, who accused Mr. De La Fuente of favoring Latinos over other races. The East Bay Express wrote that part of the hostility directed at Mr. De La Fuente stemmed from the perception that he had blocked the “city’s dying black political machine” for the past eight years.

Not so long ago, journalist and NovoMetro friend G. Pascal Zachary wrote about Oakland in a paper for Comedia, the United Kingdom-based think tank that sums its mission with this question: “How do we identify, harness, promote and sustain the creative, cultural resources that are present in every human settlement if we look deeply enough?”

Titled When Immigrants Revive a City and When they Don’t: Lessons from the United Statesthe paper argues that Oakland attracted immigrants largely because political leaders put aside race politics in many instances when they could have pandered to racial and ethnic constituencies.

“The rush of African American newcomers constituted a kind of rehearsal for the mass immigration to Oakland of the 1980s and 1990s. African Americans, having only recently supplanted whites as Oakland elite, proved secure enough to share power with immigrants. This is a different racial and ethnic narrative than in cities where blacks are a large but still distinct minority. In Oakland, white flight left blacks in charge, opening the way for the emergence of a diverse political coalition.”

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