Council Rebuffs Van Jones Protégé

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has nominated Jakada Imani to the port commission, but some councilmembers are blocking him.

The Oakland City Council typically gives much deference to the mayor’s nominations for city boards and commissions. The council, for example, never rejected a nomination made by ex-Mayor Jerry Brown. But some councilmembers are treating current Mayor Jean Quan differently, and they’re trying to block her nominee to the port commission: Jakada Imani, the executive director of the internationally known Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and a protégé of Van Jones, the former green jobs czar for the Obama administration.

Councilmembers, led by council President Larry Reid, say they have no qualms about Imani or his qualifications for the port commission. Instead, they want Quan to reappoint Commissioner Margaret Gordon, whose term has expired. They argue that Gordon’s environmental record is just as impressive as Imani’s and they point out that Gordon is a longtime resident of and fierce advocate for West Oakland, a community that has been hard hit by pollution from the port’s operations. “I think Jakada is a smart person,” Reid said in an interview, “but Margaret has distinguished herself on the port commission.”

Quan said she chose Imani after an extensive interview process, and decided to not reappoint Gordon in part because she did not apply for reappointment until after that process was over, and after Quan had already selected Imani. Still, in an interview, the mayor did not criticize Gordon or her tenure on the board, but instead praised Imani. “What strikes me about Jakada is how smart he is,” the mayor said. “But he also knows West Oakland; he grew up in West Oakland; he was a staffer for Nancy Nadel,” who represents West Oakland on the council.

The controversy over Imani and Gordon has been overshadowed recently by the youth curfew and gang injunction proposals made by Reid and Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente. Nonetheless, before the council took up those heated issues at least week’s meeting, dozens of people showed up for the Imani-Gordon flap.

Numerous Gordon supporters spoke out on her behalf, noting her deep commitment to West Oakland. Imani spoke on his own behalf, saying that while the situation was uncomfortable for him, he intended to see it through. (The entire situation was unusual, because both Gordon and Imani are progressive environmentalists and are supported by many of the same people.)

For its part, the council seemed poised to approve Imani; his nomination appeared to have the five votes needed for confirmation: De La Fuente, Jane Brunner, Rebecca Kaplan, Pat Kernighan, and Libby Schaaf. Reid, Nadel, and Desley Brooks were prepared to vote against Imani in the hopes that Quan would reconsider Gordon. But just as the council was ready to vote, Reid convinced his colleagues to delay Imani’s confirmation until October 18. Reid said he was disappointed that Quan had not personally spoken to Gordon about the port commission post since taking office and said he hoped that Quan would talk to Gordon before October 18.

Quan told Full Disclosure late last week that she likely would talk to Gordon, but that she was not going to change her mind about Imani. She pointed to his impressive environmental and human rights record and his numerous accomplishments. Last year, for example, he helped lead the successful anti-Proposition 23 effort. Backed by Big Oil, Prop 23 sought to overturn California’s landmark climate change law.

The mayor also argued that she intends to start appointing more young activists, especially people of color, to city boards and commissions to get them more involved in city politics and help shape Oakland’s future. When asked why she had appointed her friend Alan Yee earlier this year to the port commission, even though he’s an elder statesman among local activists, she said it was because Yee is a respected attorney and she felt that the port board needed someone with a legal background. “I’m doing my best to create the strongest port board as possible,” she said.

Although the Imani-Gordon debate has been portrayed so far as a battle among progressives, Reid indicated that he had another agenda. He said that if Quan was intent on appointing a progressive environmentalist to the position, he would only vote for Gordon. However, he said that if the mayor were to withdraw Imani’s nomination and instead nominate a pro-business candidate, he likely would support that person. In fact, many City Hall insiders think that Reid is angling to derail Imani in order to get a pro-business nominee that he wants. Reid is, after all, a generally pro-business politician.

But Quan does not appear ready to back down. And she shouldn’t. Under the city’s charter, it’s the mayor’s job to nominate people to city boards and commissions. And it’s the council’s job to evaluate the nominee and either confirm or reject that person based on his or her qualifications. In this case, no council member has even attempted to say that Imani is not qualified.

Instead, some councilmembers are attempting to usurp the mayor’s decision-making powers. They don’t object to Imani; they just want someone else. But it’s not their job to choose nominees; it’s the mayor’s.


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