Seven Days

Winners and losers in Richmond; Stalkers on the Lake Chabot Links; Trading Cards in the Capitol

Surely Brown’s not interested in Higher Office: The night before Halloween at the Oakland City Council meeting, members of the League of Women Voters stepped to the podium and asked this chilling question: What happens if the mayor leaves office in the middle of his term? Under current law, the City Council has the right to appoint a replacement, an idea that gives the League the creeps. The League has found an ally in public-interest attorney and former City Council candidate Rebecca Kaplan; both think the council should consider changing the city charter to allow for special elections if the mayor should leave office early. Kaplan’s opposition to mayoral appointments has a lot to do with widely circulated rumors that Jerry Brown is planning to step down in 2004 — two years into the next mayoral term — to run for the US Senate and that his place would be taken by friend Don Perata, who by then would be termed out of the state Senate. “At that time,” Kaplan wrote in an e-mailed press release, “the Council (the majority of whom were financed by Perata) would be free to give the mayorship to Perata without an election.”

How to fill midterm vacancies isn’t a new issue for Oakland; last year, the LWV organized to put Measure I on the ballot, which required the city to hold special elections to replace councilmembers who leave partway through their time in office. It passed with 73 percent of the vote, which should bode well for the new campaign. Says Kaplan, “If people feel that the right to elect the council is crucial, of course they would feel that way about the mayor.” Already the council has agreed to consider a new measure regarding mayoral vacancies; they have until December 4 to file the paperwork if they want the initiative to appear on the March 2002 ballot.

And the winner is … money: We must admit to being mildly disappointed with the outcome of last week’s city election in Richmond. Voters smugly ignored the desires of pun-happy political columnists and did not elect Tom Butt and Corky Booze (pronounced BOO-ZAY, for you urban sophisticates). They did, however, return frizzy-haired People’s Lawyer Jim Rogers to the City Council, which should provide a few cheap yucks over the next couple of years. But enough about our petty concerns. Let’s take a quick look at this year’s winners and losers:

Contra Costa County Central Labor Council: Clearly, the evening’s big winner. Labor dumped nearly $100,000 into the campaign. At the end of the night, four of its five candidates were victorious, including Mayor-elect Irma Anderson. Can you say “Living wage”?

BMW: A loser. Something is screwy when an organization called Black Men and Women endorses an Asian-American candidate over a well-respected black reverend, Charles Belcher. The endorsement confirmed suspicions that BMW really is a front for the Richmond Firefighters Union, Local 188, and its consultant, Darrell Reese. The firefighters’ union had targeted Belcher for annihilation because he didn’t back its retirement benefits package. The campaign also revealed a deep fissure in BMW. The ostensible group prez, Lonnie Washington, was marginalized by a mysterious committee that authorized a hit piece on Butt that he called “a waste of money,” and sent out another piece for failed mayoral aspirant Nat Bates, which, to Washington’s chagrin, didn’t even mention the date of the election.

Darrell Reese: At first blush, Reese seems like an election-night loser. His buddy, Bates, got creamed. But all three candidates that he and the firefighters backed for the four-year council seats — Maria Viramontes, Richard Griffin, and Jim Rogers — cruised to victory. Also consider that in 1999, Reese was at the center of an FBI corruption investigation and headed for political oblivion. Two years later, he’s a “legitimate” player in Richmond politics once again.

Now it needs a foreign policy: When Albany voters decided last week to surrender their historic right to choose the police chief to the City Council, traditionalists were subject to a blow they had avoided in four previous elections. Longtime Albany resident and elected-chief supporter Dave Greer admittedly is disaffected with the city’s increasingly iconoclastic population. He called last week’s vote “a September 11 for Albany” and warned that the police force will soon be “neutered” by the “Berkeleyization” of a good conservative town. Sergeant Robert Christianson, President of Albany’s Peace Officers’ Association — a vocal opponent of appointing a new chief — declined comment when asked about supporting an appointed chief. The city traditionally has seen its chief evolve from within, but voters recognized a natural precipice; qualified, homegrown chief candidates are scarce and the time has come to initiate trade relations with other police departments. Current Chief Larry Murdo — the populist top cop for the past fifteen years who remained nonpartisan during the campaign — now plans to submit his résumé for the post when his elected term expires next November. So, it appears, Albany will survive. Police will police, and the chief and his or her department will answer to the City Council at regular Monday night meetings. Some call it accountability, others interference. Everyone calls it the end of an era.

The Wild Kingdom: Last week, the Oakland Tribune reported that City Manager Robert Bobb was confronted by a mountain lion while playing the Lake Chabot links over the weekend. Our hearts go pitter-pat over the prospect of Bobb valiantly fending off the puma del norte with his nine iron, but our inner skeptic compels us to seek the story behind the story. In short, a stalker! Undoubtedly Bobb had run afoul of one of the myriad citizens outraged by his policies, who in the spirit of public service decided to don a hide of burnt umber and head straight for Mr. Tough Guy’s throat. But who could it be? Let’s see…

Jeanette Sherwin: This lovable gadfly and publisher of the inexplicably stalled has a long list of grudges against Bobb, from colluding in Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente’s campaign to tear down the Montgomery Ward building to supporting nonsensical whims such as the mayor’s Army Base casino, which Sherwin dubs a “sucking chest wound project.” But Sherwin’s been flat on her back for the last six weeks, fighting what she calls a “fancy illness.” Could it be something in the water?

Sanjiv Handa: This homesteading good-government advocate lost his calling when Bobb petulantly closed City Hall’s press room in a desperate effort to kill off his campaign to keep the public informed about its local government. But a mountain lion’s not his style; if Handa was gunning for Bobb, he’d probably crush him under two tons of government paperwork.

Henry Kravis: This Master of the Universe, cochair of the Republican Leadership Council, and cofounder of the Wall Street investment firm KKR Associates couldn’t have been happy when Bobb’s plan to pawn the Chabot Golf Course off to KKR subsidiary KSL Recreation collapsed in the face of overwhelming public opposition. And you just know a guy like Kravis didn’t get where he is today by tolerating failure from his flunkies. But hey, the man’s worth $85 billion. Who needs a mountain lion suit when you’ve got Trent Lott?

In the end, we came to the inevitable conclusion, one that you no doubt drew long ago. That’s right, this incident has all the hallmarks of the dreaded Sasquatch. Known far and wide as a golf purist, the Sasquatch has long nurtured a virulent hatred of mulligans. So watch your ass, Robert Bobb, and take your bogeys like a man!

I’ll trade you my Condi Rice for your Donald Rumsfeld: Who knew that one day Norm Mineta would have his own trading card? Topps — the people who bring you baseball and Pokémon cards — is turning out a new line of “Enduring Freedom picture cards” to help kids “understand that the President (and his team) will keep them safe and that evil-doers will be punished.” And who wouldn’t feel safe with a ninety-card deck mostly composed of glamour shots of military hardware, international leaders, and post-WTC action photos like “Arafat Gives Blood for Americans” and “Bush Calls NYC Mayor Giuliani”? We feel better already.

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