Last week, when reporters heard Ron Dellums’ press secretary was stepping down, their first thought was that she’d been fired. After all, Karen Stevenson’s boss had gotten snippy with reporters at a press conference the week before, calling them cynics, and prompting an article in the Chronicle about the Oakland mayor’s rocky relationship with the press. “I said, ‘People can go with that story,’ but it’s just not what happened,” she said.
The former KPIX producer says her official contract with the mayor ended June 30, and she needs to start paying more attention to clients of her firm, Core Communications, which she’s owned and operated the last seven years. Stevenson says she’ll continue to work with Dellums, but now he’ll be a paying client. “What I do best is strategic communications,” she says. “Here I’m doing all these day-to-day tasks — this will allow me to serve the mayor in what I do best, and also serve all my clients.”
So far, Stevenson’s strategy to put Dellums on better terms with the media has met with dubious success. It has to be frustrating to be stuck answering questions on behalf of a mayor who hates answering questions. “It’s been a process because for thirty years he’s had nothing to do with the media,” Stevenson says. “But he’s opening up. … He’s been a real trouper.”
Stevenson will stay on for a couple more weeks while her replacement is hired, another indication she and her boss are on decent terms. “I have a great relationship with the mayor, and I’m there behind the scenes telling him he needs to talk to the media,” she says. “If we’re not talking to the media, we can’t speak to the larger public about what we’re doing. His administration needs you all, and he needs to understand that. That’s where he’s coming from.
“He’s taken baby steps, but he’s come a long way,” she adds, noting that Dellums has had an unusual number of press conferences of late. She does, however, cop to one of the reporters’ big complaints about these events, which have been compared with campaign rallies: “We need to expand the Q&A part. He has to answer your questions. I agree.”