Election Night in Oakland

A few thoughts on the election results in California and locally, in Oakland, follow.

It looks like Meg Whitman didn’t bid high enough for the Governor’s Mansion. Or, (is it possible?) the e-Bay model didn’t work. She seems to have imagined that if she paid enough she wouldn’t have to do any actual “work”, like make original speeches (instead of recycling the ones scripted for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign), or research and learn about the actual mechanics and agencies of state and local government, and the needs and wants of the numerous constituencies among the electorate (beyond the plutocrats), and the facts of the political history of California since 1978 (and how we got from Prop 13 to today). After spending between $140M to $150M of “her own” money on her failed bid, Meg may feel as Berthold Brecht wrote of the GDR regime’s sentiments after the East Berlin uprising of June 1953:

“…one could read that the people had forfeited the confidence of the government [i.e., Meg, and the Arnie-fronted Pete Wilson bunch] and could retain it only through redoubled efforts. Wouldn’t it be simpler under these circumstances for the government [substitute “plutocrats”] to dissolve the people and elect another one?”

(On second thought, maybe that’s what the Tea Party is all about).

It should be fun having Jerry Brown as governor again. He was an interesting mayor (1999-2007), good for the city of Oakland. I remember meeting him in one of his early exploratory “house parties” in 1998. I put a plug in his ear about education, saying a good public education system was the key to retaining committed residents, who would then constitute a reliable “workforce” and worthwhile “market” that would attract new businesses to Oakland — and be loyal voters to any mayor who could produce an array of good schools for their children. I followed with interest his subsequent jousts with the Oakland Unified School District, but as mayor he had insufficient leverage to effect any major improvements in OUSD. Jean Quan, who trails Don Perata in today’s mayoral race, was head of finances on the OUSD board; the district eventually went broke (with well over $60M in debt), and Don Perata (while head of the California senate — California State Senate President Pro Tempore) helped engineer a state bail-out and take-over of OUSD. The school district returned to local control about two years ago.

Interestingly, Jerry found he had considerable freedom in sponsoring charter schools, as these siphoned public money (from OUSD’s source), but were managed independently of OUSD. He founded (with others) two: the Oakland Military Academy and the Oakland School for the Arts. The military academy didn’t do so well, but the Arts School (a middle school and high school, grades 6-8 and 9-12) has grown and is well-regarded and very popular. I’m glad for the Arts School because the baby we had in 1999 just started there this year (and loves it). So, I tell my young daughter, “papa created your school by putting a bug in Jerry Brown’s ear.” Good timing, too.

Based on the news accounts tonight (2 November), it looks like Don Perata will be my Oakland mayor. With Brown in Sacramento and Perata downtown, Oakland may get some extra consideration from the state. The city is in dire financial shape, and desperate for income. This is no doubt why Perata is favored; he is the nastiest pankration mud-wrestler and pit bull of the mayoral bunch (10 candidates on the ballott, of which 3 are serious contenders, but Perata is the one with the most notches on his political “gun handle,” and the most “wanted posters” to his name). So, the electorate sees Perata as THEIR nasty pit bull, the candidate most likely to tear a hunk out of the state treasury for Oakland’s benefit. The developers and landlords (bourgeoisie) see him as likeliest to hold off on taxes, the shopkeepers (petite bourgeoisie) see him as likeliest to beef up the police force and “fight crime” (in fairness, also a major concern of many working and unemployed proletarians), the big public service unions (police, firemen, teachers, deputy sheriffs = prison guards) see him as least likely to lay them off (and why they donated time and money for his campaign), and the “roving gamblers*” (professional class, e.g., realtors, lawyers, builders, “investors” and deal-makers of all sorts) see him as most likely to “get things done” in terms of making Oakland city government responsive and productive. Ron Dellums, our current mayor, is widely seen as a pretentious vacuity, whose administration has left city government broke and becalmed. Perata may even imagine he can eventually repeat Jerry Brown’s trajectory: inject some energy and new glitter into Oakland civic and economic life for a couple of terms, then catapult himself into a state executive office, even the governorship.

Getting elected is the easy part, now they have to “do something” and “fix the mess.” I suspect it will always be “a mess,” given who we the people are today; but some politicians have a flair at moving the mess around, and even cleaning up some of it for a while. So, we might see some good things. In any case, there is a lot more to life than the elections.

*Note: “…the roving gambler, he was very bored, trying to create the next world war…” from Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”

MANUEL GARCIA, Jr. is a retired physicist, houseman and Counter Punch reader. He can be reached at: mangogarcia@att.net


Manuel Garcia Jr, once a physicist, is now a lazy househusband who writes out his analyses of physical or societal problems or interactions. He can be reached at mangogarcia@att.net