Not long ago, some City Hall insiders referred to developer Phil Tagami as the real mayor of Oakland. A smart political operative and gifted fund-raiser, he routinely scored lucrative deals from the city and, at times, it was impossible not to bump into him at then-Mayor Jerry Brown's office. He even hosted Brown's gala wedding in his historic Rotunda Building.
But when Mayor Ron Dellums swept into office in January, Tagami's juice began to dry up. In a recent interview, he admitted that he now has trouble getting his phone calls returned by the new mayor and his staffers. And then last week, Tagami found himself in an embarrassing and highly publicized shouting match with Darrel Carey.
A year or two ago, it would have been unthinkable that someone such as Carey, whose primary claim to fame was that he once worked for Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, would have had the guts to publicly take on the connected Tagami. But political winds have changed in Oakland, and at least according to Tagami, Carey did far more than criticize him in public; he attempted to extort money, and threatened him when he refused.
The dustup between Tagami and Carey, a black lobbyist who is an outspoken proponent of minority contracting, garnered considerable press. Most of the coverage included Tagami's claim that Carey was engaged in a "shakedown" without explaining what Tagami meant and why the two were so angry.
Just what happened is highly disputed. Each claims the other is lying. According to Tagami, who also provided documents and notes from their dealings, the bad blood began earlier this year when Carey demanded a second contract on the Fox Theater restoration.
Tagami said he hired Carey in late 2005 and paid him $4,250 a month to recruit small local contractors for the Fox project. Tagami committed to giving 50 percent of the contracts to local businesses, including 20 percent to small ones. Carey operates the East Bay Small Business Council, and Tagami said he hired six of the 31 companies Carey recruited. But when Carey's contract expired in April 2006, Tagami said he no longer needed him.
Then, earlier this year, Tagami said Carey approached him and asked for another contract this time for $12,500 a month. Tagami said that when he refused, Carey became enraged. According to notes that Tagami said he took of a May 3 phone call, Carey then demanded, "I need my money and my goddamn contract." Tagami said that when he refused again, Carey responded: "Well, I see how you want to play me ... motherfucker," and then threatened to make his life miserable.
What is clear is that Carey soon complained to Nadel that Tagami was falling short of his commitments. Nadel who told Full Disclosure that she did not know of Carey's alleged monetary demands then requested a thorough review of the Fox contracts. Tagami said city staffers proceeded to comb his books for three weeks. "If I would have just given the guy $12,500, I could have saved about $50,000 in staff time," he said.
"That man is lying," Carey said of Tagami, adding that Tagami paid him only $2,500 a month, plus a $5,000 retainer for the first contract. And he said Tagami approached him about a second contract and offered him $25,000 for two months of work only to change his mind. Carey said he went to Nadel because several small-business owners had complained about the Fox contracts.
Carey then started to cry as he denied threatening Tagami. "I have never shook anyone down," he said, choking back tears. "People come into my office and offer me money all the time and I have never taken a dime. I don't own a house; I don't own a car."
In the end, the city's audit demonstrated that Tagami was exceeding his pledge to work with small and local contractors. But he nonetheless got angry at a public meeting when black Councilman Larry Reid went out of his way to praise Carey. "I just want to express my thanks to Darrel, who ride herd over all these projects to make sure there is inclusion," Reid said.
Tagami immediately yelled at Reid: "That's a shakedown."
"You've been shaking down this town for years," Carey shouted back
"Wait, wait, no, no, no," Councilwoman Jane Brunner said, trying to restore order. "Phil, no. Both of you. Both of you need to stop. Both of you need to stop."
Tagami and Carey then stormed outside, followed by Reid, who had to restrain Carey from attacking Tagami.
Back inside, one of Carey's friends, black business leader Geoffrey Peete, then elaborated on Carey's allegations that African Americans had not received their fair share of contracts in recent years.
Peete got up to speak during a hearing about the plans by black comedian Keenen Ivory Wayans for the former Oakland Army base. Peete ticked off several multimillion-dollar subsidies that white businesses have received from the city over the years. He looked at Wayans in the audience and told him: "So consider asking for some of the pot of gold this city continually offers." Kathleen Richards contributed to this report.
Stop That, Kim!
Oakland schools state Administrator Kimberly Statham suffered a setback last Friday in her campaign to fire some of her predecessor's top staffers. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that Statham broke the law last year when she terminated Katrina Scott-George, one of the architects of the district's educational reform efforts.
Roesch ordered Statham to reinstate Scott-George and pay her back pay. Statham terminated Scott-George by e-mail last September without giving a reason. Scott-George was on medical leave for breast cancer at the time.
Roesch ruled that Statham illegally fired Scott-George without cause in violation of state law and the district's own policy. Statham's attorneys refused to comment on whether they plan to appeal the decision. The ruling also raises questions as to whether Statham's decision to fire school district CFO Javetta Robinson earlier this month without reason also was illegal.
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