How vulnerable is Oakland City Council President Larry Reid to being defeated in his fourth re-election campaign for his District 7 Council seat? Theoretically, he would seem to be very vulnerable.
Reid is one of the most unashamedly pro-police members of the city council, an ex-Marine who served as chair of the council's Public Safety Committee for a decade until he became council president at the beginning of 2011, and whose official website proclaims that "public safety continues to be [his] highest priority."
Yet public safety in both Oakland and in District 7, East Oakland, have remained at a crisis point under Reid's tenure. Elected in 1996, he served on the Public Safety Committee during the period of police excesses that led to the settlement in The Riders case that put the Oakland Police Department under federal court scrutiny because of accusations of beating suspects, falsifying evidence, and ignoring citizen complaints.
Moreover, since taking over as chair of the Public Safety Committee in 2001, Reid has appeared to exert little or no positive influence during ten years of OPD foot-dragging on settlement reforms that has put the city's police department on the brink of federal receivership. Reid's District 7, which stretches from Hegenberger Road to the San Leandro border, also is still one of the most crime-ridden in the city. And during Reid's ten years as Public Safety Committee chair, the panel failed to either develop a comprehensive anti-crime and violence plan or to even identify the root causes of Oakland's recurring violence.
But elections are run and won in the real world, not in theory. Throughout the past dozen years, opponents have attacked Reid on public safety issues each time he has run for re-election, but with no effect. Since first winning election to the council after serving as aide to Mayor Elihu Harris (and before that, as an aide to Assemblyman Harris), Reid easily rolled over a series of forgettable opponents in three elections since, massing vote totals that ranged from 61 percent to 74 percent.
And little evidence has surfaced so far that this year's election will be different, even though Reid faces two opponents for the first time since he started running for city council: public health professional and AIDS research counselor Sheryl Walton and Oakland Rent Board Commissioner and Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council Co-Chair Beverly Williams.
While Walton insisted that she did not want to talk about Reid but only about her own campaign, she could not resist taking shots at the incumbent in a recent interview. "I am really sick and tired of some of our council not being accountable and transparent," she said. "I believe sometimes Mr. Reid has difficulty in being respectful and having dignity in representing our district."
Still, Walton stressed that she isn't running against Reid. "Larry is really running against me, since he chose to run after I decided to run," she said, explaining that she got into the race after Reid indicated he would not run for reelection in 2012 and a number of district leaders asked her to enter the race. Saying that she worked with Reid for many years on several District 7 projects as a member of the Central Cities Project Area Committee, including the Foothill Square development and the MacArthur corridor streetscape plan, Walton added: "I see him as someone who has done his best for the past sixteen years [but] I see him as a person who favors a few and has not really committed himself to the entire district. I see a lot of cronyism. But that's Larry."
Meanwhile, both Walton and Williams are emphasizing other issues besides crime and violence to build their campaigns against Reid. While Walton told members of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club earlier this year that she would highlight public safety, she did not list it as one of the three "most significant" issues in the race, saying that those were community health and well being; transparency, accountability, and ethics in government; and community/resident empowerment. On the key public safety issues recently faced by the council, she said she would not support gang injunctions, anti-loitering ordinances, or youth curfews, but would support increasing the number of Oakland police.
But Walton said that "while we need more police, we need more respectful police who are from the City of Oakland. The problem is, we have a culture among some police — not all police, but some — of being very disrespectful."
And while the other District 7 opponent, Williams, lists public health and safety as one of the issues she will concentrate on in the campaign (along with permanent living wage jobs and job creation, foreclosures and loan modification, blight, fiscal accountability and transparency, and economic development), her website provides no details as to her positions or plans in that area. Asked specifically at a recent candidate forum as to how crime can be decreased in District 7, both Walton and Williams said that an increase in citizen participation in anti-crime organizations — NCPCs and Neighborhood Watches — as their first answer.
Another potential weak point in Reid's council tenure is the long-neglected International Boulevard corridor. Reid, who did not return phone calls seeking an interview for this story, has concentrated his development and upgrade efforts along the outer rim of his district: Durant Square on the San Leandro border, on MacArthur Boulevard, in Brookfield Village, and on Hegenberger Road. But International — which ought to be the commercial core of District 7 — runs like an open sore through the middle of the district, long stretches of it trash-strewn and tagged with graffiti, a haven for prostitutes, hustlers, and street violence, with many empty storefronts and weed-choked lots and no major upgrade projects in sight.
Walton said she would work on International's problems by "starting up a Business Improvement Association. We don't have one in District 7 on East 14th [International's original name]. Another thing I would do is make them aware of façade-improvement and other grants available. I don't think our small businesses are aware of city programs because if they did, you'd think they'd apply for them."
Williams is in general agreement with Walton on this issue. "There's a lack of communication to businesses in this district. I would meet with every business. We have an issue with tagging and graffiti, and there are ways we can take care of that by putting up vine-type shrubberies that can keep it away." But Williams also has taken a shot at Reid's neglect of much of the flatlands neighborhoods of District 7, adding that she would "focus on the community as a whole, not in pieces and parcels" if elected.
Reid, meanwhile, seems at times to be running against Mayor Jean Quan — and not Walton and Williams. At least one of his campaign mailers attacked the mayor and included false and misleading claims. The mailer stated that Reid "refused to support Mayor Quan's budget when she laid-off police officers." In truth, the police layoffs occurred in 2010 when Ron Dellums was still mayor, and even though Quan and four other councilmembers voted for the police-layoffs plan, it was sponsored primarily by Reid's closest political ally: Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente.
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