Letters for the Week of October 26 

Readers sound off on Jakada Imani, the Parkway Theater, and Occupy Wall Street.

"Council Rebuffs Van Jones Protégé," Full Disclosure, 10/6

What About Margaret Gordon?

Though Robert Gammon's article on the nomination of Jakada Imani to the Port Board of Commissioners is fairly thorough, there isn't enough space on a single page to sound out some of the underlying currents that have so many West Oakland individuals and groups in (anguished) concert regarding the selection process this time around. Maybe the Express could probe a little deeper beyond the surface, as Robert Gammon has done so well before, and find out why every other commissioner in the history of the port has been given the courtesy of being extended, making Margaret Gordon the only one to be dissed in such an offhand manner. No complaints about re-appointing Victor Uno, who came onto the board at the same time as Gordon — maybe because he never once attended a community meeting in West Oakland? Is that some new criteria for all nominees? I don't want to be snide, but what's really going on?

Let's face it: Gordon's devotion to environmental change in Oakland is unsurpassed, and there isn't a single soul in this city of constantly carping citizens who doesn't agree on that point at least. Her knowledge of port operations, especially after four years of hands-on involvement as a port commissioner, simply cannot be equaled or exceeded by any other commissioner, living or dead — or even the nominee, as he himself noted in his speech before the city council. Imani's a nice guy, but has had only minimal involvement with the myriad issues that flow in and out of the port faster than you can say "Maritime Air Quality Improvement Plan (MAQIP)," the project that Margaret initiated at the port to cut by half (!) the suffocating levels of air pollution caused by ships at dock.

Contrast that triumph on behalf of West Oakland's asthmatic community with all the activism of any other organization in Oakland, or all the political blather from one wonderful lawyer or another, or all the excuses of other port commissioners who might ever have tried to deal with this oppressive, life-threatening condition that literally stank up the neighborhood, and you just have to wonder why anyone would want someone else to be there instead — including the nominees themselves! Imani has declared that he's a "fighter" and will continue to fight for what he obviously feels is a righteous cause, but so many people, particularly those in the areas most affected by port-generated pollution, see it differently — that he's actually fighting Margaret for a position he admittedly knows relatively little about, not even being a participant as in MAQIP. Contrast that to what will be lost should Gordon be denied the chance to further improve one of the worst, most politically-infected bureaucracies in Northern California.

Yeah, I guess I'm sort of happy that there's now another lawyer, and someone who helped lead a fight for one bill or another, and someone to represent this or that union's point of view, but where in God's green hell is the one who actually cares about the long-suffering residents and small businesses that populate the fenceline community? The happy picture of Van Jones with his arm around Imani accompanying the article is wonderful, but maybe it should also be accompanied with the picture of then-candidate Jean Quan with her arm around Gordon, as seen on thousands of campaign brochures circulated throughout the city — presumably as proof positive that community activism was going to be a priority of now-Mayor Quan. Personally, I like Jean and think she deserves far higher marks for a lot of things she's doing, especially with respect to the unprecedented international attention she's garnering for Oakland. But I fear she's not really seeing West Oakland or our port in their truest light — maybe because all that pollution obscures the view?

Let's keep Oakland's port headed in the direction that Margaret has charted so ably and not allow it to be steered into the political shallows because of poor helmswomanship. Mayors, even the good ones, make mistakes all the time, with the best expected to readjust so that those mistakes don't become so defining a legacy that all anyone will ever remember is that he or she went down with the ship when it turned out to be not so unsinkable (or free from its responsibilities!) as most at first assumed.

Steve Lowe, Oakland

Robert Gammon Responds

Mr. Lowe, as always, makes good points. But one correction is needed. It is not true that "every other commissioner in the history of the port has been given the courtesy of being extended." In 2003, then-Mayor Jerry Brown chose not to renominate developer Phil Tagami to the port commission after he had served a single four-year term.

"A Moral Stance in a Public Place," Raising the Bar, 10/6

Can We Agree on One Thing?

The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are the start of a single, bona fide social movement the likes of which has not been seen in the United States in the last four decades.

Members of both Tea Party and Occupy are dissatisfied with the failure of the "system." They both gripe traditional liberal and conservative complaints, depending on whether they started off belonging to the right or left; conservative or liberal; ying or yang. The Tea Party blames the government because right-wing dogma says government is bad and should be smaller, no matter what. Occupy Wall Street blames corporations because leftist demagogues say big business is an inhumane profit machine. Right now neither group seems to be thinking beyond the traditional complaints.


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