The Radical Insider 

As a congressman, Ron Dellums could be counted on to advance a progressive agenda. But his voting record only told part of the story.

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Dellums also soon launched a consulting firm -- Dellums, Brauer, Halterman & Associates -- which now boasts clients such as:

* Bristol-Myers Squibb: The pharmaceutical giant has been trying to improve its image in Africa with a controversial $100 million initiative to combat AIDS.

* Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: The scientific lab, which has been known to store and generate radioactive waste, has long had a combative relationship with Berkeley's city government and its residential neighbors. Dellums, Brauer, Halterman was hired a year ago at a $1,500 daily rate for community- and government-relations work.

* San Francisco International Airport: Over the objections of Bay Area environmentalists, the busy airport has been trying to build new runways in San Francisco Bay. Spokeswoman Kandace Bender said it is paying the firm $4,500 a month to advance its cause.

* The Republic of Haiti: Dellums fought for better US treatment of Haiti while in Congress. Now his firm is being paid a $30,000 monthly retainer to help secure financial aid and improve Haiti's lousy image on Capitol Hill.

* Peralta Community College District: The school district hired the firm last year to lobby Congress and federal defense and education officials to convert surplus Navy property for its Alameda campus. Under the $50,000 contract, Dellums commands a $300-an-hour fee.

* IKON Public Affairs: A lobbyist for real estate mogul Donald Trump, IKON Public Affairs took an interest in Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's proposal to build a casino at the city's old army base.

The firm also recently added a Sacramento practice to its offices in Washington DC and Oakland and hired William Schlitz, a former aide to then-State Senator Barbara Lee and ex-Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, as an associate. With Schlitz as their man in the state capital, the firm's partners plan to recruit new clients and register soon as state lobbyists.

Ron Dellums declined an invitation from the Express to discuss his post-congressional work. His colleagues and close friends argue that his current consulting work must be viewed within the context of his history of changing things from the inside. But his surprising reappearance through the revolving door -- representing the very interests he opposed in several notable instances -- begs the question: While Dellums was away from us all those years, did the inside change him?

Dellums always resented being labeled "the radical black dude from Berkeley," and yearned for respect from his House colleagues -- even his ideological opposites. An anecdote he shared with the Express in a lengthy 1988 interview illustrated this point nicely. It happened fourteen years into his congressional career. Dellums was offering an alternative military budget on the House floor. After he finished, a conservative Republican representative stood up and said, "Whether I agree with the gentleman from California or not, he has consistently attempted to raise the level of debate and plays a useful role in this body by challenging us to think, and I respect the gentleman." Dellums later went home and woke up his wife, Roscoe, with tears in his eyes. "Today was one of the most significant moments of my life in Congress," he said he told her. "Because today I felt that I no longer carried baggage. Today I feel I am being dealt with at the level I always wanted to be dealt with. Grapple with my politics, grapple with my ideas. I am personally credible. I have been accepted and am now respected in this institution called Congress."

After finding that respect, the congressman's visits to his reputedly radical district decreased noticeably. Dellums left constituent handholding to his able and loyal staff, which the congressman liked to refer to as components of "the corporate Ron Dellums." Two senior vice presidents of Dellums, Inc. later became his business partners: H. Lee Halterman, who handled calls from the press, and Robert Brauer, his special counsel.

In some districts, Dellums' absence might have been viewed as exemplifying an out-of-touch, arrogant Beltway incumbent. But voters here loved him. Even after he was discovered in 1991 to be the single most prolific check-bouncer in the entire Congress, voters here punished Dellums by returning him to office with 72 percent of the vote -- his greatest-ever margin of victory.

"What I liked about Ron was that I could count on him to vote the way I would have voted if I were in Congress," said Marty Lynch, director of Berkeley's Lifelong Medical Care and a longtime progressive activist.

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