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Chip Johnson's Right About Favoritism: Welcome To Oakland

I want to be the first Oakland blogger to affirm Chip Johnson's article today charging favoritism in the City of Oakland. My response is that it doesn't start or stop at the CAO's office or with Deborah Edgerly herself, and a really complete look should go back 10 years, not just 2004.

Look, I was treated so terribly by the City of Oakland when I was trying to bring the Super Bowl here, that my own mother -- who's still cancer-free by the way -- observed that "Between Blacks who are jealous of you and Whites who think someone White should be doing what you're doing, you're going through a terrible place."

She was right.

Oakland's government has a long history of hating well-educated Black men who don't follow the normal ethnic stereotypes. I remember 1998, when all of us from Elihu Harris' office -- I was economic advisor -- were being placed in various departments of the City of Oakland after Jerry Brown won a landslide victory to become Oakland's next mayor.

I wanted to run the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Complex, and I had good reason for my desire. I already had good relationships with all of the sports tenants. I knew the Coliseum budget very well. I knew the legal contracts behind the Raiders Deal so well I could recall them from memory, and in most cases still can. I also knew the business plan for the Coliseum that was written by now former Deputy City Manager Ezra Rapport chapter-and-verse.

So Elihu Harris went to Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who also then as now serves as Chairman of the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority (JPA). Now, let me preface what I'm about to write with how I currently feel and have personally felt about Ignacio. I think he's a great person. I've always enjoyed our personal talks together, and I still do. I know one of his long time aides was upset that I interviewed his challenger Mario Juarez, but that's news and he called me. I have said to Ignacio the invitations open and heck, I've written about him tons of times if you go back to my Montclarion years.

But the truth remains that Ignacio did not want me to run the Coliseum. Period. I think he was still smarting from how I worked to block his attempt to annouce a naming rights deal between UMAX and the Oakland Coliseum while Elihu was out of town and the Raiders had not approved the deal. But the bottom line was that I had to protect my boss, the Mayor, and that's what I did. Period. End of story.

But he wasn't happy about that.

So then-Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb asked me to meet with then-Economic Development head Bill Claggett regarding working over there. So I did have lunch with Bill. It was weird. Basically, Bill said that he thought I talked liked I thought I knew everything and my response was that I talked in plain English, was supposed to sound professional, and I was that way since I was six years old. I felt that Bill wasn't used to well-educated Black men; he was intimidated by me for really no good reason.

So I went to tell Robert Bobb what happened and his response was "You do talk like you think you know everything. You. You're young. Black. Smart. You're a threat. Oakland's a crab-barrel town. They pull you down here."

I was shocked and also pleased that "Mr. Bobb" saw what I was dealing with, because until he said that, I was ready to leave Oakland. I remained because of Robert Bobb. I went over to work for Claggett in Economic Development and wound up heading the effort to bring the Super Bowl here.

But don't think for a moment they made it comfortable for me. It was a constant battle between me, certain execs who thought they should be heading the effort, and also those who perceived me as "White" and not "one of them" and thus created all kinds of stupid and sinister road blocks for me. Some really terrible stuff was done to me that on more than one occasion just privately brought me to tears.

For example, my mail started containing a magazine called "Honey" that I never even purchased or heard of and threw away and complained to the mail staff, then it came again. I went to investigate who did this, and the magpublisher said it was someone with a City of Oakland credit card! Now they did that as a pretty fucked up way of telling me I should date Black women -- it was none of their fucking business who I dated outside of my work hours. But they had a perception and allowed their insecurities to run amok.

That I will not forgive the City for anytime soon, unless they want to give me a long overdue key to the City for my Super Bowl work. Ignacio himself said then -- in fact on October 26, 2000 -- that my work "Was the only positive news the Oakland Coliseum had at the time." He said that after my meeting with the Coliseum JPA (joint powers authority) where they took the action of "no action" on the Oakland Super Bowl Bid.

No kiddding.

I resolved to basically fight the system of the City of Oakland by bringing the Super Bowl here. Every day was a practice in anger, determination, focus, and pressure and I got no help from the City of Oakland even though I worked for them. I had to do everything, from run the Oakland-Alameda County Sports Commission (which I created from scratch even as then-City Attorney Jane Williams said I would need two years to get approval -- I got it in two months) to answer the phones to make copies of docs, to negotiating contracts with the NFL to carrying 32 boxes of Palm Computers and Bid Books (for each of the team owners) down to a Fed Ex Truck that arrived late and in the pouring rain.

Even with that, I almost succeeded by getting Oakland to one of three finalists for the right to host the Super Bowl, losing to Jacksonville for the 2005 game. What I went through to get that far will make a good book and a great movie.

Don't think that favoritism starts with Deborah Edgerly. It's part of the organizational DNA of Oakland and has been practiced by everyone from then-Mayor Jerry Brown on down. In fact, it was widely known that Jerry didn't want Deborah Edgerly as his first choice for Chief Administrative Officer; he wanted the stiletto and ankle-bracelet-wearing Dolores Blanchard (who was White, not Black as an FYI) to be the one, but she lived in Danville, not Oakland.

Favoritism is in Oakland's genetic makeup. It's time for some genetic engineering.
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