Political heavyweight Ronald V. Dellums has officially joined the race for Oakland mayor, leaving Mills and the greater Bay Area community both excited and skeptical about how effective the former congressman would be in city politics. Both support and opposition of Dellums center on his age, political experience and commitment to governing Oakland.
Dellums, who retired from Congress in 1998, announced his candidacy on Oct. 7. His return to politics was initiated by supporters, who formed the Draft Dellums for Mayor Committee in June. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the group persuaded Dellums to consider running for the position after presenting him with 8,000 signatures from Bay Area supporters.
Dellums is now considered the front-runner in the election, slated for June 2006. His primary opposition, Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and Councilwoman Nancy Nadel said they would remain in the race despite Dellums’ political clout. According to the Chronicle, Nadel expressed confusion as to why Dellums was running, as she already represented “a strong progressive candidate.”
“I don’t think it was necessary for him to run,” she said.
De La Fuente, former front-runner in the race, said in the same article that he is looking forward to “a vigorous, thoughtful and aggressive campaign.” He credits Dellums with increasing interest in the race for mayor yet doesn’t believe he is guaranteed the position due to his political distance from Oakland and limited municipal experience. Dellums spent 34 years in Congress, devoting much of the last seven years as a lobbyist for prominent companies such as AT&T and Rolls-Royce.
De La Fuente, who seeks to be Oakland’s first Latino mayor, said in an article in the L.A. Times that he spent much of the same time “in Oakland with my sleeves rolled up.”
Yet De La Fuente’s supporters, political analysts and Bay Area residents agree that Dellums will be difficult to beat, given his extensive political background and Bay Area connection. Dellums is well-known for his dual role as chairman of the Armed Forces Committee and a vocal peace activist. During his 13 terms in Congress, he fought for the end of apartheid in South Africa, introduced a national health care plan and was Chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. The 69-year-old Oakland native also served on the Berkeley City Council and received his bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University. Dellums has participated in several Bay Area events since his retirement and was commencement speaker at Mills for the class of 2005.
Jerry Brown, current Oakland mayor and former governor of California, told the Chronicle that he will continue to endorse De La Fuente, yet recognizes Dellums as a formidable candidate. “[Dellums] is coming in with a big splash,” he said. “He’s very well known and has a long history in the East Bay.”
Ife Tayo Walker, coordinator for the public policy program at Mills and Oakland resident for 15 years, said Dellums’ background is exactly why she will vote for him. “He’s extremely credible for me because of his background and family history,” she said. “I know he’s going to do what he says he’s going to do, so I don’t have to read between the lines with him.” Walker also believes that Dellums has the level of charisma necessary to be an effective politician in Oakland. “Oakland needs someone to look to for positive leadership, and I know he’ll do just that,” she said.
Senior Carolina Salazar, president of ASMC, agreed and said Dellums will address issues that have long been neglected by the political community. “I think that he has the experience, dedication and passion to truly create positive change in this community,” she said. “Oakland needs a leader like Dellums to bring marginalized issues to the forefront.”
For Emery Roe, a public policy professor at Mills, such issues include universal health care and education. A resident of Oakland since 1984, Roe believes Dellums will effectively deal with these topics due to his experience and political clout. “I believe Dellums will try his best to keep alive affordable housing, jobs and healthcare,” he said. “His national reputation will enable him to fight for state and national resources in a way that other candidates couldn’t even begin to do.”
Roe also believes Dellums’ legislation will include the entire Oakland community due to his congressional experience and progressive politics. “He knows all about the politics of including people instead of excluding them because he’s from Congress,” he said. “He represents both progressives and a variety of ethnic groups.”
Dellums will need to draw on such a diverse support base to be successful in his campaign. Although blacks are the largest racial group in Oakland, the city remains highly diverse, with a 31 percent white, 22 percent Latino and 15 percent Asian community according to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau. Should Dellums be elected, he will be Oakland’s third African American mayor.
Lauren Brown, a junior, said the limited political representation of blacks is one of the primary reasons she supports Dellums. “It’ll be nice to have a black mayor for a black city,” she said. “I also think he’s highly qualified.”
Other Mills students question how effective Dellums can be due to his age. Sophomore Amber Wilson expressed concern that Dellums, who will turn 70 in November, is “just old.”
Stephanie McLeod, a junior, shared her opinion, stating that Dellums’ age will prevent him “from knowing what’s going on in Oakland.”
Dellums’ acceptance speech also generated concern within the Mills community. During his speech on Oct.7, Dellums said that he had originally intended on declining the offer to run, yet changed his mind once he saw the “desire to be inspired” in the faces of the audience. According to an article by East Bay Express, he also warned that while he was now committed to joining the race he didn’t want to “go 24/7” or spend all of his time in politics.
McLeod said she’s concerned that Dellums spontaneously entered the race. “He sounds pretty wishy-washy,” she said.
Walker said she was also distressed by the “24/7” statement. “It troubled me that it sounded like he wasn’t going to work hard,” she said. “I don’t think that was what he was saying, [but] I think it’ll be [misinterpreted] by those who don’t believe in him.”
Supporters and opponents of Dellums do agree on one thing: his candidacy will increase interest in the Oakland mayoral race.
According to the Chronicle, De La Fuente said he was pleased that Dellums had joined the race because “Ron…will bring more excitement and interest to the race of mayor.”
Roe believes Dellums will enact positive change within the Oakland community by doing so.
“Whatever the outcome, he’ll draw voters out, which is a good thing,” he said.