OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//ANALYSIS | One of Oakland’s most progressive voices is being marginalized. Not because of politics, but because of her rotten attitude. After another impetuous and nasty display by Councilmember Desley Brooks at Tuesday’s city council meeting, it’s clear her colleagues have resorted to punishing her for her antics. How can you blame them? Over the past year, Brooks has insulted every council member other than Larry Reid. She has routinely squabbled with Councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Libby Schaaf in tones nearly indistinguishable from asserting their motives reside in racism and social class. This week, Brooks spoke in diminishing terms to Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney by calling her “new” to council and labeled Councilmember Dan Kalb disingenuous. Well, that was too much for the mild-mannered Kalb who just couldn’t take it anymore and lashed out at Brooks. This brief confrontation though only shows more council members are jumping on the boat that leaves Brooks on her own lonely island of bitterness.
The issue this week of studying Richmond’s proposal to aid underwater mortgages for the purposes of Oakland seems like an idea worth examining. Oakland residents have been hurt by Corporate America’s malfeasance as much or more than other city in the country. Brooks merely wanted to support Richmond’s courage and spark the same conversation in Oakland. Although, some like Kernighan and Schaaf, may bristle at another perceived arrow shot by the city at banks following immense foot-dragging with the debarment of Goldman Sachs from city contracts, they and others on the council took umbrage at Brooks ramming the Richmond resolution down their throats.
Brooks pushed her resolution in the Rules Committee, fought with Schaaf, and then pulled it from consideration while a similar resolution by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan proceeded to committee next week. Brooks huffed and puffed and eventually brought Reid and Councilmember Gallo in tow to force her resolution upon a special meeting this week. Some members appeared queasy about what they were specifically supporting in Richmond’s plan. Unsurprisingly, the disharmony that led Brooks to pull the item last month in Rules again occurred Tuesday evening. It will now be heard during the next council meeting Nov. 19 and may be on a collision course with Kaplan’s resolution. Neither seemed amendable last Tuesday to knitting the resolutions into one.
Herein lays the problem with Brooks and her out-of-control persona: it’s hindering the progressive movement in Oakland. Brooks can often sound like a bratty child, screaming and stomping her feet when things don’t go her way. However, on occasion, she puts her bat-shit antics aside and sounds like the most lucid defender of common folks and their plight. She is the only member of the council who rings the progressive bell. Unfortunately, she also uses the same bell to clobber her colleagues over the head. For instance, how many times in the last year has Kernighan screamed at Brooks “you’re out of order”? Enough that it would make quite a compelling campaign commercial for her opponents in next year’s race for re-election.
By far, the most embarrassing Oakland City Council moment this year occurred during Brooks’ censure hearing late July when her and Reid tag-teamed to race-bait the mostly black audience into a frenzy by implying Kernighan’s scheduling of the hearing was somehow racist in tone. That night Kernighan seemed like she was routed by Brooks, but hindsight may eventually show a different outcome. Politics is governance, but it’s also a game—an extremely rough game—and payback can be ruthless, especially when your adversary is the president of the council. The marginalization of Brooks may have only just begun. And, remember, her only allies are Reid, a councilman crippled by back problems and Gallo, a first-term representative, who may soon realize his alliance amounts to a good kids hanging out with the bad crowd. Remember, it was this same threesome whose budget plan last June was dismissed by the majority. Nevertheless, if you don’t work with your colleagues—a situation Oakland voters appear to crave from their city council—things can get often lonely in the minority.