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.


Cross-posted from East Bay Citizen

10 Responses

  1. S B

    I think the question really is – has Ms. Brooks marginalized herself by her actions? If so, then the council is just taking her lead.

  2. Oakie

    “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Mark Twain

    Mark Twain didn’t have a chance to meet our fine political leaders in Oakland.

  3. Terry Christian

    I agree that Brooks has marginalized herself. You cannot be so mean-spirited, so consistently, and expect people to want to work with you. One thing I understand from others is that Brooks is actually quite absent from City Hall, and efforts to approach her before meetings to work with her are met with silence. Then, Brooks explodes at Council meetings. If youre not around to talk to your colleagues, and when you do it’s unpleasant, what does she expect?

    I do think new Councilmembers knew Brooks was there and should be able to keep their cool. For Dan Kalb, Mr “respectability at Council,” to already be part of the problem is yet another disappointment for North Oakland voters like me.

    And lastly, I think Mr Tavares may speak too definitively about what Ms Brooks stands for. He appears to be sure of her intentions and motivations, when there is little evidence that she is, in fact, “progressive,” whatever that means. Theres nothing I see to back that assertion up.

  4. livegreen

    Thanks for this opinion piece and mostly on the mark analysis.

    I would only add that most of the council members are “progressive”, even if some are concerned about analyzing the real world financial ramifications of Richmond’s efforts.

    It’s serious business and if the City were to follow Richmond (the undoubted next step in these efforts) and the results were to lose prospective bond holders / lenders, or subject themselves to higher bond rates, these would be passed on to tax payers. If this were to happen the politicians would rightfully be accused of not fully analyzing the situation. Therefore Mr. Kalb is absolutely right to want to get a full grasp of Richmond’s undertaking, and, given that Richmond is already paying higher interest rates, other city council members are right to be skeptical.

    Given that Richmond’s efforts are still playing out, it might be too soon to make a call. Given that it’s a balancing act between the potential benefits of settling foreclosed properties, balancing eminent domain where it’s needed & not, and balancing the pros & cons with the resulting bond rates, this is a complex subject that should be entertained intelligently.

    Ms. Brooks is almost entirely political, selfishly so (often in total disregard of either others or the entire city) and these efforts & her attitude should be viewed through this lens. Those politicians who are more policy oriented and want to get the job done correctly are right to be more careful, while still moving the ball forwards.

  5. KL

    The bottom line is that Brooks get things done. Sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, the boat has to be rocked.

    The author wrote that Brooks “has routinely squabbled with Councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Libby Schaaf in tones nearly indistinguishable from asserting their motives reside in racism and social class.” That doesn’t mean that Brooks is wrong.

  6. A

    KL, what exactly has she done since you seem to think she has accomplished something notable? And before you start, keep in mind she has had reckless disregard for the rules of governance as evident of the hearing. But I guess the ends justify the means right?

  7. Len Raphael

    Saying that Brooks hasn’t accomplished much in her years in office could be said of most of our council members for the past several decades.

    What’s interesting about Brooks is that every so often she zeros in on some fundamental policy flaw that the other members are careful to avoid mentioning. eg. a couple of years ago at a budget hearing she pointed out how our budgeting consistently fails to reflect both long term deficits and regularly balances short term budgets with short sighted accounting maneuvers.

    But then she’ll go ahead and do exactly what she rightly criticized the other council members of doing. eg. How this past June she and Larry Reid successfully pushed for freeing up more real estate transfer tax increases to pay for discretionary council spending instead of being restricted to reserves and long term obligation paybacks.


  8. KL

    I’ve seen Brooks stand up for her constituents several times at the city council meetings. Also, I have heard many stories of people she has helped.

    True, she will not win a Miss Congeniality contest, but she is known for getting things done. That is most important.

    So if we agree that all the council members have flaws, isn’t Brooks being singled out and marginalized?

  9. Len Raphael

    KL, agree. Personality matters more than policy at CC. But that’s politics.

    Look at how we’re stuck replaying the youth curfew debate every year because a couple of CM’s strongly favor it and assumedly want to show it for their core supporters even though it will never pass.

  10. Jonatton Yeah?

    So getting things done at any and all costs is what’s important. Screw the system, right? Forget those dumb “laws” or whatever people call them. The process? Meh. Public funds? Those are at her discretion to do what she sees as fit. Heading to DC? A 5 night stay in the Washington Hilton to the tune of $6,239 is sticking up for her constituents, right? Handing out 70K$ in public funds to political organizations to get that idiot Dellums reelected is super kosher.

    You sound like a member of the Tea Party, KL. Talking about how the “boat needs to be rocked” and how the system in place doesn’t matter if you disagree with it or need to get your own agenda “done.” One decides they can shut the government down if they feel like it. The other can rob the government blind if they feel like it. Both have this belief that they are more important and can do whatever they want in order to get what they think matters.

    There is a system of checks and balances for a reason. Brooks has thumbed her nose at those systems and the people of Oakland for years and years. What you call “marginalized” I call lucky – she still has a job she doesn’t deserve. Not that it matters. In Oakland, when you’re wrong you can simply just show up with a bunch of people to shout down your retractors with accussations of “racism.” And people wonder why Oakland’s public policy is in such a shambles. Actually, I don’t think anyone wonders anymore.


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