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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Brown Leads in Oakland Mayoral Race

Bay Area: With nearly two-thirds of precincts counted, former governor had about 60% of the votes.

June 03, 1998|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — Former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. surged to a strong lead Tuesday over 10 opponents in the Oakland mayoral primary.

With about two-thirds of the precincts reporting, Brown had almost 60% of the vote. His closest opponent, urban planning professor Ed Blakely, had 15%.

Brown did not declare outright victory. Instead, he told cheering supporters: "The real victory is going to come when I see people taking bars off windows in Oakland because they feel so safe. . . . When people move to Oakland to get their kids in the public schools."

Brown, whose campaign was buttressed by his star power and decades-long political record, needed 50% plus one to win outright. A poll one week before the election by the San Francisco Chronicle showed Brown capturing 46% of the vote, with 25 to 30% undecided and his nearest opponents garnering just 8%.

Brown's campaign headquarters--his waterfront live-work space--had a relaxed feel Tuesday evening. Volunteers slapped ribs on outdoor barbecues and danced to rock music as the returns began rolling in.

"We like Jerry Brown. He was a good governor and he is somebody we can believe in," said Oscar Winthrop, an organizer with My Brothers Keepers, a West Oakland men's organization. Winthrop said the organization focuses on keeping young black men in school.

Upstairs in his room, where he spent most of the afternoon and evening, Brown, the only white candidate, appeared jubilant.

"I've never been ahead in absentee ballots before in any of my campaigns," he said, standing in a room lit only by outside street lights.

If he did win, Brown said, his first priority is to get the signatures of 45,000 Oakland voters in the next three weeks to qualify a charter amendment on the November ballot to alter the City Charter to invest more power in the mayor.

"After that, the real work begins," he said. "This is a serious job, working in a city with as many contradictions and challenges as Oakland."

Brown attributed his strong showing to the desire of Oakland voters for change, and said his campaign--which accepted no donation above $100--emphasized meetings between the candidate and small groups of voters to show that "citizen politics are back."

In his campaign, the former two-term governor promised to drive lobbyists from City Hall and to open the political process by consulting with neighborhood associations.

"Oakland has all the ingredients San Francisco once had: space, openness, a waterfront, thousands of writers and artists, a working class base," he said.

Brushing aside the fact that the mayor's job has little power--the city is actually run by its city manager--Brown said he would seek federal, state and private funds for the schools and to fight crime.

At first glance, the 60-year-old onetime Jesuit seminarian's candidacy seemed improbable.

Why, political pundits wondered, would voters in this predominantly minority city elect a white man who moved to town just three years ago to live communally in a live-work space on the waterfront that doubled as headquarters for his We the People movement?

And why did a man who ran unsuccessfully for president three times want a largely ceremonial job as mayor of the state's seventh-largest city?

Brown said that he saw in Oakland a chance to put into practice on the micro level what he has preached on the state and national level for years. Small is beautiful. Less is more. Democracy can only survive if voters take back the political process from corrupt politicians and powerful lobbyists.

Brown got a boost from the sheer number of his opponents. He was also helped by the fact that he was not part of the existing power structure.

Two of Brown's stronger opponents--Alameda County Supervisor Mary King and Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, supported the financial deal with the Oakland Raiders that stuck taxpayers with much of the bills for renovating the Raiders' stadium. Oakland residents have voiced anger at that deal and at the failure of the city's political leadership to grab a larger piece of the Bay Area's booming economy.

Brown, his face now lined with wrinkles, still conveys the sort of incandescent, righteous anger that made him a serious challenger to Jimmy Carter for a few months in 1976, when Brown was 38.

Residents deserve better, he said, than to be led by politicians who have failed to put the East Bay city of 388,000 on the map.

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