ANSWER: Name this socialist

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Wed Aug 11 16:21:53 PDT 1999

Carl Remick wrote:

>Speaking of Jesuits, I'm surprised no one's mentioned yesterday's
>page-one Wall Street Journal article on Jerry Brown

Meant to post it actually. Here 'tis.

Makes me feel vindicated for savaging Jerry in '92 <>. After all, this is the guy who once touted the virtues of interracial boot camps for juveniles by saying "The black kids can teach the white kids how to fight and the white kids can teach the black kids how to read."



Wall Street Journal - August 10, 1999


By Peter Waldman Staff Reporter Of The Wall Street Journal

OAKLAND, Calif. -- As the late-day sun glints off the Oakland estuary, Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. wades into a crowd of admirers sipping cocktails, pool-side, at a waterfront hotel.

Seven months have passed since the former California governor and radio talk-show host took City Hall here by storm, elected mayor with overwhelming support. In that time, "crime is down, land values are up," crows the fund-raising letter that has brought out some 50 lawyers and real-estate developers on a sultry evening, with the promise of "a good chance to chat with the mayor."

Price for the privilege: $500 a head, payable to the mayor's office-furniture account -- a hefty premium over the $100 donor cap Mr. Brown swore by for most of this decade.

"Those were the good old days," quips John Protopappas, the Oakland developer who was treasurer of Mr. Brown's mayoral campaign, which stuck firmly to the $100 limit. "And those days are over."

This is where the rubber meets the road: Jerry Brown, 61 years old, the protean populist whose life's quest has passed through Catholic seminary, high political office, and several Buddhist ashrams, is remaking himself, and this gritty city-across-the-bay, again. The three-time presidential candidate, who used to fulminate about the evils of capitalism and global trade, now spends much of his time cajoling corporate bosses and real-estate tycoons to invest in the downtrodden downtown of this city of nearly 400,000 people.

The radio talk jock, who used to rail against the war on drugs and the "prison-industrial complex" as plots to rid America of capitalism's losers, now boasts of personally busting a heroin junkie, and of putting more cops on Oakland's streets and more delinquent kids behind bars.

And the insurgent campaigner, who used to say political contributions of more than $100 "represented the increasing subversion of democracy by the corporate global system," now hobnobs with the business elite, hustling cash for furniture for the mayor's office and urging contributors to drop by City Hall to see him -- and the new $43,000 walnut furniture -- any time.

"Just barge in," Mr. Brown says.

In short, Gov. Moonbeam has become Mayor Pothole. And though it is early in his term, he seems to be making some progress on the ground. For years, as the Bay Area boomed, Oakland has been left behind -- a racially mixed pocket of de-industrialized decay encircled by the posh suburbs and sizzling information-hubs of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. In his campaign for mayor, Mr. Brown, who moved here from San Francisco five years ago, promised to dismantle the African-American-dominated political machine that presided over much of the city's decline since the 1970s. Under the banner "Oaklanders First," he vowed to slash crime, improve schools, build up downtown and foster the arts. He beat 10 candidates in a landslide.

"Jerry Brown is probably the only white politician who could have said those things and not been run out of town," says neighborhood activist Hugh Bassett, one of eight black candidates who ran against him. "People are desperate. They think, 'Here's a liberal Democrat; maybe he's the answer to our prayers.' " On crime and capitalism, Mr. Brown never minced words.

"The U.S. incarceration binge is not tied to crime," he said in a 1995 radio address. It's "a strategy to control the surplus population in a capitalist system that is breaking down."

Today, the mayor's "Campaign on Crime and Grime" is a centerpiece of his administration. At a meet-the-mayor coffee klatch in one of Oakland's middle-class neighborhoods, Mr. Brown's first question to the two-dozen constituents who turn up is, "What about crime?"

He answers it himself. Reeling off statistics from his head -- he keeps the daily crime tally from the police computer in his breast pocket -- the mayor says there were 36,841 crimes reported in Oakland last year, or 101 a day. He's committed to reducing that number by 20% in the next year, he says, with more cops on the streets and better community policing. More criminals must go to jail -- and stay there -- he says.

Take the woman whom the mayor had arrested after seeing her shooting up; she was back on the streets the next day. "I've discussed it with the DA," he says. Or the kids who commit most of Oakland's 18,000 car break-ins a year, yet seldom go to prison because they don't meet prosecutors' 10-point criteria for jailing juveniles: "We're working on that," he says. Or the 120 prison parolees a month released in Oakland, three-quarters of whom commit more crimes: "They shouldn't be let out before getting job training," he says.

Mr. Brown's crackdown on crime -- he has consulted William Bratton, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's former police commissioner in New York, for tips -- is crucial to achieving another of his goals: revitalizing downtown Oakland. Before his term ends in 2003, Mr. Brown has vowed to lure at least 10,000 new residents to the central business district. His hope is that these inhabitants, paying market-rate rents, will transform the area's clutch of government-office buildings and residential flophouses into a round-the-clock hive of shopping and entertainment.

"The cranes are coming," Mr. Brown tells the house meeting.

"But what about the rest of Oakland? What about diversity?" asks Patrick Flynn, a video-laboratory technician. "Is this going to be like San Francisco, where only yuppies can afford to live?"

"Do you think there's diversity in those downtown single-resident hotels now?" Mr. Brown snaps back. "Are you telling me, 'Slow down, don't make anything happen, because property values will rise and rents will go up?' "

Before becoming mayor, Mr. Brown championed what he and a coterie of intellectuals around him called "creative development" -- ideas such as mixed-use and affordable-housing requirements to force developers to safeguard Oakland's economic and ethnic diversity. A few years ago, Mr. Brown commissioned his own study, called "Oakland Ecopolis," which said the city, "in place of quantitative economic growth," should pursue "environmentally sustainable development that enriches the social lives of the body politic."

That's ancient history now. "I don't talk about sustainable development. I talk about downtown development," Mr. Brown tells the neighborhood group. As a further reality check, the mayor recounts his recent meeting with Douglas Shorenstein, a big San Francisco developer who bought Oakland's six-building City Center project out of foreclosure two years ago. The two-million-square-foot complex, in the heart of Oakland's downtown, includes four empty lots that Mr. Brown is eager to have developed in part for new housing. Mr. Shorenstein, however, wants to build office buildings.

"Shorenstein has one interest: maintaining his return on investment," Mr. Brown tells the constituents. "We have to accommodate that, or nothing will happen." After the meeting, Mr. Flynn is unassuaged. "Jerry and his guests on the radio always talked about humanistic values, but he turned that into a joke tonight," Mr. Flynn says. "All he talked about were cops and cranes."

Some of Mr. Brown's early friends and supporters in Oakland do wonder about his latest incarnation. Many think he's trying to dilute the moonbeam rap, with an eye toward another campaign for national office. Mr. Brown doesn't dismiss the possibility of future campaigns, but denies betraying any past principles. Indeed, he seems to have come to accept the idea of politics as the art of the possible.

With a Jerry Brown twist, of course. Through his study of Buddhism in Japan in recent years, he says, he has learned that "when you eat rice you focus on the grain between the chopsticks, not the one on your plate or the one you already swallowed. One step at a time." He tells critics to get real. "This is earth, there's no space outside the market," he says. "We take the world as we find it."

The mayor's relationship with Mr. Shorenstein is itself a marker of Mr. Brown's evolution. Mr. Shorenstein's father, Walter, was one of the big Democratic donors who, in the 1960s, bankrolled Mr. Brown's own father, two-term California Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr. When Jerry Brown became California's governor in 1975, the rebel son wouldn't have anything to do with his dad's wealthy friends, says Peter Finnegan, who grew up with Jerry Brown and worked for him in Sacramento.

Today, Mayor Brown eagerly lends a hand recruiting tenants for the Shorensteins' buildings.

"I'm really impressed," says Douglas Shorenstein, who has seen downtown Oakland rents rise more than 50% in the two years since buying the City Center project. "It could have gone either way: If Oakland had become a petri dish of unconventional ideas, it would have fed the negative perceptions. But Jerry has been very vocal about promoting growth."

That's a switch.

"I'd shrink government in a minute," Mr. Brown said on his Berkeley-based KPFA-FM radio show a few years ago, "if I could shrink GM, Bank of America, and all these immoral corporations that operate by an undemocratic code, with no soul and no conscience."

One of Mr. Brown's new friends, in fact, is Hugh McColl Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Bank of America Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C. They recently met over lunch, leaving Mr. Brown singing the southern banker's praises.

"He wants to put a lot of money into Oakland," Mr. Brown says. "We need help getting people to be consumers."

Just across the highway from downtown Oakland is West Oakland, an old residential neighborhood of tree-lined streets, detached homes, big backyards and square front lawns. This area has the most to gain, and perhaps lose, if downtown Oakland becomes the engine of growth envisioned by Mr. Brown. Despite West Oakland's excellent housing stock -- many homes are century-old Victorians -- and ideal location at the light-rail junction linking downtown Oakland with San Francisco and the eastern Silicon Valley, neighborhood home prices remain among the lowest in the Bay Area.

West Oakland is 70% black and largely poor. Steel bars protect most windows, disemboweled cars dot streets, and residents must travel miles to buy a head of lettuce. Yet even here, property values are creeping up, as middle-class Asians, Hispanics, blacks, and a few whites move in.

What frightens West Oaklanders now is the prospect that this trickle could turn into a flood, pricing them out of their own neighborhood. In fact, to black leaders throughout the city, Mr. Brown's unabashed plans to gentrify central Oakland raises the issue of whether Oakland could cease to be a leading center of African-American culture. Already, its black plurality -- Oakland is roughly 40% black, 30% white and the rest fast-growing populations of Asians and Hispanics -- is tenuous. Adding to the concern are several of Mr. Brown's early moves, including his sacking of a popular black police chief and a shake-up of the minority-dominated school district.

"Jerry Brown saying he's making Oakland 'safe' is a euphemism for attracting white people to Oakland at the expense of blacks being driven out," says David Hilliard, who co-founded the Black Panther Party in West Oakland in the 1960s and campaigned hard for Mr. Brown for mayor last year. Now Mr. Hilliard is running for a seat on Oakland's city council, "because Jerry has abandoned his commitment to the underclass," he says.

In an interview at City Hall, Mr. Brown bridles at the charge he's turned his back on blacks and the poor. He says his initiatives to reduce crime and improve education are aimed squarely at the underclass. As for concerns about gentrification, he says, "Oakland is a constant river -- people move in, people move out."

Still, in his frenetic search to change the face of Oakland, the impulsive mayor often lapses, seemingly unaware, into past lives.

At a meeting with some first-year teachers at City Hall, Mr. Brown argues the merits of his plan for more charter schools and a military academy in Oakland. The young teachers cringe. One tells the mayor it takes hours for his students' parents to cross town by bus just to buy groceries, because all the food markets have fled their area. What is Mr. Brown doing for them?

Nothing, it seems. "In our economy, these people are designated for failure. That's our system," he tells the teachers.

A few days later, as Mr. Brown takes the microphone at the hotel fund-raiser for his furniture account, his pompoms are back on.

"From Alexandria, to Rome, to Athens, all civilization comes out of the city. I want to put Oakland in that category!" he tells the cheering crowd. Then, thanking the lawyers and developers for their $500 checks, he explains why he accepted their money, which is destined to defray the cost of office furniture already bought with campaign funds.

"We wanted to send the message that Oakland expects you to do more for yourselves," Mr. Brown says. "If we had to go through city purchasing, we still wouldn't have that furniture."

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list