The United Front Against Desley Brooks

Posted on May 17, 2018


srfwerewOakland Mayor Libby Schaaf launched her current assault against District 6 Council Person Desley Brooks, in April–ironically, in the midst of “honoring” the work of fellow council person Annie Campbell Washington. Washington announced she was retiring, setting the stage for Schaaf’s attack with a subsoundbite against “the corruption” at city council. Schaaf picked up the baton in a series of comments where she praised Washington’s brief term of service and compared Brooks–of all people–to Donald Trump.

But the attack on Brooks by the city establishment had started earlier–how much earlier really is only a function of how long an article one wants to write about it. In 2012, the SF Chronicle published a scoop about Brooks irregular use of funding to put a teen center in her district. The scandal that the Chronicle helped ignite around Brooks just happened to dovetail with then-City Administrator Deanna Santana’s vendetta to oust her, which was revealed when the city lost a whistleblower lawsuit to former city employee Lawana Preston. Preston claimed that Santana had pressured her to falsify reports about Brooks and the teen center; Preston, who worked closely with Santana, believed the attack was racially motivated.

Institutional attacks against Brooks know no term limits. Schaaf has been attacking Brooks since her days of sharing the half-round at the Oakland City Council. Schaaf publicly endorsed Brooks’ opponent in the 2014 District 6 election, who also happened to be Schaaf’s long-time aide, and was subsequently promoted to Schaaf’s mayoral Chief of Staff. Schaaf is currently endorsing one of Brooks’ challengers in the November election, while another of Brooks challenger is a former Schaaf mayoral aide and ally. With ranked-choice voting, this gives a Schaaf-associated candidate a very high chance of unseating Brooks. As mayor, Schaaf also seems to have access to the editorial boards of local newspapers, who always seem to be remarkably in lock-step with the mayor and city administrators vendettas against the District 6 Councilperson.

Brooks, of course, like any politician has a long career with many unsavory historical footnotes and they are worth investigating. Brooks, for example, was associated with an attempt to exempt the new Walgreens pharmacy development on Foothill and Bancroft in her district from the city’s living wage restrictions, which would have cost employees there nearly $2 an hour in pay. She has a pretty dicey record of illegally accepting campaign contributions. I’ve personally watched Brooks manipulate the process of discussion at the council to make it appear as if she opposes items that she actually votes for. I watched her do this during the E.12th parcel vote. When a shaky and not yet fully corrupted novice CM Abel Guillen made a motion to withdraw the sale under withering popular pressure, Brooks literally flung her body in front of the bullet, issuing a head-spinning counter-proposal to table and re-introduce the legislation later instead.

Despite these glaring flaws, Brooks is often the sole no vote on racist, and otherwise, unanimous, city council decisions, too. Brooks was the only member of the council, for instance, who voted no on the continuing payments to police consultant William Bratton. Bratton, who advocated violent and ineffective tactics, in the end, didn’t even normatively do his job, despite charging the city nearly half a million dollars. Brooks voted no on the low-ball settlement from the city on Celeste Guap, rightly condemning the figure as far too low to reflect the systemic failure in government and policing that went all the way to the Mayor’s office. Brooks introduced the legislation that rolled back the Domain Awareness Center. Brooks is responsible for the Department of Race and Equity, a rare instance in which the city government acknowledges systemic racism.

These actions, in fact, are Brooks incontrovertibly positive contribution to the Oakland City Council. She regularly agendizes Black Oakland. She critiques the process in which Oakland’s growing political and economic power is leaving Black and Brown Oaklanders in the rearview mirror. And she doesn’t do it apologetically. Its worth noting also that in each one of these issues mentioned above, Libby Schaaf as both mayor and council representative was on the other side of the issue–and in historical hindsight, many would agree, the wrong side.

The point isn’t, however, whether or not Brooks is an exemplary politician or nice person. The truth is subjective, but few would disagree that in the broad pattern of city politics, the title for most corrupt, insidious representative is up for grabs monthly–and furiously contested–in the Council chambers. It’s thus surprising that as Brooks seeks re-election in November, local papers seem obsessed only with Brooks to the exclusion of other council members.

Months before Schaaf’s flamboyant, and unprecedented attack, Brooks, was already being stalked by the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper published a series of puzzling articles, editorials and op-eds that created a narrative of corruption around Brooks’ legislative proposal for bond, tax and ticketing revenue to bolster Oakland’s job training centers. Brooks legislative proposal was notably the ONLY investigative reporting on Oakland politics that the Chronicle’s East Bay correspondent Kimberly Veklerov did from January to May.

Veklerov’s first piece on the legislation was conspicuously hostile to both Brooks and the job centers, and buried the fact–as she continued to do so in subsequent reporting–that the legislation had the support of the committee it originated in. One day after publishing Veklerov’s first piece on Brooks’ job center legislation, the Chronicle ran an editorial headlined “Oakland City Council needs to learn the letter of the law”, focused specifically on Brooks and specifically on her still as yet unheard legislation.

Veklerov’s second article on Brooks’ job training ordinance appeared the same week in April that Mayor Schaaf and Annie Campbell Washington announced Brooks was a vector of “unethical” and “toxic” behavior, which was also reported by Veklerov for the Chronicle. Veklerov again used the opportunity to cast Brooks as an unindicted criminal, but remarkably, with no mention at all of the records of Brooks’ accusers Campbell-Washington and Schaaf. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Chronicle devoted its entire editorial output on Oakland to smearing Brooks between January and May, 2018. Mattier and Ross repeatedly honed in on Brooks for gossip-tinged reporting throughout this same period. Otis R. Taylor, the Chronicle’s star columnist, regurgitated the Chronicles specious reporting on Brooks for his embarrassing takes.

The East Bay Times and East Bay Express joined in on the Brooks feeding frenzy. EBT’s editorial board called for the ousting of Brooks in the coming election on its editorial pages in late January, giving her sole blame for problems at city council, just as Schaaf had. Just four days later, Dave Debolt reported the attempt to unseat Brooks from her committee appointments from the perspective of Brooks’ accusers with the inflammatory headline, “Should Desley Brooks chair the Oakland public safety panel?”

And just a few days later, Robert Gammon, the generational editorial influence on the East Bay Express and Oakland Magazine, wrote a scathing editorial about Brooks, folding his long-simmering dislike of her into concern-trolling about the cost to taxpayers from Brown’s lawsuit. Gammon had also called for Brooks’ censure in 2013. The Express editorial board–a body that is literally composed of Gammon–endorsed Schaaf enthusiastically for mayor in 2014. In this context, it’s also of some value to compare Gammon’s remarkably tender critique of Schaaf for her role in the cover up of statutory rape by OPD of a minor here, with the tone and invective of his words against Brooks.

Gamon Twitter Brooks

All of these institutional editorial attacks occurred within weeks of the Chronicle’s first salvo on Brooks’, throughout January and the first days of February, 2018, starting a unified and exclusive pile-on that continues to today, in May and will probably proceed to November.

One could argue that editorial boards have the right to back or deny whatever they like. And though that’s a tired argument, it’s not really what’s at issue here. Even if Brooks was the worst council member in the history of cities, these papers–and its fair to say that they are the entirety of mainstream print news sources in the Bay Area–didn’t bother with basic ideas of journalistic fairness and rigor in their attacks on Brooks, or their reporting on her accusers.

In her reporting on Brooks’ legislation in the Chronicle, for example, Veklerov repeatedly noted the city attorney’s investigation of the legality of Brook’s proposal, strongly implying that Brooks was breaking laws and taking kickbacks in the shadows of city hall. Doubtlessly, Brooks broke no laws, and did not even violate city council protocol in introducing legislation to divert funds from city revenues and public bonds to job centers for Oakland residents. The city attorney’s vetting is part and parcel of the legislative process, and it’s not uncommon for a piece of legislation to head into chambers with the opinion that some parts of it could be unlawful. That of course is what amendments and discussion are for on the floor–i.e., its not unlawful until its voted in, and if that’s the case, then the unlawful actions are shared by the council, not just by the author of the legislation.

That all of this is common sense, escaped the Chronicle, which continued the attack even as the legislation was amended to remove the most controversial language. In an extremely manipulative move, the Chronicle published a photo from last year of City Attorney Barbara Parker giving a press conference to accompany the story on the day of the vote, with the headline “Desley Brooks’ funding proposal partly illegal, Oakland city attorney says”. It’s reasonable to say that the two elements were designed to inflate the importance of the dispute and imply criminality on Brooks’ part.

partly illegal

When the amended proposal was heard in council on the 15th, Veklerov overlooked the opportunity to illustrate Brooks’ argument that the City Attorney’s opinion of the modified proposal was not rooted in law. Veklerov ignored the on the floor discussion between Brooks and the Deputy City Attorney, who was forced to admit he could not produce a code or law that the legislation violated (for a rough sketch of the conversation between Brooks and the City Attorney, see my tweets about it, unfortunately the only evidence it happened in print ).

In the end, it was clear that the City Attorney’s remaining criticism was that the proposal would end-run the city’s Workforce Development Board, the membership of which is appointed exclusively by the Mayor. It’s notable that a much more critical piece of legislation was up for a vote on the same day as Brooks’, as the city sought to sell public land to a charter school, despite the fact that the OUSD had never been consulted and had vehemently condemned the sale as detrimental to funding and education of Oakland youth. Though it was reported by the East Bay Express, not one word appeared in the Chronicle or the East Bay Times, though issues of legality and protocol were definitely foremost.

Obviously, the Brooks and Brown scuffle itself is worth a story, but its outsized character is only due to the multi-million dollar cash judgement that was initially awarded to Brown. It was clear from the moment the award was determined by the jury that the judge intended to reduce it, and ultimately did, though it was scarcely reported by local journalists and it was buried under further smears that Brooks had lied under oath. This is the way East Bay Times reporter Thomas Peele buried the lede in his tweet up of the piece which reported the reduction of the judgement.


Regardless of the relevance of the Brooks-Brown suit, the media’s silence on the vast amount of cash business Elaine Brown has before the city in the context of the lawsuit reporting can only be seen as bad journalism. The Chronicle and East Bay Times were the worst offefnders, but Gammon needlessly pulled the East Bay Express along behind him to join in.

Brown was literally given--that is, sold for a dollar–a parcel of city property that was valued at 1.4 million dollars just as the lawsuit was being heard in 2017. The city had given Brown tens of thousands of dollars each year for the two previous years, while she received a rent-free lease to run a program on the parcel. The city arranged an 800 thousand dollar grant for her proposed affordable housing project as part of the 1 dollar sale.

All in all, this is around 2 million dollars of grants and land that the city awarded Brown through an exclusive negotiating agreement. In May 2018, after the city had given Brown the land and money, the city allowed Brown to change the non-profit affordable housing developer tied to the initial plan, to a for-profit developer known for creating market rate heavy “affordable housing” projects in other cities. This amazing–and remarkably under-reported–largesse occurred while Brown sued a council member that the Mayor and other council members have publicly stated vendettas against.

To its credit, the East Bay Express did good reporting on these issues in mid 2017 when the sale came before the council. That makes the actions of Editor Gammon even more glaring. Gammon rallied for Brown’s censure and removal from committees in his paper and on twitter based on the Brown-Brooks scuffle–but in that editorializing, Gammon never mentioned his own papers’ reporting less than a year previous that depicted Brown’s relationship with the city as troubling and irregular.

Again, if these attacks on Brooks were a legitimate stand on corruption in Oakland politics, we would expect to see welcome reporting on other council members and city officials. Of course, there would be an exposes on Annie Campbell Washinton’s ties to realtors and developers, and shadowy opposition to police oversight. Campbell-Washington pulled pro-tenant legislation in 2017 on the day it was sure to pass to add landlord friendly language. She did the same thing again, as OPD police chief was called to answer for breaking the city’s law by aiding an immigration raid. Her attempts to create legislation to compete with and scuttle the Oakland Police Commission, along with Abel Guillen, last year would also be of some interest to readers who want to know what her definition of corruption is, given her OPOA backing.

We would read reporting on Guillen’s shepherding of the possibly illegal e.12th parcel in what seemed to be noblesse oblige to developer-constituency inherited from his predecessor. So too would his partnership with Campbell Washington to oppose progressive legislation on police accountability and anti-displacement come under scrutiny. Gallo’s involvement with the fire that consumed the historic Miller Library in his district, and the puzzling failure to use insurance funds meant to repair it by a city department where his wife is a senior official would merit some interest. Finally, there’d be a graf or two somewhere asking questions about Elaine Brown’s atm card at the city council and mayor’s office.

But the opprobrium in the reporting on Oakland politics seems to be exclusive to Brooks this year, and seems to synchronize with the city political establishment’s election agenda perfectly. Whether that’s because there’s collusion between them, or that its institutional racism, or that both ultimately have the same boss, is for a real journalist to investigate.



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