The United Front Against Desley Brooks, Part II

Posted on October 22, 2018


2018-10-22_15-18-33Several months ago, Mayor Libby Schaaf and District 4 council person Annie Campbell Washington teamed up in press releases and local television and print news media specifically attacking District 6 council person Desley Brooks. The attack–which painted Brooks as a toxic presence on the city council, in the words of Campbell Washington and the “Donald Trump” of Oakland in Schaaf’s bombastic rhetoric–was the official broadside for Schaaf and her city hall allies against Brooks.

Schaaf and Campbell Washington’s choreographed statements coincided with converging crisis for Brooks from institutional sources aligned with the mayor. During Elaine Brown’s well-publicized suit against Brooks, local media scandalized the council woman’s name, while ignoring the fact that Brown had millions of dollars of business before the city’s development and real estate departments. The pro-Schaaf San Francisco Chronicle (which has endorsed Schaaf) and East Bay Express/Oakland Magazine’s Robert Gammon (a frequent and visible supporter of Schaaf) took the lead.

Meanwhile, the same city attorney responsible for defending Brooks in the suit against Brown publicly attacked a Brooks’ proposal to fund local job training organizations with development dollars. The SF Chronicle created an absurd scandal around the proposal for weeks with the bizarre claim that it was “illegal”. Then landlord and developer friendly council person Lynette Gibson McElhaney brought censure actions against Brooks, amplified in the local press editorial pages, which demanded the removal of Brooks from her committee positions. For several months this year, there was no informational outlet from the city or media that was not branding Desley Brooks a dangerous thug and corrupt criminal politician [I wrote about all of this here].

Taken together, this all looked like an attack against Brooks from the very foundations of the city hall and its media allies, led by its most neo-liberal exponent in a generation, Schaaf. But it turns out that this was just the beginning. Perhaps sensing weakness after a year of such attacks, or perhaps rallied by the same forces, investors, developers and large unions dependent on development also brought out their knives once the election finance cycle started in earnest.

The panoply of capital and political actors out for Brooks is almost surreal, but impossible to ignore. It may seem like a bold claim–that development and mainstream city hall interests are in unison investing so many resources to unseat Brooks–but looking at the type of forces at work, it’s a credible narrative. And it’s especially visible during this last portion of the election cycle, where financing and opponents reflect the power of institutional city hall and capital investment, not the residents of District 6.

The Anti-Brooks Opponents:

Three of Brooks’ four opponents in the District 6 race are connected to Libby Schaaf–Loren Taylor, Natasha Middleton and Mya Whitaker. Schaaf primarily endorsed Taylor, a resident of the wealthy and vertiginous Ridgemont subdivision–the District 6 hilltop neighborhood most ideologically and geographically removed from the Oakland flatlands. Schaaf raised money for Taylor early on, and its clear his agenda closely mirrors hers. Taylor is the best-funded candidate in District 6, and apparently the front-runner to topple Brooks. But Middleton and Whitaker also have strong links to Schaaf, downtown politics and the local Democratic party machine.

Middleton is a former aide to Schaaf from council days and also a Schaaf appointee to the Measure Z oversight board. Middleton entered the race a few weeks later than Taylor, but when she did, Schaaf co-endorsed Middleton. Middleton worked for Council  Member Schaaf and she has worked for Council Member Larry Reid, but she has never shown interest in District 6 politics prior to her campaign announcement.

Mya Whitaker is a a newcomer to politics and unlikely to do well in the D6 election, but her links to Schaaf are worth examining, as they seem unlikely to be a coincidence.  Though she promotes herself as a D6 grounded citizen candidate, Whitaker has little experience in District 6 specific organizations or politics. Whitaker’s only political experience is that Schaaf appointed her to the search committee for a new police chief following the departure of Sean Whent.

Whitaker has few donors located in zip codes in D6. Oddly, some of Whitaker’s largest contributions come from surprisingly powerful people in politics, law and finance outside of Oakland. These include a partner in the real estate division at Gibson, Dunn,, a notoriously gigantic corporate crime defender whose clients include Chevron in Ecuador, and Walmart against its own employees. There’s also a speechwriter for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the political director of Emerge, a 501c3 focusing on campaign training for emerging local Democratic Party candidates.


Whittaker, Middleton and Schaaf, in fact, are all graduates of Emerge California trainings (and current SF Mayor London Breed and current Senator Kamala Harris are also grads). Middleton and Whitaker attended Emerge trainings immediately after working for Schaaf–Middleton in 2013, after working for council member Schaaf in 2012 as a policy analyst, and Whitaker in 2017, directly after serving on the police chief selection committee. Middleton and Schaaf still attend and host events at Emerge.


It seems unlikely that 3 D6 candidates–a perfect RCV slate–connected to the city hall establishment happened to enter this particular D6 race by accident. There’s nothing like this in any other race during this cycle. Rodriguez is the only candidate in the D6 race who lacks pre-existing links to Schaaf and city hall and she has no institutional support, no media attention and has raised almost no cash.

Thus, its unusual that the virtually unknown Whitaker is attracting bigger money from unions and political interests than Rodriguez. Though there could be any number of factors to explain it, one credible explanation is that Schaaf chose and promoted Taylor, Middleton and Whitaker to stack the ranked choice voting deck–not only against Brooks, but more importantly, in favor of Schaaf. Though Middleton, Whitaker and Rodriguez recently promoted themselves as an RCV slate, its regardless an equation that benefits Whitaker and Middleton, not Rodriguez, who simply has no chance of winning or even performing well.

The Anti-Brooks Money:

Another indicator that capital and city hall interests are stalking Brooks is the unprecedented financing role political action committees have taken in the district 6 race, which is unusual not just for East Oakland, but for any council seat. Even well-hated left-leaning council people and mayoral candidates Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan never had two separate PACs raising money to defeat them. The anti-Brooks PACs represent 3 groups: supporters of Libby Schaaf’s city hall; large unions with mostly suburban, not Oakland memberships; and venture capitalists, developers and real estate investors.

Police Commissioner Jose Dorado started the first PAC in late September.


Robert Spears, a venture capital investor started the second in October along with Frank Smith, a local high-powered real estate attorney and fixture in the background of Oakland politics.


While the donations to the two PACs come from disparate sectors, the donors are united in their ambivalence to displacement and their interest in development.

Dorado’s PAC:

Dorado’s PAC, Oakland for Responsible Leadership, Opposing Desley Brooks for City Council, 2018, has raised nearly 75,000 dollars over 80,000 dollars. The contributions are nearly evenly a 40/60% split between individual supporters of Schaaf, who tend to be investors and developers, and large regional construction union locals. The profile of the unions itself is strong evidence that much of the antagonism against Brooks has little to do with her alleged scandals or governance, and far more to do with her positions on racial equity.


None of the unions investing in Dorado’s PAC are Oakland-based. Rather, they are large regional construction and trades unions upset with Brooks for her rhetoric about their suburban membership and her votes for developers that lack master contracts with them. Along these lines, unions that contributed to the Dorado PAC–the Sheet metal local 103, U.A. Local 342 and Sprinkler Fitters 483–also contributed to Abel Guillen. Though Guillen faces a credible challenge from Nikki Fortunato Bas who paints Guillen as a failed progressive corrupted into a pawn of developers, he did vote the unions’ way on the Oakknoll development and is likely being rewarded.

Perhaps the union contribution to Dorado’s PAC that’s most illustrative of this mercenary political rubric has come from the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California–telling because of the SBCTC’s modus operandi in other races throughout California. SBCT functions as a sort of round table advocacy group with deep pockets, and on the state level it represents many of the professions, boards and specific locals that gave to Dorado’s PAC.

In Benicia, SBCT gave $30,000 to a PAC created by the Valero Benicia Refinery to undermine the campaign of council candidate Kari Birdseye who is seen as pro-environment (and thus anti-refinery, where regional unions proliferate). In April, SBCT took out a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times against measures and candidates they claim hurt the “oil and energy” sector.

In a dynamic strikingly similar to Brooks’ in Oakland, SBCT started a PAC and led a campaign against incumbent Assembly Person Cristina Garcia earlier this year during the district primary. Amplifying unproven but scandalous allegations against her, the attack is an obvious punishment for her vote on enhanced Cap and Trade legislation last year. SBCT’s funding against Brooks is at least the third local race SBCT has pumped big money into this year with the express goal of eliminating a candidate unfriendly to the economic interests of their industry.

SBCT has never contributed to campaigns or measures in Oakland before this cycle–their hefty $10,000 contribution to Dorado’s PAC in late October was the first. There are few explanations as compelling for this as the fact that Brooks’ pro-Oakland workforce rhetoric and legislation put her on the state organization’s radar at a time of unprecedented investment in Oakland construction. Its worth noting that SBCT is obviously not representing all unions in their attacks–the city of Oakland’s union, SEIU 1021, endorsed Brooks earlier this year and donated to her campaign as well. They also donated to Bas instead of Guillen. Brooks is seen as very pro-union locally for supporting 1021 against Schaaf, Guillen, and Campbell Washington in arduous contract negotiations and subsequent strike in 2017-18.

All but one of the individuals who made up the 30k or so non-union contributions to Dorado’s PAC also contributed to Schaaf’s re-election campaign. One of the contributors, Eugene Zahas also manages the Oakland Fund, a revolving PAC [with constant ID number, 1310647] which this cycle has raised an astonishing 1.3 million dollars for the Schaaf-branded Measure AA. Measure AA was conceived and backed by Schaaf and because Schaaf’s name is often used in conjunction with its pro-youth, pro-education messaging, financing for it may act as a multiplier to her campaign.

Its worth noting that Schaaf’s campaign management organization, SCN Strategies, is also running the campaign for Measure AA. The Oakland Fund for Measure AA has received over a million dollars of financing this cycle, and has the highest individual donations of any PAC. Much of it is from developers, huge landlords and corporate interests, including Carmel Partners, Arthur Rock, Marc Benioff, TMG Partners and Riaz Taplin. Measure AA is without a doubt important to those with big pockets and interest in the further development of Oakland as an adjunct to Silicon Valley. Zahas’ Oakland Fund has paid at least $40,000 to SCN at the same time that Schaaf’s campaign has likewise paid the company tens of thousands. It’s obvious that promotion of Measure AA is a de facto campaign bump for Schaaf–Schaaf and Measure AA are SCN’s only Oakland clients. So Zahas’ showing up as a donor in this PAC is relevant.


The Venture Capitalist’s PAC:

Like Dorado’s PAC, Spears/Smith’s PAC Citizens for a United Oakland, Opposing Desley Brooks for City Council has few if any donations from any person or entity living in district 6. Spears is the co-founder and director of Shoreline Venture Management, a Silicon Valley venture capital investment firm who lives far from District 6’s flatlands in Broadway Terrace. Likewise, Smith heads a real estate investment law firm. Smith’s law firm represented onerous city development parasite Phil Tagami in his successful attempt to compel the city of Oakland to award him a 12 million dollar no-interest loan. Smith is also a former Oakland Planning Commissioner and former board President of the Claremont Country Club.


Both Smith and Spears gave to their own PAC, as did Spears’ wife. Charles Shalvoy, another powerful venture capitalist gave 6,000 (when combined with the contribution of his wife, Linda Graebner). Another venture fellow traveller, Stephen Pezzola, who also lives in Broadway Terrace contributed 2,500. Charles Freiberg, an attorney living in Piedmont, who works at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres and Friedman–the law firm that represents Donald Trump–gave $4,500. Fred Pillon, a partner in Gibson et al’s real estate division donated 500. Pillon is a partner in the same real estate division as the Gibson partner who gave $800 to Mya Whitaker.


The most telling aspect of the Spears/Smith’s PAC is that it was originally established as Citizens for Oakland in 2014 to influence the mayoral race that year. Its goal during that cycle was supporting investment-friendly mayoral candidates–Joe Tuman, Bryan Parker and Libby Schaaf–and opposing the left-branded ones, Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan. To this end, Citizens 2014 sent out direct mailers instructing voters to rank choice the capital friendly candidates, and not Kaplan or Quan.


Spears/Smith’s anti-Desley Brooks operation has already sent out at least one mailer during this election cycle with a similar rubric, instructing voters to avoid including Brooks in any ranked choice voting rubric. The 2014 and 2018 contributor’s lists match closely–eight of the ten donors to the anti-Brooks version gave generously to the previous version for Tuman, Parker and Schaaf.



There’s little doubt that capital and city hall are making big moves in District 6. But the question, of course, remains–why Desley Brooks? She is by no means a leftist, nor is she necessarily anti-development. Indeed, she’s backed a few of the most notorious market rate developments elsewhere in the city, from the E 12th parcel, to Oak Knoll and the Brooklyn Basin. Brooks also sits on the Public Safety Committee, where her actions–though uniquely critical of OPD in terms of racist policing–are by no means anti-police.

Clearly, the reasons for the universal enmity that Middleton and Taylor have suggested in their campaigning–that Brooks is simply rude and a divisive element on council–aren’t at all convincing. Few are as unpleasant as Larry Reid, who has called other council members liars during council session–and yet no one claims he should be voted out of office for simply this reason. Reed was also recently implicated in a federal corruption investigation, and it went virtually unnoticed. Annie Campbell Washington has been one of the most divisive figures on council, consistently diverting the council’s almost unanimous support for rent protections and police oversight against overwhelming public support for these measures. And again, though she is voluntarily retiring, no similar calls were ever made for her seat.

In many ways, Brooks is a typical Oakland council person, but for one important difference–her consistent agendizing of her majority Black district, which has taken on an almost Robin Hood quality as a relentless wave of gentrification and economic marginalization pushes more and more Black residents out of Oakland. Dorado’s recent explanation for his efforts–that it’s just people who don’t like Brooks happening to come together to collectively raise 100k–is absurd and not worthy of serious consideration. The characteristics of her opponents, the backing they’ve received, as well as the focused PAC attacks make it difficult to come to any other conclusion than the attack on Brooks comes from city hall, capital and the institutions that benefit from it–it has very little to do with her moral fiber as a politician or likability.

For whatever reason, Brooks is in the way of the business of development, and the city and entities that profit from development are acting in unison not only to remove her, but to replace her with council person amenable to their needs. To this end, they’ve relied on misogynoir tropes, dishonest manipulation of the media and the electoral process. But perhaps just as disturbing as any of these, the attack on Brooks may signal that Oakland has finally entered the world of outside big money interference in local politics.

Update: More links between Jose Dorado’s PAC, and the Libby Schaaf administration. In 2016, a former Schaaf aide Peggy Moore, ran against Kaplan for the at-large city council seat. Schaaf endorsed Moore. Moore was later found to have broken campaign finance rules and fined because a market research/campaign consultant emailed out falsehood-spreading pushpolls to potential voters without identifying who had done so.

The company that was eventually identified was EMC Research, a firm that Libby Schaaf had also hired for her campaign in 2014. Dorado’s PAC paid EMC over 10,000 dollars from its fund in late October. Schaaf also paid EMC from her fund, as did the Schaaf-linked Measure AA–all together tens of thousands of dollars. No other PAC or campaign fund hired EMC during this election period, however.


There is another curious link between EMC and Dorado’s PAC. EMC is also being investigated for potentially violating election rules by conducting a push pollMC is also being investigated for potentially violating election rules by conducting a push poll in the city council race in Benicia. Dorado-PAC contributor–the State Building Construction and Trades Council of California–co-funds a PAC with the Valero refinery in Benicia against Birdseye in the Benicia council race I wrote about above.

Correction: Libitzky Holdings appears in both the Dorado PAC and the Smith/Spears PAC, but they only gave to Dorado’s PAC. I’ll update the graphics as soon as I have a chance

Corrections Made: I’ve replaced the tables here with accurate ones, viz my mistake with double entering Libitzky. Libitzky is solely in Dorado’s PAC, with the adjusted numbers. The Sprinkler Fitters contributed twice, something I missed in the earlier version, 15000 in total, rather than the one donation of 7500. The ratio of independent vs union locals in Dorado’s PAC is now lower, 40% or so. The amount raised by Smith/Spears is also lower, about 22k as opposed to 27. These are minor changes, and really don’t change the character of the evidence, though. I’ve made some strikethroughs where necessary.

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