Saturday, May 10, 2008

Crime top issue in North Oakland council contest

NORTH OAKLAND — Councilmember Jane Brunner says in the 40 years she has lived in district, she's never seen the crime situation like it's been in the last year.

"It's more personal," she said. "It's during the day. It's people coming up to you physically, with a gun or a knife at times of day when people are used to being able to walk around. It's more violent."

Brunner has made reducing crime the top issue of her re-election campaign against Pat McCullough, an electronics technician and neighborhood activist who made headlines three years ago when he shot a 15-year-old boy in the arm in what authorities called self-defense.

McCullough's candidacy marks the first time in 12 years Brunner has had an opponent — and though he's considered an underdog, McCullough said he's in it to win.

"Some folks probably thought I was a protest candidate coming in because somebody had to run against Jane," he said. "I actually want to replace Jane."

The North Oakland seat is one of five council seats up for election in the June 3 primary.

It's no surprise that for both candidates public safety is the highest priority. The district has seen some of the city's highest profile crimes: In December, state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, was carjacked at gunpoint at 51st Street and Shattuck Avenue; in January, 10-year-old Christopher Rodriguez was paralyzed after being hit by a stray bullet while taking a piano Advertisementlesson.

Those are just two examples. Brunner said when she goes door-to-door, crime is the top concern in all parts of her district.

"As long as crime is so serious, that's what I'm focusing my attention on," said Brunner, who has also pushed the council to adopt broad new affordable-housing policies and serves as chairwoman of the council's Community and Economic Development Agency committee to help shape development policies.

"I would like to work on issues like affordable housing and economic development," she said, "but as long as crime is so serious, that's what I'm going to be focused on."

The 60-year-old attorney grew up in public housing in New York City and sometimes says she'd like to see Oakland adopt the kind of community-based policing she saw growing up in New York.

As recent as Tuesday, Brunner questioned Police Chief Wayne Tucker on why Oakland hasn't seen the kind of drops in crime that New York and Los Angeles have seen in recent years. She said she supports the department's new geographic policing model as well as its drive to hire more officers, but says the department still lacks an overarching philosophy on crime reduction.

"The question is, 'Who leads?,' " she said. "We are all putting in ideas, because in my opinion, we don't have a plan. We have a lot of ideas. (Tucker's) plan had hundreds of ideas. We don't have, 'OK, this is what the police are doing' "... We all have to unite over one program. "

Besides crime, Brunner touts her role in bringing millions of dollars to benefit Oakland schools, creating parks and open space and expanding jobs training for Oaklanders. Her years on the council have helped shore up the endorsements of state Attorney General Jerry Brown, Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland; County Supervisor Keith Carson; the Alameda Central Labor Council and the Alameda County Democratic Party.

OakPAC, a political action committee affiliated with the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce declined to endorse either candidate.

McCullough, when asked about endorsements, said he has the support of the people that matter most to him: those living in his Bushrod Park neighborhood. It's a neighborhood McCullough said he has helped clean up, while the rest of North Oakland disintegrates. Robert Brokl, a self-described neighborhood activist who lives near McCullough and is highly critical of Brunner's performance, is backing him.

"I think from the national level on down it's a 'throw the bums out' election," he said. "I think Brunner's had 12 years and she's been a placeholder."

Brokl called Brunner a "Johnny-come-lately" on crime and said she was "passing the buck" in looking to the chief for answers.

As McCullough put it: "She's waiting for the recruitment plan. She's waiting for the deployment plan. She's waiting, waiting, waiting instead of actually leading."

Brunner counters those claims, saying she's offered solutions on fighting crime for years, including visiting Boston with former Police Chief Richard Word and other officials to examine that city's anti-crime programs. She is also planning a trip in June with city public-safety officials to Los Angeles to learn more about how the Los Angeles Police Department gathers and analyzes data.

McCullough served seven years in the Navy and moved to his block of 59th Street in Oakland in 1994. As he tells it in a YouTube video posted for his campaign, his activism came about after a friend's car he was working on was hit with a stray bullet outside his home.

"That made me think of this old Bob Dylan song," he said. " 'You can die down here and be just another accident statistic.'' '

The lyric comes from Dylan's tune "Slow Train."

"I didn't want to be another accident statistic. I thought I might be able to do something about what's going on," he said.

McCullough said he confronted drug dealers in his neighborhood. He said he also fought to keep a traffic barrier in place near 59th and Shattuck that, he said, helped deter drive-by shootings, drug dealing and prostitution.

He's running a law-and-order campaign and said his first priority, if elected, would be to bring as many county, state and federal law-enforcement officers as possible into Oakland.

He is also proposing to bring the Oakland Police Department's authorized strength from 803 to 1,000.

It's an idea Brunner supports too, though Brunner says the city, facing a multimillion-dollar deficit, needs to find a new revenue stream to pay for the officers. That could mean another ballot measure to fund police.

McCullough said he would first look at cutting spending and would turn to voters only as a last resort.

Though it's not central to his campaign pitch, the 53-year-old candidate is not shy about talking about the shooting incident. When he left his house the evening of Feb. 18, 2005, he went with his "standard equipment" — keys, wallet, cell phone and a pistol. He'd had run-ins with area teenagers before.

According to McCullough, he was approached by a group of teenagers, a scuffle ensued, and he shot a boy who, he said, was reaching for a pistol another teenager was carrying. The boy was hit in the arm and survived.

A group called the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement has campaigned hard against McCullough, passing out literature urging, "No Attempted Child Murderers on City Council." The group has also been going door-to-door.

"We have to point out that he shot a child," said Wendy Snyder, a member of the group. "An unarmed child. You can look at that anyway you want "... But that's not what we want to promote and that's not what we want on the City Council."

McCullough said Uhuru's attacks are like "dealing with Richard Nixon's dirty tricks folks" and hoped voters would dig deeper into his candidacy.

"Most intelligent people are going to inquire further," he said, "People who don't inquire further aren't critical thinkers. I'm hoping critical thinkers come out to vote."

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