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No Clown In This Jerry Brown

Last fall, when he was campaigning for a ballot measure that would enhance his powers, Mayor-elect Jerry Brown used the slogan "Oaklanders for Change."

He wasn't kidding.

Three months into Brown's term, three city department heads, including the police chief, have been dismissed. The schools chief is rumored to be brokering a quiet exit. And Brown and his allies are planning to move against the influential port commission.

As the former California governor and presidential candidate put it during a speech to Baptist ministers: "At some point, there must come a day of reckoning, and I say that day has come."

Not surprisingly, the sea change has some feeling queasy.

"Public safety is something that you just don't play politics with," said Shannon Reeves, president of the Oakland chapter of the NAACP and a leader in the fight to keep Police Chief Joseph Samuels Jr.

Others say the change is needed in Oakland, a predominantly minority city of about 400,000 that has been hit by earthquake, fire, recession and the usual urban ills of poverty and drugs.

"We voted him in because he would make a change," the Rev. Joe Smith of Good Hope Baptist Church told The Oakland Tribune.

The dismissal of Samuels, Oakland's first black police chief, was perhaps the most controversial of Brown's moves.

Reeves was among a group of about 200 Samuels supporters who swept into a City Council meeting in March to argue their case. The group later marched to Brown's loft-workspace near Jack London Square, shouting, "Come out! We're the people!" a play on the name of Brown's grassroots political group, We the People. (Brown wasn't in.)

The chief's supporters said crime and complaints of police brutality went down on Samuels' watch, a relatively rare combination.

But Brown said the figures didn't go down far enough. Oakland had 81 homicides last year; twice-as-big San Francisco had 63. The man once known as "Gov. Moonbeam" for some of his flakier pronouncements made fighting crime a key part of his mayoral campaign and said the crime rate must go down if he's to pull off his bold scheme of repopulating downtown in a burst of "elegant density."

Brown exercised his new "strong mayor" powers to demand and receive the resignations of Samuels, the director of public works and the personnel director. Formerly, the city manager had more day-to-day authority than the mayor over the governing of Oakland.

The strong-mayor measure didn't give him control over the city's troubled schools, but Brown has surmounted that obstacle with the aid of state Sen. Don Perata, a longtime political force in Oakland.

Perata has drafted a bill that would appoint a state team to audit the district and report back to a board appointed and led by Brown. Under the legislation, Brown could also take a major role in appointing a new school administratr.

The district has long been criticized for low test scores and controversial moves such as its embrace of ebonics, or black English.

School Superintendent Carole Quan has also come under fire over the district's spending of more than $300,000 to investigate the suspected embezzlement of a reported $30,000 from a high school cafeteria.

Brown said the payment problem is not his primary concern.

"My issue is the education of the children in Oakland, which is deficient, and instead of blaming the families and the kids, I hold the superintendent and her leadership team as the primary responsible party," he said.

Also making waves was a move, again through legislation that would be proposed by Perata, to put Brown on the Board of Port Commissioners and let him appoint two members. The board, which controls the airport and 19 miles of shoreline, consists of appointees of former Mayor Elihu Harris, including his wife, who was named just months before Harris left office.

Despite the upheaval, there are no indications Brown's support he got 59 percent of the vote over 10 other mayoral candidates, and his "strong mayor" powers were overwhelmingly approved has significantly eroded.

While one group of ministers has counseled Brown to slow down, another group has come out in support.

"The heat's on," the mayor said with a laugh, "and if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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