Oak­land not fully sold on Har­ris

Can­di­date em­braces city, but feel­ing isn’t nec­es­sar­ily mu­tual.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Z. Barabak

OAK­LAND — When Ka­mala Har­ris con­sid­ered places to launch her White House bid, she had op­tions: Wash­ing­ton, where she serves in the U.S. Se­nate; Sacramento, where she served as state at­tor­ney gen­eral; San Fran­cisco, where she be­gan her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer as district at­tor­ney.

She chose Oak­land, where she was born, even though she lived next door in Berke­ley un­til age 12, when Har­ris moved with her fam­ily to Mon­treal. (The lat­ter would have been a no­brainer if she were run­ning for Cana­dian prime minister.)

The re­sult was a bril­liant dis­play of po­lit­i­cal pageantry, a spillover crowd top-

ping 20,000 and a show­case mo­ment for a city more of­ten noted for crime, home­less­ness and aban­don­ment by its pro­fes­sional sports teams. Even the sun shone. Not all, how­ever, rev­eled in Har­ris’ cel­e­bra­tory mo­ment. To some in Oak­land, a city of ten­der pride, the home­com­ing rang false, like a dis­tant rel­a­tive show­ing up just long enough to pose for a smil­ing fam­ily por­trait.

“I would con­sider her more a San Fran­cis­can than of Oak­land,” said David Omosheyin, 57, paus­ing as he crossed the down­town plaza where the Demo­cratic hope­ful staged last month’s splashy rally. “It was a po­lit­i­cal move.”

Bob­bie Coun­cil, who was born and has spent all 49 of her years in Oak­land, saw Har­ris’ path-break­ing can­di­dacy as an in­spi­ra­tion but not some kind of fairy tale mo­ment — lo­cal girl makes good! — come to life.

“To re­ally be an Oak­land na­tive and be a part of the town, you got to put some roots in here,” said Coun­cil, an em­ployee in the city’s Pub­lic Works De­part­ment. “It has to be where you were walk­ing through these streets and you were with us in the strug­gle from one decade to the next.”

Ev­ery cam­paign comes wrapped in sym­bol­ism, cues in­tended to con­vey a can­di­date’s val­ues and pro­mote his or her vi­sion. For Har­ris, Oak­land is one of those totems — a city with a rich and res­o­nant his­tory of black as­pi­ra­tion and achieve­ment.

She is of­ten com­pared to Barack Obama, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons. He made his­tory as the coun­try’s first black pres­i­dent. She hopes to be­come the coun­try’s first black woman pres­i­dent. Both were fresh­man sen­a­tors, pos­sessed of more charisma than na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, when they an­nounced their can­di­da­cies.

Un­like Obama, how­ever, who started as an ex­ceed­ing long shot against Hil­lary Clin­ton and gained trac­tion by woo­ing and winning white sup­port, Har­ris starts near the front of a crowded Demo­cratic field and counts heav­ily on emerg­ing as the fa­vorite of black vot­ers, a core con­stituency, to break from the pack.

There’s no shy­ness about the strat­egy.

Har­ris an­nounced her can­di­dacy on the Martin Luther King Jr. hol­i­day; held her first news con­fer­ence at her alma mater, the his­tor­i­cally black Howard Univer­sity; and made her first cam­paign stop at a black soror­ity gala in South Carolina, all be­fore land­ing on the steps of Oak­land City Hall, where she made the an­nounce­ment of­fi­cial.

(The lo­cale had an­other au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ad­van­tage, pre­sent­ing nei­ther the hippy-dippy rad­i­cal im­age of Berke­ley nor the re­pute of San Fran­cisco as an em­bod­i­ment of ef­fete Left Coast lib­er­al­ism.)

Oak­land has long de­fined it­self by what it’s not, which is to say the pret­ti­fied and pre­ten­tious city across the bay. If San Fran­cisco is white gloves and ex­ec­u­tive suites, Oak­land sees it­self as cal­loused hands and backs bent in hon­est la­bor.

Con­stantly over­shad­owed, the city has de­vel­oped both an in­fe­ri­or­ity and su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plex, re­sent­ful of its bet­ter-off and bet­ter­known neigh­bor but swag­ger­ing with faith in Oak­land’s tough­ness and grit.

That has changed some as the city has grown wealth­ier and less blue-col­lar, turn­ing into a refuge for those priced out of im­pos­si­bly ex­pen­sive San Fran­cisco. That, in turn, has made Oak­land more costly, chas­ing many — espe­cially its lessaff lu­ent black res­i­dents — to ever more far-flung reaches.

“It’s no longer Oak­land. It’s San Fran­cisco east, and it’s get­ting worse by the minute,” said Al Mar­shall, 57, who works as a con­struc­tion in­spec­tor and stopped out­side City Hall on his way to lunch. The plaza, filled wall to wall on the day of Har­ris’ event, was mostly empty, save for a clutch of street peo­ple, a few pic­nick­ers and a young man in a Golden State War­riors head­band, pound­ing a tom-tom beat on an over­turned plas­tic bin.

Mar­shall, Oak­land born and raised, said he has vaguely heard of Har­ris, who seems im­pres­sive but not what he con­sid­ers a lo­cal per­son­al­ity.

“It has to be some­one who truly grew up here, put in work here. If she had been here do­ing all that, her name would be ring­ing in my head,” he said, as he raised his arms and made small cir­cles around his ears.

Not ev­ery­one, of course, drew a dis­tinc­tion between Har­ris’ place of birth and Oak­land’s pride of place.

Out­side the city’s main li­brary, near the Alameda County Court­house where Har­ris served eight years as a pros­e­cu­tor, Corinne Hask­ins, 73, saw no es­sen­tial dif­fer­ence between Oak­land and Berke­ley, which com­pan­ion­ably sit side by side on the less-snooty side of the bay.

“As far as I’m con­cerned, she’s Oak­land,” she said of Har­ris, though Hask­ins al­lowed as how oth­ers may see things dif­fer­ently. “Ev­ery­body’s got a bor­der wall, I guess, of some sort,” she said with a gale of laugh­ter be­fore leav­ing with an arm­load to read.

There is no ques­tion Har­ris will eas­ily carry Oak­land — along with the rest of Cal­i­for­nia — should she win the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion. Pres­i­dent Trump re­ceived less than 5% of the city’s vote and, if any­thing, is even less pop­u­lar now.

But be­ing black and born within city lim­its hasn’t spawned a sud­den out­break of Har­ris-ma­nia, or of­fered any guar­an­tee she will be Oak­land’s choice in a crowded and hard-fought pri­mary.

Philliph Drum­mond, seated on a bench out­side City Hall, echoed oth­ers when he said it was far too early to com­mit to any can­di­date. The 39-year-old in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sional could sup­port Har­ris. But he’s also in­trigued by her fel­low Democrats El­iz­a­beth War­ren, a se­na­tor from starchy Mas­sachusetts, and John Hick­en­looper, an am­bling for­mer Colorado gov­er­nor who has about as much street cred as a milk cow.

“I’d like to see how the pri­mary un­folds,” Drum­mond said over the pound­ing tom­tom rhythm. “The more the mer­rier.”

Pho­to­graphs by Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times

SEN. KA­MALA HAR­RIS, cen­ter left, at an Oak­land rally an­nounc­ing her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign on Jan. 27.

THE RALLY drew a huge crowd, but some Oak­land res­i­dents don’t con­sider Har­ris a lo­cal per­son­al­ity. She was born in Oak­land and lived in Berke­ley un­til 12.

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