Pointing to a whiskey bottle on the ground inside the chain-link fence at the corner of 98th and Edes, Shannon Reeves says, "Racism didn't have anything to do with that - that's personal behavior." Reeves, 30, is black (as is more than 40 percent of Oakland), Republican and running for mayor on the theme that cities are saved one corner at a time.
He is one of 10 people running against an 11th, Jerry Brown, 60, former governor and three-time presidential candidate, and former Democrat (he has registered as an independent). Brown has a large lead in polls, but he has not won an election since he won a second term as governor in 1978, and if Brown does not top 50 percent in the June 2 voting, there will be a runoff with the second-place finisher.The corner, bare ground now, used to have a crack house and soon will have, thanks to Chevron's collaboration with a nonprofit corporation Reeves runs, a gas station and shopping center. This will mean nearly 100 jobs, an applicant for one of which has just crossed the street with a brown bag containing his purchase from a liquor store - something ubiquitous in poor neighborhoods in this, California's eighth largest city. Recognizing Reeves, he lets loose a cascade of words, saying he has a high school diploma and "I have no felonies," and although he is on welfare because he just got laid off, he likes the new limits on eligibility for welfare, and when can he sign up for a job.
Reeves, a stocky man in a chalk-striped suit, is currently president of the Oakland NAACP. In 1988 he was a Grambling State University student with an internship in Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign. That experience helped convince him that blacks need to make themselves objects of competition by both parties. Today he is speaking fluent Republican.
The station will contain a convenience store because the neighborhood's purchasing power is in-suf-fi-cient to sustain a good grocery store. The store will carry Similac because there are so many mothers nearby. People will be able to pay utility bills at the store, and there will be an ATM because there are no banks in the neighborhood.
Down near the waterfront, Brown is not talking about gas stations and convenience stores. At the $2 million residence and work space he built a few blocks from Jack London Square, Brown is talking about the Italian hill town of Perugia as a model for tomorrow's Oakland.
He is dressed in a midnight blue double-breasted suit and a black collarless shirt, raiment that today announces "I'm different." He made that announcement in the 1970s by being driven around in a blue Plymouth sedan rather than a limousine, and sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a Sacramento apartment rather than in the governor's mansion. He dismisses as the work of "two professors from Kentucky" the "Oakland Ecopolis" study he asked to be written. It says the planet is going to hell in a handcart - "desertification" and all that. It is not exactly what he needs if he is trying to shed his image as a politician who has too many strange ideas and who also has attention deficit disorder sufficient to justify a Ritalin prescription.
However, he is not trying. He has a kind of crazy courage, risking that his campaign will be dismissed.
It can be argued that especially in cities as troubled as Oakland, there is a case to be made for a mayor who (as critics say of Brown) "doesn't do potholes" but who is largely an inspiriting figure. But it is easier to argue that Oakland needs someone whose eyes are not on the Italian hills but on the as-yet bare ground at the corner of 98th and Edes.