Ex-Congressman Dellums May Run for Oakland Mayor

For more than 20 years, Ron Dellums represented Oakland, Calif., in Congress. Now, liberal voters are hoping he will enter that city's mayoral race.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

In Oakland, California, the Jerry Brown era is drawing to a close, and many voters are hoping to draft another political star into next year's mayor's race. Former Congressman Ron Dellums, a liberal favorite, is set to announce whether he'll make a bid to run for the city, where he was born and raised. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

Group: (In unison) Ron, Ron, Ron! Ron, Ron, Ron!

RICHARD GONZALES reporting:

Several dozen union and community activists of every color rallied in the shadow of the downtown Oakland federal building named after their political hero, Ronald Dellums. Rally organizer Andre Spearman holds a box of petitions with more than 8,000 signatures urging the former congressman to run for mayor.

Mr. ANDRE SPEARMAN (Rally Organizer): It is a spontaneous combustion. It is a grassroots effort. It is the highest form of democracy. We represent the many voices that are about unity. We're diverse. And we're excited about the potentiality of the honorable Ron Dellums running for mayor. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONZALES: Ron Dellums represented Oakland and Berkeley in the US Congress for almost 28 years. As a passionate opponent of the Vietnam War and South Africa's apartheid regime, he is still an icon in many Oakland neighborhoods, even though he retired from public office seven years ago. Yet, there was no sign that he was even interested in running for mayor until four months ago when a similar chant of support erupted at a local awards banquet. Since then, the idea has taken on a life of its own, says co-organizer, Kitty Kelly Epstein.

Ms. KITTY KELLY EPSTEIN (Co-organizer): A lot of people feel that his impact on the country, on the urban politics in the whole nation, would be powerful. You know, the combination of Villaraigosa in LA and Dellums in Oakland could change the politics of California and give people back some hope about what we could accomplish.

GONZALES: Much of the enthusiasm for Dellums, who was yet to say whether he will run, comes from a lingering disenchantment with the current mayor, Jerry Brown, especially from within the African-American community.

Mr. WILSON RILES Jr. (Former City Council Member): It'll be the greatest thing in Oakland since the Black Panther Party.

GONZALES: Former city council member Wilson Riles Jr. ran against Jerry Brown in 2002, arguing that the mayor was too cozy with downtown developers. Now he hopes Dellums will enter the race and win city hall.

Mr. RILES: Yeah. I mean, it'll open the access up again to the African-American community, but I think more than that, it will unify the African-American community, and one of the reasons why we have not had access and why Jerry and others have been able to get away with what they were able to get away with, because we weren't talking together and we weren't working together. And that's what's going to happen now.

GONZALES: But Dellums' well of support runs even deeper. After all, his congressional district was more than 80 percent white. His record and reputation as a coalition builder is expected to clear the field of most mayoral candidates, but the presumed front-runner, council member Ignacio De La Fuenta, says he'll stay in the race, even if Dellums runs. De La Fuenta, who was backed by Mayor Brown and the local Chamber of Commerce, seeks to become Oakland's first Latino mayor.

Mr. IGNACIO DE LA FUENTA (Mayoral Candidate): Anybody else in the race, who will come into the race will have to beat us. I believe that we are very well-placed. We're not taking anything for granted. We are redoubling our efforts. If my good friend gets in this race, it's definitely going to be a good race.

GONZALES: Ron Dellums did not return phone calls. He has said that he will announce his decision this weekend. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Oakland.

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