Brown's Campaign Plagued by Oakland Crime
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In California a well known politician is preparing for the next and, some say, the last stage of his career. Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, former governor and presidential candidate, is running for state attorney general. But Brown's bid to become California's top cop is hampered by Oakland's high murder rate. There have been 119 killings so far this year.
And as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, that's given Brown's opponent an easy way to attack his credentials as a crime fighter.
RICHARD GONZALES: Jerry Brown will tell anyone who's listening that crime overall has declined during his eight years as mayor, but it's not an easy sell given Oakland's soaring homicide rate. Still, Brown cites successes such as the recent arrest of a key suspect in the murder of a Brinks armored car guard. It's one of the few bright spots in the city, where the murder rate has doubled since Brown's first year in office.
Mr. JERRY BROWN (Mayor, Oakland): We've had certainly a rash of murders in this town and across the Bay. I want people to know in this city that we've got the finest police department. They've solved more than 50 homicides already this year and in this case, in less than a week they brought the perpetrator to justice. But everybody in this town who's thinking about pulling a gun ought to realize this is not the city in which to do it.
GONZALES: Brown's opponent in the attorney general's race, Republican State Senator Charles Poochigian, calls the mayor a fictional crime fighter, a charge he made on Brown's own turf. Poochigian recently came to East Oakland, a crime ravaged area, to meet with neighborhood leaders and lob a few blasts at the mayor for failing to deter crime.
State Senator CHARLES POOCHIGIAN (Republican, California): Mayor Brown has said that I will lead the fight against crime as attorney general as I have as mayor of Oakland. Now, I've talked to a lot of people in Oakland. I've spent time on the ground here. And I've met very few people that think that his record on fighting crime is something to boast about, and yet that is exactly what Mayor Brown has promised to do to the state of California.
GONZALES: But the East Oakland meeting also exposed Poochigian's Achilles's heel. Only a dozen people in this poor neighborhood came out to see him. In fact, statewide polls show that he trails Brown by double digits and Brown has nearly three times more money.
With such a commanding lead, Brown has agreed to only one face to face debate with Poochigian, an occasion that the mayor used to portray himself as an elder statesman who would safeguard abortion rights, consumer protections and the environment.
Mr. BROWN: Well, I'm running for attorney general because I want to bring some common sense and a practical approach to that office. I've had a record of integrity and innovation. I know how to get things done.
GONZALES: It's a claim that Poochigian scoffed at, arguing that voters can't trust Brown to fight crime because he has long opposed the death penalty and the Republican all but accused Brown of being too flaky to be attorney general.
Senator POOCHIGIAN: Using words like common sense and practical and those sorts of characterizations of Mayor Brown are not the words that come to mind of most Californians you've had any experience with his erratic leadership in various positions he's held.
GONZALES: Good or bad, Jerry Brown enjoys something most politicians would envy, significant name recognition. And at the age of 68, he promises that if elected, he would be California's first attorney general who doesn't aspire to be governor because, in his words, been there, done that.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.