Lynette Gibson McElhaney is the newest minority member on Oakland’s city council. Representing District 3, a large portion of her district is West Oakland, an area filled with native Oaklanders looking for change and leadership. With community concerns in regards to the Army Base and her relationship with Desley Brooks – the only other Black female councilmember, McElhaney sets the record straight on her focus, leadership, and commitment to residents of Oakland..
Q: In regards to the Army Base, are you taking a lead on helping and saving some of the businesses and jobs associated with it?
Lynette Gibson McElhaney: I’m definitely taking a lead. In fact, everyone in the administration and community will tell you there has been no council involvement at this level of the Army Base until I took office. I’ve convened meetings; I’ve worked with the mayor to convene meetings.
My first committee meeting, we were looking at evictions. Every last one of those tenants was given their eviction notices in December before we got here and all of them should have been gone by February.
The fact that they are still there and have had no business interruption, anybody whose looking at it objectively would say that is because of my leadership.
And not only on the jobs piece, on the environmental piece. If you talk to the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, things that they hadn’t been able to move in over a year have been day-lighted.
Q: Now with the council on break and the Sept. 3 deadline for port businesses approaching, what is going to happen?
LM: All of those folks have leases now or should be signing leases with the Port, and hopefully they’ll be able to move their businesses.
Q: But what does it mean for the jobs that are with those businesses as it pertains to Oakland residents if they move outside of the city?
LM: I hope that they’re not moving outside of the city. I’ve spent most of my time making sure they’ve had space at the port side. So they need to make sure they move. I think the staff certainly feels like some people are dragging their feet.
Because the city didn’t do so much for so long, the people think it’s going to be another 10 years, and they can just wait, and make it comfortable and convenient.
I need them moving expeditiously to take advantage of the opportunity that we fought really, really hard for.From port staff to port commissioners, to meeting with the developer, the master developer, and getting all of those people on board, it was tough. It was heavy, heavy lifting. And now the beneficiaries of all that work have got to be partners in it.
We need (the small businesses) to move for the overall Army Base Project, which is where the real jobs, real money, and real infrastructural development for this community live. We can’t afford to lose the federal money tied to that.
Q: Looking back on the tense special council meeting where Kernighan motioned to censure Desley Brooks, would you have changed your vote?
LM: If the circumstances by which that vote came to the table were exactly the same – where I could not hear the motion, where the motion wasn’t written, and Councilmember Brooks kept quieting me when I tried to get a restatement of the what the motion is – (the answer is) no.
I never want to be a person who just votes to go along and to get along and to be blind.
I’m not trying to make this be about any kind of conflicts. I love and respect Desley very much. She was fired up in that moment, and there’s a deeper fight that goes back years between she and Pat and all that kind of stuff, I’m not privy to, just now beginning to understand the history of, relative to this vote.
But no I could not hear the motion, wasn’t clear about the position. Even when I talk to Vice Mayor Reid the following day and asked him, ‘What did y’all pass?’ He said it was ‘this and that’.
Now, his motion was clearly stated, and I was prepared to vote on his motion.
Q: You don’t think you could have asked for clarification instead of abstaining?
LM: Councilmember Brooks commanded the meeting that night; Pat wasn’t running it. So I did ask for clarification but it was rejected.
Q: Community members seem to be saying that it looks like the two Black women on the council do not get along.
L.M.: We have exactly the relationship councilmember Brooks wants us to have.
Q: But do you feel it is necessary to get along with Vice Mayor Reid and Brooks? You three are the only minority representation on the council, and that is important to community members.
LM: I have tremendous respect for Vice Mayor Reid and Councilmember Brooks for the work that they’ve done. I see them both as elders on the council, and it is unfortunate on this one act, with respect to the censure vote, that people might try to use that to characterize the relationship, and I think that would be a mistake.
When you look at most of our votes they have been unanimous votes or consensus driven votes, and we diverged on very few things. The fact that I did not hear a clear stated proposal with respect to the censure, and because I was not really clear about the censure going into the vote, and neither she nor Vice Mayor Reid spoke to me about the censure vote, so I voted as I shared.
I was prepared to vote to repudiate all past practices and to acknowledge the corrective actions and steps the Grand Jury report put forth.
The Grand Jury did not call for the censure of councilmember Brooks [but] it did talk about our need to strengthen public ethics, things that I agree with as a new councilmember.