December 17 - San Francisco Chronicle: RPCV Wilson Riles runs for mayor of Oakland

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By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, December 18, 2001 - 9:43 am: Edit Post

RPCV Wilson Riles runs for mayor of Oakland

Read this story from the San Francisco Chronicle on RPCV Wilson Riles and his race for mayor of Oakland at:

Riles Jr. faces his next big battle / Ex-councilman runs again for mayor*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Riles Jr. faces his next big battle / Ex-councilman runs again for mayor

Dec 17, 2001 - San Francisco Chronicle Author(s): Chip Johnson

Mayoral candidate Wilson Riles Jr. is a son of Oakland, and although political oddsmakers give him little chance to upset popular incumbent Mayor Jerry Brown, he's in it to win.

As he embarks on his third mayoral race, Riles believes the chinks in the ex-governor's armor are evident. In spite of a year-old poll showing that Brown enjoys a popularity rating approaching 80 percent, the former three-term Oakland City Council member thinks the time is right to strike.

"I have been encouraged as I've moved around town and seen the depth of disappointment and upset," he said of Brown's first term, which expires in January 2003.

"Environmentalists and minorities feel left out -- as well as some members of the business community," the challenger said.

How he will accomplish the feat of unseating Brown is anyone's guess: Riles' Broadway campaign office is nearly empty, save for his daughters, Karissa and Breonna, who both work on his campaign.

Nonetheless, the 55-year-old Riles, who has successfully battled prostate cancer, believes he now has a shot at battling down a larger- than-life celebrity mayor.

"This is a prime time in my own life and an appropriate time for Oakland's political history," he said.

His critics contend that political history is probably the best description of Riles' political career. He's covered this ground twice before and lost convincingly.

He made his left-leaning imprint on Oakland years ago. He helped found the Community Bank of the Bay, stood on the front end of the city's anti-apartheid legislation and wrote the city's nuclear-free ordinance.

"This is not about going backward in time," Riles said. "I was part of the administration, but I was the voice against the administration," he said of his past work on the council.

Riles has deep connections to Oakland and its people. He seems to know people everywhere, and not just from house meetings.

"You still makin' noise, man?" asked an old friend in a coffee shop around the corner from Riles' office.

The man pledged his support for Riles, saying, "We go too far back, man."

Riles is counting on that close-knit community feeling and Brown's obsession with redeveloping downtown Oakland as part of the arsenal he will use to defeat Brown in the coming March primary.

He has criticized Brown for what Riles calls Brown's failure to address the needs of Oakland's senior citizens and for ignoring neighborhoods in favor of his own plans to create a downtown corridor of high-rise buildings of steel and glass.

Riles' vision for the Oakland of tomorrow includes building more neighborhood shopping villages like the shopping districts in Montclair and along Piedmont Avenue.

"I want to create those kinds of commercial districts elsewhere in Oakland -- along with parking to accommodate them," he said.

And he wants to coordinate city services with existing services already available, to create a sturdy safety net for less fortunate residents, but that is something all politicians try to do.

None of this is new for Riles, a 1960s-era liberal who did a two- year stint in the Peace Corps before returning to Oakland to pursue a political career.

Riles was first elected to the Oakland City Council in 1978 and served three terms, but his runs for mayor have been a bust.

He lost to Lionel Wilson by nearly 2 to 1 in 1985 and again to Elihu Harris in 1990 by a similar ratio.

Still, he stubbornly believes that he can topple Brown, who he says lost mainstream Oakland voters with a GOP-styled push for downtown development and market-rate housing.

And unlike Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party co-founder whose grass-roots bid for Oakland mayor in 1973 lost to incumbent John Reading, Riles believes he can win.

"I don't think Jerry holds the (political) middle," Riles proclaimed. "He doesn't have much Democratic (Party) support."

An odd claim, considering that Brown collected nearly 60 percent of the ballots cast and Oakland doesn't have that many registered Republicans.

As a councilman, Riles was no friend of big business or development and he has never supported the public subsidy of a private entity, meaning he holds the unique distinction of being one of a few former or sitting elected officials not to endorse the first deal to bring the Raiders' home. It was a vote based on economics and financial projections, because Riles is one of the team's biggest supporters.

As a council member, he also voted against a city bailout for the Oakland Athletics and a council decision to provide financial assistance to the former Hyatt Regency, now known as the Oakland Marriott Hotel and Convention Center.

His father, the senior Wilson Riles, was the state superintendent of public instruction, the highest-ranking office in the state education system. Riles senior was the first black person to hold statewide office in California.

So it's not surprising that Riles wants to celebrate the smallest achievements in the Oakland public school system rather than point out all its shortcomings.

What is unclear is whether Riles would be a low-risk mayor who insists on widespread community approval before moving forward on an idea, or if he would take his mandate and lead.

Whatever the outcome of the election, Riles' career as the regional director of the American Friends Service Committee is over: He took early retirement to run for office.

If he doesn't win the job -- and that is a distinct possibility, Riles said -- he will continue to rage against the Brown machine as an Oakland resident.

"I will still organize the community," Riles vowed. "I will bring the power and decision-making powers as close to grass-roots groups as I can."

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