Corky Boozé man to watch on Richmond City Council
Friday, December 3, 2010
As a school teacher in Oakland in the early 1980s, the most important message Courtland "Corky" Boozé imparted to his students was the importance of perseverance.
And if history and hindsight offer a guide, it seems he followed his own best advice.
Last month, after nine unsuccessful campaign runs, Boozé finally broke through and joined Jovanka Beckles as one of Richmond's two new City Council members.
He was the top vote-getter among all council candidates.
For Boozé, 66, a seat on the seven-member council represents the end of his days as a community activist and a constant thorn in the side at council meetings.
It's not as if his election to office will alter his schedule much: Boozé said he's attended every City Council meeting for the last 18 years. It's a documented fact, he said.
If you asked some of the elected officials he's publicly criticized over the years, it might seem like it's been 30 years.
He dismisses the gadfly label because it implied he did not achieve results.
He was a vocal critic of former Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson and regularly clashed with council members Maria Viramontes, who lost her re-election bid last month, and Nat Bates, a longtime councilman who lost his mayoral bid against incumbent Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.
"After nearly 30 years of African American (political) control in Richmond, what is it that citizens in black communities can call their own?" said Boozé, who is African American. "Nothing."
Those incumbents failed to win re-election because none had their "ear to the ground" in the city's poorest minority communities where the people with the greatest needs live, Boozé said.
That's something no one would ever say about Boozé.
"Corky knows more about what's going on in this community, particularly the city's African American community, than anyone I've ever known," said Councilman Tom Butt, a close friend and supporter.
"He's outspoken and takes on people and issues - and does so in an aggressive way," Butt said. "But I think you're going to see another side of Corky Boozé. He doesn't have to be as abrasive. He has a vote now."
Bates, who was on vacation and reached by phone Thursday, barely uttered a word about Boozé's ascendance to the council. He said he would take a wait-and-see approach when Boozé takes office in January.
But Boozé had a few words. With Councilwomen Viramontes and Myrna Lopez gone, Bates has lost the council majority, Boozé said. "They're all gone except for Nat Bates and he may as well stay at home because he's at odds with everyone."
"We don't have to be kissin' cousins to move forward, and I will be cordial and professional, but if he doesn't do something beneficial for citizens, I'll do what I've done in the past," he said. "Fill the room with people."
Beyond the interpersonal relationships with a new set of colleagues, Boozé said he will make crime reduction his top priority and will begin by examining the city's Office of Neighborhood Safety, a program he said is ineffective despite $2 million in annual funding.
Boozé wants accountability for a program he says operates behind closed doors. He wants to begin measuring performance and outcomes. And he wants to establish a re-entry program for ex-offenders that follows them from enrollment to job placement.
He favors establishing a Richmond Police Department substation at the corner of Carlson and Cutting Boulevards in an area of the city with high crime.
"As an African American elected official, you should make violence in Richmond a priority issue because it's your people who are dying," said Boozé.
He is an unscripted politician who says what's on his mind instead of what he thinks is best for his career. His four-year term as a council member should be interesting to watch.
Chip Johnson's column appears in the Chronicle on Tuesday and Friday. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle