- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

OAKLAND, Calif. — At a high school in a struggling neighborhood in this violence-scarred city, Mayor Ron Dellums stood on tiptoe and congratulated a basketball player who led his team to a state championship.

“In a community where we find ourselves more often than not mourning, we are rejoicing,” the former congressman told the grinning teenager and hundreds of other screaming students.

Such celebrations have been rare during Mr. Dellums’ 15 months in office.

In recent months, a 10-year-old boy was paralyzed by a bullet that struck him during a piano lesson, a powerful state politician was carjacked by a masked man, a popular community journalist was gunned down in broad daylight and a 13-year-old was shot in the foot outside a rosary service for another teen who was killed by police after reportedly drawing a gun.

In the past three months alone, the city of 400,000 people across the Bay from San Francisco has logged 34 homicides, a 50 percent increase over the same period last year.

“It’s very frustrating,” the mayor said in a rare sit-down interview. “I get up every morning praying that I don’t open the newspaper and there’s somebody dead.”

The Democrat, 72, was swept into office after a stint on the Berkeley City Council in the 1960s and nearly three decades on Capitol Hill, including chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee. He had been ready to retire when residents and local politicians recruited him to run for mayor.

No one denied he faced a bumpy road. Oakland’s mix of guns, poverty, pollution and crime had undermined the administrations of previous mayors, including Mr. Dellums’ immediate predecessor, former California Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Anyone attempting to take this challenge on would run into extreme difficulties,” said Terry Jones, a professor of sociology and social work at California State University, East Bay.

Mr. Dellums is realistic about what lies ahead.

“We work diligently here, constantly, trying to deal with these issues. You get on a plane, you go to Washington, you beg for money. You go to foundations and you beg for money. You say, ‘Give us the resources to help us do the job every day.’

“I think people in our community need to understand what we’re up against, and that’s not simplistic,” the mayor said.

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