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Oakland’s Libby Schaaf vs. the Feds

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. (Photo: Ben Margot)

Does Libby Schaaf have a political future outside of Oakland?

Since her inauguration in 2015, Oakland Mayor Schaaf has worked assiduously on (and bragged about) programs aimed at reducing crime, improving transit and a host of other causes dear to the hearts of big-city mayors.

It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws.” — Libby Schaaf

Then came Saturday, Feb. 24.

That’s the day Schaaf issued a warning that police from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were about to conduct massive raids in the Bay Area to round up illegal immigrants.

ICE did in fact conduct a sweep in Northern California the next day in which 150 undocumented immigrants were arrested.

Schaaf’s warning provoked outrage from ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan.  In a statement, Homan huffed: “Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days.

“However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision,” he said.

Schaaf was having none of it.

“My statement on Saturday was meant to give all residents time to learn their rights and know their legal options. It was my intention that one mother, or one father, would use the information to help keep their family together,” Schaaf said in her own statement.

“I do not regret sharing this information. It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws. We believe our community is safer when families stay together,” she said.

Schaaf’s defiance of a Trump administration function is likely to endear her to the more left-leaning wing of the Democratic Party, who managed to deprive centrist Democrat Dianne Feinstein the party’s endorsement last month

Her position drew new scrutiny this week with the U.S. Justice Department’s filing of lawsuit against California for passing laws that it said reflected a  “deliberate effort by California to obstruct the United States’ enforcement of federal immigration laws.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, appearing before an annual meeting of the California Police Officers Association in Sacramento, said Wednesday that “California, absolutely, it appears to me, is using every power it has  … to frustrate federal law enforcement.” He also took shots at Schaaf and other electeds for trying to “score political points on the backs of officer safety.”

“So here’s my message to Mayor Schaaf,” Sessions said. “How dare you, how dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers to promote a radical open borders agenda?”

“How dare you vilify members of our community?” Schaaf retorted.

Schaaf’s defiance of a Trump administration function is likely to endear her to the more left-leaning wing of the Democratic Party, who managed to deprive centrist Democrat Dianne Feinstein the party’s endorsement last month as she runs for reelection to her U.S. Senate seat.

The mayor’s warning would appear to be at least partly in agreement with points in the California party’s platform, which call on party members to:
–Oppose law enforcement agencies that unfairly target, threaten, intimidate, or otherwise harass immigrants because of immigration status.
–Oppose local law enforcement agencies acting as federal immigration law enforcement or cooperating with federal law enforcement absent a federal judicial warrant.
–Oppose scapegoating, racial profiling, religious profiling, bigotry, vigilantism, exploitation, and any xenophobic conduct that polarize communities and denounce actions by the government or individuals that keep undocumented immigrants in the shadows of our society.

Schaaf, 52, was born and raised in Oakland and has a long record in public agencies.

Apparently fearful that Oakland voters might conclude that the recent publicity will focus her attention elsewhere, Schaaf declined to be interviewed for this story.

After working as a private attorney in the Oakland law form of Reed Smith LLP, she first involved herself in local government as a legislative aide to then-Oakland city council president Ignacio De La Fuente.  She then became a special assistant to Jerry Brown when he was mayor.  (Schaaf’s official biography makes no mention of her time with De La Fuente, who is now running against her.)

In 2009, she graduated from Emerge California, an intensive training program for women who aspire to seek elected office.

Before joining the Oakland City Council in 2010, Schaaf served as the Council’s economic policy adviser for a year.

She is running for re-election in November.  Apparently fearful that Oakland voters might conclude that the recent publicity will focus her attention elsewhere, Schaaf declined to be interviewed for this story. Spokesman Justin Berton told Capitol Weekly “The mayor is staying focused on Oakland.”

Schaaf may indeed be focused on gritty Oakland, but after she issued her warning, the attitude of political types in Sacramento and up and down the state may be: “Never mind the morality of it; never mind the social and racial implications; given the rise in the more liberal wing of the California Democratic Party, the real  question is ‘What will it do, if anything, to her broader political prospects, if she has any?”

The East Bay Times ran a count of pro-and-con communications received by the mayor’s office since Schaaf’s action.  As of Saturday, March 3, the count was 12,037 con and 153 pro.

Whether or not she does, Schaaf’s action at least temporarily put her in the national spotlight and squarely in the front rank of California Democratic officials vying to show contempt for the Trump Administration.

The White House on Thursday called Schaaf’s warning “outrageous” and said that the Department of Justice is reviewing whether she broke the law.

“I think it’s outrageous that a mayor would circumvent federal authorities and certainly put them in danger by making a move such as that,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a briefing. “And that’s currently under review by the Department of Justice, and I don’t have anything else to add.”

The East Bay Times ran a count of pro-and-con communications received by the mayor’s office since Schaaf’s action.  As of Saturday, March 3, the count was 12,037 con and 153 pro.  Many of the con emails and voicemails came from outside California, including one from a Texas man quoted in the Times as saying, “ … maybe you guys all ought to gather up and go to Mexico and live.  You are a bunch of (expletive) crap, that’s what you are.”

Across the Bay, San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell issued a statement supporting Schaaf – sort of:

“As the Trump Administration pursues their political plan of haphazardly punishing sanctuary cities, we will not cower. We stand with our hardworking, law-abiding immigrant neighbors and we are unified in our response to the divisive rhetoric of this president.”

East Bay congressional candidate Ron Cohen filed complaints with the U. S. Attorney’s Office and the Alameda County District Attorney, declaring on his campaign website:

“Mayor Schaaf’s actions reflect the regressive-liberal mindset that is a danger to us all … ​Hopefully the U.S. Attorney will pick-up the case and run with it. They are far, far smarter at this than I.”

 

 


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