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Kamala Harris embraces Oakland, but the feeling isn't necessarily mutual

Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Kamala Harris considered places to launch her White House bid, she had options: Washington, where she serves in the U.S. Senate; Sacramento, where she served as state attorney general; San Francisco, where she began her political career as district attorney.

She chose Oakland, where she was born, even though she lived next door in Berkeley until age 12, when Harris moved with her family to Montreal. (The latter would have been a no-brainer if she were running for Canadian prime minister.)

The result was a brilliant display of political pageantry, a spillover crowd topping 20,000 and a showcase moment for a city more often noted for crime, homelessness and abandonment by its professional sports teams.

Even the sun shone.

Not all, however, reveled in Harris' celebratory moment. To some in Oakland, a city of tender pride, the homecoming rang false, like a distant relative showing up just long enough to pose for a smiling family portrait.

"I would consider her more a San Franciscan than of Oakland," said David Omosheyin, 57, pausing as he crossed the downtown plaza where the Democratic hopeful staged last month's splashy rally. "It was a political move."

 

Bobbie Council, who was born and has spent all 49 of her years in Oakland, saw Harris' path-breaking candidacy as an inspiration but not some kind of fairy tale moment -- local girl makes good! -- come to life.

"To really be an Oakland native and be a part of the town, you got to put some roots in here," said Council, an employee in the city's Public Works Department. "It has to be where you were walking through these streets and you were with us in the struggle from one decade to the next."

Every campaign comes wrapped in symbolism, cues intended to convey a candidate's values and promote his or her vision. For Harris, Oakland is one of those totems -- a city with a rich and resonant history of black aspiration and achievement.

She is often compared to Barack Obama, for obvious reasons. He made history as the country's first black president. She hopes to become the country's first black woman president. Both were freshman senators, possessed of more charisma than national experience, when they announced their candidacies.

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