Office of the Mayor
on November 23, 2009
We met Wednesday at 9:08 AM in the Office of the Mayor’s greeting room, just beyond the iron and glass Art Deco-like divide separating the mayoral cluster of offices and conference rooms from the rest of City Hall’s third floor.
One of the bulbs was out in the hexagonal light fixture that looked like beeswax forty feet above the room’s lone cherry
Epstein, wearing little makeup and a loose green blazer, greeted me with a hug. Several times throughout the day she would sweep her gently angled bangs to the right side of her face with the pad of her right hand’s center finger. Her necklace appeared to be handcrafted.
Her warm demeanor seemed fitting for a woman who was once a teacher. Long an Oakland resident, her son attended Oakland’s public schools. She still visits the city’s schools, which she now affects on a larger scale by working on issues such as dropout prevention, teacher retention, and after school programs, she said. She’s “often, but not always,” one of the first people to arrive to the Office of the Mayor; her desk isn’t far from the mayor’s chamber.
“We are pressed for space since the mayor opened City Hall to the public,” Epstein said. During a phone interview the evening after we met she told me that Mayor Ron Dellums has hoped to inspire public collaboration by encouraging residents to visit City Hall. “He said ‘I want to open up the doors of City Hall. You don’t have to bang the doors down. Bring your coffee. Sit at the table. Say ‘Here I am,’” she said.
On this morning however, at 9:18 am, there was plenty of breathing room. In a small conference room only a few feet away, the mayor’s half-dozen glass awards of recognition sat without many viewers. There were no people at the table. No coffee cups.
The larger conference room, set deeper within the corridor, also sat empty except for the American and Oakland flags, an oblong table made of light-colored wood, and some chairs. “The mayor sits there,” Epstein said as she pointed to the chair at the head of the table. The table was streaked with light coming in from the large window across the room.
Many employees had yet to trickle in, the mayor was out of town, and the council room felt like a darkened playhouse. “We had a city council meeting in here last night,” Epstein said. “You can probably still feel the tension.”
One of the handful of people around was Anita Estell, a public policy advisor who normally works out of Washington DC. She was prepping for the mayoral staff training session she would run later in the day about the legislative process and applying for federal funding. “We need to have the rubber hit the road,” Estell says. “The mayor has friends in very high places.”
The area where Estell sat looked much like any American office: desks side-by-side, manila folders in piles. But elsewhere, the Office of the Mayor looked like a modest Italian villa. Some rooms, like the mayor’s, sat behind thick wooden doors and had multiple doorways. Gold-colored oak trees adorned the metal grate in front of the mayor’s fireplace. His desk was in perfect order, awaiting his return.
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