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Ex-governor sets sight on Oakland

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Jerry Brown hasn't changed much. Fifteen years after leaving the governor's office, six years since he last ran for president, he's still haughty, still elliptical of speech, still unable or unwilling to show emotion.

But of all his political quests, and the list is long, his newest may be the strangest.This privileged politico who thinks big thoughts - the late columnist Mike Royko dubbed him "Gov. Moonbeam" - wants to be mayor of blue-collar, down-on-its-luck Oakland. He's a white man running in the mostly minority city that gave birth to the Black Panthers.

And he stands a good chance of winning.

The latest polls show Brown well ahead of nine minority opponents, including a City Council member, an Alameda County supervisor and the local NAACP president. The nonpartisan primary election is June 2.

There is real affection for Brown among blacks, who constitute more than 40 percent of Oakland's 400,000 people. Asians and Hispanics make up 30 percent.

Black voters remember that when he was governor of California, nearly half of his 6,150 appointments went to minorities and women. They remember the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put city kids to work, and Brown's close association with Black Panther leaders.

And they remember his father, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Sr., a bigger-than-life liberal who ruled California from 1958 to 1966 and died two years ago.

"I voted for his daddy and I voted for him, too," said resident Lenora Dessalle, 54, as she entered Parks Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church on a recent Sunday morning.

Former Black Panther David Hilliard works on Brown's small campaign staff.

"He can pull this city together," Hilliard says.

Oakland's port is thriving, and the city has wealthy neighborhoods and tourist attractions. Brown's campaign office is near Jack London Square in the rejuvenated city center.

But downtown is a blighted stretch of abandoned buildings, haunted by crack dealers and addicts. Nearly every mayoral candidate talks about economic growth and Oakland's unrealized potential.

Hilliard admits that not all blacks like Brown.

"I think there's a certain part of the population who see him as a white boy who doesn't have a clue as to what is going on. But those people are very myopic anyway," he says.

There are many people, of all colors, who fault Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. for his arrogance, his dabbling in mysticism, his three failed runs for president, two of them while he was still governor, and his penchant for changing his mind.

In his second term, the state lost an estimated $100 million during an infestation of Mediterranean fruit flies while Brown flip-flopped on the issue of aerial pesticide spraying.