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John Russo Last Interview As Alameda City Manager

John Russo Last Interview As Alameda City Manager I've known John Russo since 1990, and have watched him grow and change from activist lawyer, to Oakland Councilmember, then the city's first elected attorney, then Alameda's first city manager that lasted more than one year. I've interviewed him so many times on video I've lost count, and still have the only set of long-playing YouTube vids in media – our average talk is generally 20 minutes long. This video interview is the last one I will do with John as Alameda City Manager and because he's leaving to work for the City of Riverside, California in the same capacity. This move is completely John: as long as he's been my friend, Mr. Russo has always put his family first. It didn't matter if it was his mother, or his brother Al in New York, or his wife (present and past), and his boys Sam and Gabe, and his step-children. This decision to leave the Bay Area and end a 25-year-long relationship was one he made with his wife Melissa. “We've always intended to move to Southern California,” Russo remarked to me. But desire is one thing: opportunity quite another. Russo made a promise to remain as Alameda's City Manager if his boss and friend Marie Gilmore won reelection in 2014; that didn't happen. When it became clear Gilmore wasn't going to win the razor-thin vote count, Russo started to focus on following up on a call he received from a friend in Riverside who told him that that city's manager job was open. Of course, landing a job is another story, but if there's one thing I can say about John Russo, it's that he has effectively established a long-list of contacts around the State of California, and beyond. Thus, it's more than likely he was well-known to the people who interviewed him before he walked into the door. He got the gig. The job reportedly pays him $80,000 more than his Alameda salary, which was $215,000, but the reportedly $290,000 level could go to as high as $400,000, as Russo has an incentive package built in to his contract. And why not? The inland city is almost as large as Oakland in population, and gives him a great platform to make a difference; it's only fair, he thinks, that he's compensated for reaching the unnamed goals established. The question remains: did Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf reach out to Russo? “No.” He said. And Russo said little more than that. As much as he's loved by many in Oakland (and George Zimmer, the Founder and President of The Men's Wherehouse said to me “We've got to find some way to keep John in Oakland”) it's clear to me he's done with the City of Oakland. It's changed in a way that has scared off many talented public officials who worked in it, and some would even say Oakland is becoming as dyfunctional as Berkeley is known to be, only larger. In our talk, John and I focused on what he called the “unholy alliance between the left and the right,” where the right says about people (of color) in a neighborhood like Elmhurst “look at those people. They have bad values.” and the left, or what I called in the video “the white left” points to the same people who are black and Latino. It's that dynamic, and Oakland's intense focus on it, that prevents it from uniting to do more enterprising things, like building a stadium to retain the Raiders in Oakland, or landing a Super Bowl, but I digress. Whether Mayor Schaaf can change that or not remains to be seen, as it's still the honeymoon season for her – and the topic of another video-blog. But Russo is gone, and leaves behind a laundry list of accomplishments. While I have my favorites, like working out the contractual issues with the Chris Cohan-owned Golden State Warriors, and cleaning up Lakeshore Avenue's business district, John's favorite is his work in establishing the Neighborhood Law Corps. The idea behind the NLC is kind of like a cross between The Peace Corps and a law internship. Basically, the NLC acted as legal representatives for the neighborhood, helping residents solve problems from removal of crack houses, to identification of slum lords. It's the one legacy of Russo's tenure as the city's first elected and two-time-reelected lawyer that remains to this day. But the most controversial move Russo made was in establishing the Oakland Civil Gang Injunction process, and used it to target the North Side Oakland Gang Members, saying the street gang has "terrorized our community, intimidated witnesses and recruited children to their criminal enterprise." The injunction included a 100-block safety zone, and prohibited gang members from associating with each other and possessing guns within the area. It was good idea – certainly more than was done by its critics. John remains passionate about the program. Stay tuned. Visit our blog Zennie62.com here: http://ift.tt/1d6iMwr

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