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Ron Dellums
Ron Dellums.jpg
48th Mayor of Oakland
In office
January 8, 2007 – January 3, 2011
Preceded by Jerry Brown
Succeeded by Jean Quan
Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee
In office
January 3, 1995 – February 6, 1998
Preceded by Floyd Spence
Succeeded by Ike Skelton
Chair of the House Armed Services Committee
In office
January 20, 1993 – January 3, 1995
Preceded by Les Aspin
Succeeded by Floyd Spence
Chair of the House District of Columbia Committee
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 20, 1993
Preceded by Charles Diggs
Succeeded by Pete Stark
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from California
In office
January 3, 1971 – February 6, 1998
Preceded by Jeffery Cohelan
Succeeded by Barbara Lee
Constituency 7th district (1971–1975)
8th district (1975–1993)
9th district (1993–98)
Personal details
Ronald Vernie Dellums

(1935-11-24)November 24, 1935
Oakland, California, U.S.
Died July 30, 2018(2018-07-30) (aged 82)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
Political party Democratic
Other political
Democratic Socialists of America
Athurine Dellums
(m. 1955; div. 1959)

Roscoe Higgs
(m. 1961; div. 1998)

Cynthia Lewis
(m. 2000)
Children 5, including Erik and Piper
Relatives C. L. Dellums (uncle)
Education Merritt College
San Francisco State University (BA)
University of California, Berkeley (MSW)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Branch/service  United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1954–1956
Rank USMC-E2.svg Private first class

Ronald Vernie Dellums (November 24, 1935 – July 30, 2018) was an American politician who served as Mayor of Oakland from 2007 to 2011. He had previously served thirteen terms as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California's 9th congressional district, in office from 1971 to 1998, after which he worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

Dellums was born into a family of labor organizers, and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps before serving on the Berkeley, California, City Council. He was the first African American elected to Congress from Northern California and the first successful openly socialist non-incumbent Congressional candidate after World War II. His politics earned him a place on President Nixon's enemies list.

During his career in Congress, he fought the MX Missile project and opposed expansion of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber program. When President Ronald Reagan vetoed Dellums's Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate overrode Reagan's veto, the first override of a presidential foreign-policy veto in the 20th century.

Early years and family life

A statue of Dellums's uncle, labor organizer C. L. Dellums at the Oakland Amtrak station.

Dellums was born in Oakland, California, to Verney and Willa (Terry) Dellums. His father was a longshoreman. His uncle, C. L. Dellums, was one of the organizers and leaders of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He had a younger sister Theresa. His mother Willa died on August 17, 2008, at the age of 89.

Dellums attended Oakland Technical High School and McClymonds High School. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1954 to 1956. Dellums later received his A.A. degree from the Oakland City College, now Merritt College, in 1958, his B.A. from San Francisco State University in 1960, and his M.S.W. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1962. He became a psychiatric social worker and political activist in the African-American community beginning in the 1960s. He also taught at San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Dellums was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He was also a member of the fraternity's World Policy Council, a think tank whose purpose is to expand the fraternity's involvement in politics, and social and current policy to encompass international concerns.

Dellums was married three times. He married his second wife, attorney Leola "Roscoe" Higgs, in 1961. The two divorced in 1998. He married his third wife, Cynthia Lewis, in 2000.

Dellums had six children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Berkeley City Council

Dellums was elected to the Berkeley City Council, after prompting from Maudelle Shirek, and served from 1967 to 1970.

U.S. Congress

Dellums was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1970 after being recruited by anti-Vietnam War activists to run against the incumbent, Jeffery Cohelan, a white liberal close to organized labor who had not opposed the war early enough to win reelection in the district. Dellums defeated Cohelan in the Democratic primary and won the general election, serving without interruption for 27 years.

In 1972, Dellums was reelected to Congress, 60 to 38 percent over his Republican opponent, Peter D. Hannaford, an advisor to then Governor Ronald Reagan.

His politics earned him a place on the so-called Nixon's Enemies List, where his notation stated Dellums "had extensive EMK-Tunney support in his election bid."

Foreign policy

During his tenure in Congress, Dellums opposed every major American military intervention, except for emergency relief in Somalia in 1992. Dellums also supported the restriction of foreign aid to repressive African governments in Zaire (present-day DRC), Burundi, Liberia and Sudan.

Anti-apartheid campaign

Dellums in the 1970s

In 1972, Dellums began his campaign to end the apartheid policies of South Africa. Fourteen years later, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Dellums's anti-apartheid legislation, calling for a trade restriction against South Africa and immediate divestment by American corporations. The bill, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, had broad bipartisan support. It called for sanctions against South Africa and stated preconditions for lifting the sanctions, including the release of all political prisoners. President Reagan called for a policy of "constructive engagement" and vetoed the bill; however, his veto was overridden. It was the first override in the 20th century of a presidential foreign policy veto.

Dellums's fight against apartheid in South Africa was the subject of a Disney Channel made-for-TV film, The Color of Friendship, released in 2000. The role of Congressman Dellums was played in the film by actor Carl Lumbly.

Cold War conflicts in southern Africa

As part of the Cold War struggle for influence in southern Africa, the United States joined with the apartheid government of South Africa in support of UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi, against the ultimately victorious Angolan forces of the MPLA supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba. Dellums was criticized for his support of Fidel Castro's involvement with the MPLA in Angola and was called "the prototype of the Castroite congressman" by the conservative press. He also introduced legislation (which was unsuccessful) in September 1987 to prohibit economic and military assistance to Zaire, citing poor human rights, corruption, and collaboration with South Africa.

Dellums v. Bush (1990)

In 1990, Dellums and 44 of his congressional colleagues sued then-president President George H. W. Bush in D.C. Federal District Court in 1990, in the case Dellums v. Bush, 752 F. Supp. 1141 (1990) attempting to halt a preemptive military buildup in the Middle East in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The plaintiff members of Congress asserted that military action without a declaration of war would be unlawful under U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 11 of the United States Constitution. Dellums v. Bush is notable in that it is one of only a few cases in which the Federal Courts have considered whether the War Powers Clause of the U.S. Constitution is justiciable in the courts. The Court in Dellums v. Bush indicated that, in that instance, it was, but because Congress had not yet acted as a majority, the lawsuit was premature.

Military budgets and arms control

Throughout his career Dellums led campaigns against an array of military projects, arguing that the funds would be better spent on peaceful purposes, especially in American cities. Programs he opposed included the Pershing II and MX missiles, and the B-2 bomber (popularly known as the "stealth bomber"). Because of his commitment to the closing of unneeded military bases, Dellums did not oppose the closing of the former Naval Air Station Alameda in his own district.

The B-2 Stealth Bomber is a long-range strategic bomber, that features stealth technology that makes it far less visible to radar. The B-2 was a major technological advance; however, it was designed during the Cold War for military scenarios that some argued were less relevant following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its total program cost was estimated in 1997 at over US$2.2 billion per airplane.

Although Dellums opposed the B-2 project from the start, Congress approved initial funding for production of 135 bombers in 1987. However, with the winding down of the Cold War, total B-2 production was reduced to 21 aircraft in the early 1990s. But in 1997, seven former Secretaries of Defense signed a letter urging Congress to buy more B-2s, citing the difficulty of assembling a similar engineering team in the future should the B-2 project be terminated. Dellums, citing five independent studies consistent with his position, offered an amendment to that year's defense authorization bill to cap production of the bombers with the existing 21 aircraft. The amendment was narrowly defeated; nonetheless, Congress never approved funding for additional B-2 bombers.

Integration of gays and lesbians in the military

In 1993, Dellums was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Though he argued in favor of integration, Dellums was the sole sponsor of H.R. 2401, introduced on June 14, 1993, adding language to the Defense Authorization Act of 1994 to ensure continued support for unit cohesion in the military. Although the bill contained that language, Dellums pointed out that he personally found the language unacceptable, stating in the Congressional Record on August 4, 1993: "The bill also contains at least one policy that, while unacceptable to this Member in substantive terms, is not as retrograde as it might have been: It supports the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the issue of allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve their country." Remaining in the bill was Title V Section G "[e]xpresses as congressional policy the prohibition against homosexual conduct or activity in the armed forces. Requires separation from the armed forces for such conduct or activity. Directs the Secretary to ensure that the standards for military appointments and enlistments reflect such policy." Dellums's "yes" vote on the bill with the unit cohesion support language was the first time in his 22-year congressional tenure that he voted in favor of any defense spending bill, previously opposing them on economic principles. However, Dellums gave several economic reasons in the Congressional Record for his "yes" vote, on H.R. 2401, including that "It cuts ballistic missile defense to $3 billion—less than one-half the level planned by the Bush administration ..." and: "it devotes a record $11.2 billion to environmental cleanup and improvement, and does so in a way that will stimulate the development of new technologies and new markets for American firms".

U.S. House Committee positions

Dellums served as chairman of the House Committee on the District of Columbia and the House Armed Services Committee.

Dellums also served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Select Committee to Investigate the Intelligence Community.

Dellums co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 and co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991.

Dellums's last Congressional election

Dellums's official portrait in the 103rd Congress, 1993.

Dellums was reelected 11 times from this Oakland-based district, which changed numbers twice during his tenure–from the 7th (1971–75) to the 8th (1975–93) to the 9th (1993–98). He only dropped below 57 percent of the vote twice, in 1980 and 1982. In his last House election race, in 1996, Dellums bested his opponent, Republican Deborah Wright, by a 77%–18% margin.

In 1997, Dellums announced that he was retiring from Congress in the middle of his term, and his resignation forced a special election for the balance of his term–– which created a series of five special elections in 12 months as various East Bay politicians ran for different political offices.

Dellums's successor, Barbara Lee, won the 2000 election by an even larger, 85%–9% margin.

Congressional tribute

Upon his resignation, several members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman, William Coyne, Nick Rahall, Ike Skelton, Juanita Millender-McDonald, and Tom DeLay gave speeches on the floor of the House in honor of Dellums. Millender-McDonald described Dellums as a "distinguished, principled [and] educated man."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay described Dellums as " of the most giving, open and stalwart, a real stalwart man when he was Chairman"

Voting record

Ron Dellums 1996
Dellums in 1996

Dellums's voting records in Congress were "almost without exception straight As" from groups such as the Sierra Club, the National Organization for Women and the AFL–CIO. He received 100% on consumer group Public Citizen's scorecard. In contrast, he received an "F" from NumbersUSA, a group dedicated to limiting immigration.

Presidential nominations

In 1976, Dellums was nominated for president by the National Black Political Assembly but refused, stating "It is not my moment; it's not my time." That year, he received 20 delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention for the Vice-Presidency.

Four years later, he was again nominated as the presidential candidate, this time for the Independent Freedom Party, but refused the nomination because the IFP had not yet created an effective political structure. In that year's Democratic National Convention, Dellums received three delegate votes for the Presidential nomination.

Mayor of Oakland

Ron Dellums DSC 0062 (3198522112)
Dellums as Mayor, 2009

2006 Oakland mayoral election

After Oakland Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and District 3 City Council member Nancy Nadel declared their mayoral candidacies, Dellums was recruited to run for Mayor of Oakland. An informal committee, "Draft Dellums", collected 8,000 signatures and presented them to the former Congressman at a public meeting at Laney College. Crowds of Oaklanders chanted "Run, Ron, Run".

In October 2005, reportedly after weeks of deliberation and speculation, Dellums announced that he would run for mayor of Oakland. The incumbent mayor, former California Governor Jerry Brown, was prohibited by term limits from running again.

On June 16, 2006, after a careful ballot count, and a dispute over whether votes for unqualified write-in candidates such as George W. Bush and Homer Simpson counted towards the total, Dellums was unofficially declared the winner in the Oakland mayoral race. Dellums garnered a 50.18 percent majority to win the election. This was 155 votes more than needed to avoid a runoff. Dellums received 41,992 votes, while his nearest challengers received 27,607 votes, and 10,928 votes respectively.

Transition and citizen task forces

Mayor-Elect Dellums's transition to office involved 800 Oaklanders who joined 41 task forces to make recommendations on issues ranging from public safety to education and affordable housing. Many of these recommendations helped to shape the policy agenda of the Dellums administration. The task forces recommended a land use policy which would emphasize zoning for job-creating business. This policy was adopted in 2007, and the city is being zoned. The task forces recommended a stronger policy on the hiring of local residents, and the City Council appointed a group to pursue this change. The task forces recommended a focus on the green economy, and the Mayor, along with a variety of community organizations created the Green Jobs Corps, an office of sustainability and the East Bay Green Corridor. Mayor Dellums reported that approximately two-thirds of the recommendations had been implemented as of the end of 2009. The Task Forces and the Inauguration itself, which included hundreds of the city's least affluent residents, were considered examples of grassroots democracy.

Public safety initiatives

Crime rates were high when Dellums took office in January 2007 and at his first State of the City Address in January 2008, Dellums called for hiring more police officers. Dellums promised that by year's end, the police department would be fully staffed at 803 officers. On November 14, 2008, 38 Oakland police officers were added to the force after graduating the 165th academy, bringing the department's force to 837 officers, the most in OPD history.

In addition, to follow through on his calls for hiring more officers, Dellums offered Measure NN on the November 2008 ballot, a voter initiative parcel tax to hire 70 additional police officers at a hiring and training cost of $250,000 each. Though 55 percent of Oakland voters supported Measure NN, this failed to meet California's "two thirds" constitutional requirement for the enactment of a new tax.

Dellums's administration negotiated the passage of a new police contract which was especially noteworthy, as it broke the Oakland Police Officers Association's opposition to the civilianization of certain OPD positions which were previously staffed by "sworn," uniformed police officers, with concomitant payrolls and police academy training costs. OPD then hired "non-sworn" personnel to work some of its desk jobs and administrative jobs, freeing up academy uniformed officers for street patrol and investigative work.

In his State of the City address in 2008 Dellums promised to reduce the crime rate by 10% during 2009; the crime rate actually went down by 13%.

Education initiatives

Noting that reducing teacher turn-over and improving the engagement of teachers with the families of their students would require increasing the number of teachers who came from the local community, Dellums initiated a program to create more teachers who were diverse local residents. He held teacher recruitment summits in City Hall, helped the Teach Tomorrow in Oakland program to obtain $2.7 million in federal funding, and spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors about the national potential of such programs. The Community Task Forces remained active in these efforts.

In 2009 Dellums launched an anti-drop-out initiative which included sponsoring back to school rallies at City Hall and participating with the school district in truancy reduction efforts. He accepted an invitation from the national organization, America's Promise, to join their efforts at drop-out prevention. As part of this effort, he started Oakland's Promise, recruited several dozen community-based organizations to participate, held a Summit with 350 participants, and adopted an Action Plan to cut Oakland's drop-out rate in half.

Promoting Oakland

As Mayor, Dellums proposed the idea of Oakland as a "Model City". He argued that Oakland is "big enough to be significant and small enough to get your arms around", and that the federal government needs a city like Oakland on which to try out new urban policy inventions.

From 2008, Dellums campaigned to bring millions in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act federal stimulus funding to Oakland, using both his extensive Washington D.C. contacts and the idea of the Model City. By the end of 2009, his efforts had yielded US$65 million in stimulus funding for Oakland, including the largest police grant of any city in the country, and the second largest amount in competitive funding after Chicago.

Dellums later announced he would not seek a second term as mayor of Oakland in the 2010 election. He was succeeded by Jean Quan.


Dellums died of complications from cancer 666666on July 30, 2018, at age 82. Dellums was interred with military honors in section 82, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Partisan affiliations

Ron Dellums, in 2013 at age 78, in Washington, DC, in January 2013
Dellums at 78, in Washington, DC for the United States Conference of Mayors annual meeting.

Although he ran as a Democrat and caucused as a Democrat in Congress, Dellums described himself as a socialist. He was the first self-described socialist in Congress since Victor L. Berger. In the 1970s, Dellums was a member of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), an offshoot of the Socialist Party of America. He later became vice-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which was formed by a merger between the DSOC and the New American Movement, and which works within and outside the Democratic Party.

While running for mayor of Oakland, Dellums was officially registered as a member of the Democratic Party.

On October 1, 2007, Dellums endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary at a press conference held at Laney College in Oakland. He was named national chair of Clinton's Urban Policy Committee.

Dellums was a member of the ReFormers Caucus of Issue One.


In 2000, Dellums published an autobiography, cowritten with H. Lee Halterman, entitled Lying Down with the Lions: A Public Life from the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power.

See also

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