The charade continues. This morning, Oakland Tribune scribe Cecily Burt reported that yet another politician, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, recently sent a laudatory letter to a federal judge to support Oakland's notorious Your Black Muslim Bakery in its bankruptcy proceedings.
Swanson is third in a royal succession of bakery enablers, a former aide of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, herself the protégé of veteran Congressman Ron Dellums, now mayor of Oakland. All three pols wrote similar letters supporting the bakery, which has a long history as a hub of criminal activity. Lee backed off from her letter last week, albeit with much rationalizing. Meanwhile, Dellums' outgoing spokeswoman Karen Stevenson told me yesterday that the mayor, who has remained frustratingly silent about the letter sent out in his name, "will never" repudiate it.
Dellums rationale is that the bakery rep who requested the letter, Ali Saleem Bey, said he wanted to make the bakery legit. Not a blood relative of bakery founder Yusuf Bey - many members of the Bey "family" are "spiritually" adopted - Ali Saleem recently told the Tribune that he was opposed to what he depicted as an out-of-control faction he claimed had seized control of the bakery by fraud following the the elder Bey's 2003 death.
Swanson takes the same basic tack as Dellums. The Trib cited an unapologetic statement from his chief of staff to that effect, underscoring the supposedly routine nature of the request and Ali Saleem's good intentions. However, when Burt spoke with Amber Malthbie, Swanson's spokeswoman, she said that the letter was "a mistake." According to the story, Malthbie also said "her boss was not aware of the bakery leaders' problems with the law."
Malthbie has not yet returned phone calls to ask how she could make such a claim with a straight face. Swanson is either lying or unbelievably ignorant, and it's most likely the former. He has long been entrenched in the local political scene, where "Blood and Money," this newspaper's comprehensive 2002 series about the Beys was talk of the town. Was he traveling abroad when Yusuf Bey, then a prominent and politically connected figure in Oakland's black community, was indicted on 27 counts of child rape? Did he miss the recent liquor store vandalism by bakery heirs, caught on video and played over and over on local and national television?
Not bloody likely. In his own biography, Swanson describes himself as "An area native with deep ties to the community," and "a long time activist," who "worked for five years as Congresswoman Barbara Lee's Chief of Staff after working for 25 years as the District Director and Senior Policy Advisor to former Congressman Ron Dellums."
An excerpt of Swanson's July 17 letter quoted by the Trib states: "The loss of this bakery would be devastating to the entire community at large, because it provides not only delicious food items, but vital job opportunities for our local residents."
He neglected to mention that no matter how "delicious" some people might have considered its products, the bakery's legitimate side has long served as a cover for the sexual exploitation of young girls, kidnapping, assault and battery, torture, vandalism, financial fraud against the city of Oakland, and allegedly murder.
Whether Ali Saleem Bey is a stand-up guy is really beside the point. It was the organization itself these politicians supported. Nor was Ali Saleem in charge of the struggling bakery. Had reporter Chauncey Bailey not been executed earlier this month, allegedly by a bakery handyman, and had a judge not ordered the bakery last week to liquidate its assets, there's no guarantee the business would have ended up in the hands of the family's mythical do-gooder faction.
Our leaders, in short, have got to stop making politically motivated excuses, and start apologizing to the victims of this enterprise.