subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve



Devon’s Ambition

Devon knew exactly what he wanted to be: The next Barack Obama. Young, gifted and Black, he saw the world around him, and the endless possibilities it contained, and believed he could obtain them through sheer determination and talent. People had always been drawn to him. He had that effect, and knew it. He had learned how to put it to his advantage.

Sure, he’d sowed some wild oats. So had Obama. People didn’t care about that, as long as you admitted it, cleaned up your act, and moved on. Hell, Trump had showed you didn’t even have to move on for people to give you a pass.

Someone he’d once dated told Devon that he was a narcissist. “You divide people into two camps, Devon: those who can help you, whom you care about, and everybody else, whom you don’t.” The words cut. But, Devon told himself (and he was always having this internal conversation), it wasn’t true that he was just out for the main chance. He truly wanted to help people. The thing was, he couldn’t help anyone until he had power, and the kind of power he needed was political.

After his community organizing years in the Western Addition, he was as plugged into the Bay Area’s liberal activist community as anyone could be. Through the grapevine, he heard that a job was available in Mayor Schaaf’s office in Oakland: neighborhood outreach coordinator. His name had been floated. Salary, healthcare, vacation time, pension plan, the works. He was perpetually broke; community organizing wasn’t exactly a lucrative career. He interviewed. Schaaf liked him and offered him the job. He took it. Devon moved to Oakland, to a one-bedroom on Sixteenth, off Webster.

He was a hit. Everybody was dazzled by the new kid in town. He threw off sparks like a blowtorch, brilliant, mesmerizing, volcanic. His rise was fast: outreach coordinator, office manager, and then, within a year, Schaaf’s Chief of Staff. She appointed him to various boards, where he made further connections. He had the personal phone numbers of everyone who counted in California Democratic politics: the Clintons, Obama, Newson, Kamala, Swalwell, Schiff—curiously, not Feinstein. He was a glad hander and an incredibly hard worker–clearly a comer. People wanted to be his friend. Yet they wondered about him. He lived alone, and didn’t seem to have a private life, or at least one that anybody knew about. Was he gay? Straight? Bi? Such speculation is common in the water-cooler chit-chat of politics.

He decided to run for City Council when the incumbent chose not to, after having been implicated in one scandal too many. Schaaf promised to help; she threw the weight of her considerable political machine behind him. He was running against two other plausible candidates, and six implausible ones. Devon had no great interest in the grind of local issues: potholes, mosquito abatement, zoning, garbage contracts. He had his eyes on bigger prizes. But he had to start somewhere.

Mayor Schaaf helped him to secure a large space—1,200 square feet, ground level windows—in the old I. Magnin building, on Broadway, for his campaign headquarters. With her assistance, he raised $75,000 for his campaign, a respectable figure for an Oakland City Council candidate’s first run. The pundits said he was the early favorite.

He came in to headquarters early one afternoon. His secretary/interference runner/barrista, Hedda, greeted him and nodded toward his small office. “You have a volunteer to interview.”

Devon saw the volunteer through the doorway. She was a knockout. That was one of the things he liked about politics. You were always meeting interesting people. Devon enjoyed interesting people. He straightened his shirt collar and entered his office.

“Devon Camber,” he said, flashing the thousand-watt smile and extending his hand. The volunteer rose. She was tall for a woman. There was something about her, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something…

“Hello, Devon. Franklin Wilkerson. Only these days, I go by the name Flambé.”

Devon was thunderstruck. “Franklin? Holy cow, Is that you?” He backed away to get a better look. He seemed for once to be at a loss for words. Flambé just stood there, grinning.

 “My oh my,” the candidate said, “you have changed.”

“So,” Flambé interjected, “have you.”

It didn’t take Devon two minutes to hire Flambé. He was genuinely glad to see her again. More importantly, she checked off two big boxes in voter demographics: Black and LGBTQ. His chief opponent for the office was gay; Devon’s support in that community—which any Oakland pol needs–needed shoring up, and “T” was even better than “G.” Hedda got the non-disclosure forms. Flambé signed. Then Devon asked Flambé if she’d had lunch.

“As a matter of fact, no. And I’m starving.”

Devon took her elbow and steered her toward the street. “I’ve got the perfect place. New sushi joint on Telegraph. I seem to recall you like sushi.”

“I adore,” Flambé purred, “a California roll.”

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts