Oakland trade mission heading to China, raises funding concerns
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Port of Oakland officials, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, are set to launch a Chinese trade mission later this month in an effort to keep Oakland cargo traffic from slipping away to other West Coast ports.
The mission is scheduled to leave March 31 for Beijing. The nine-day trip will start with a dinner with U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt Jr., followed the next day by meetings with various officials and civic leaders.
The mission is also scheduled to visit Shan Xi, Dalian — one of Oakland’s sister cities — and Shanghai.
Executive Director Omar Benjamin, as well as commission President Anthony Batarse Jr. and First Vice President Darlene Ayers-Johnson, will represent the Port of Oakland on the trade mission.
Former Mayor Elihu Harris, chancellor of the Peralta Community College District and chairman of the Bay Area World Trade Center board of directors, also will go on the trip. Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, a member of the trade center board, said he was considering joining the delegation.
Also joining the mission will be a delegation from the Peralta Community College District that will visit schools and colleges in Beijing to promote its international trade curriculum.
The mayor’s trip has drawn criticism for being partly funded by the non-profit BAWTC, which does not disclose the names of its corporate or individual members.
Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, told InsideBayArea.com that the trip gives the BAWTC tremendous access to the mayor and could make him partial to the group and more likely to approve their proposals.
“If it is worth him going to China, and I think it is, the city should pay for the trip,” Stern said.
The Port of Oakland, a city agency, is paying for $30,000 of the trip, but the BAWTC is picking up the $10,000 tab for the mayor and his wife’s expenses.
The non-disclosure of the BAWTC’s membership also worries others.
Massie Ritsch, communications director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., told InsideBayArea.com: “The situation is problematic, because you can’t tell who is truly funding the trip.”