Elihu Mason Harris (born August 15, 1947) was mayor of Oakland from 1991 to 1999. He defeated incumbent Lionel Wilson in the 1990 election to become the second black mayor of Oakland. He chose to not run for reelection and was succeeded by Jerry Brown.
According to historian Robert Stanley Oden, Elihu Harris came into office when Lionel Wilson was descending in power. People in Oakland still wanted to see someone make change. Harris took up the strong mayor issue. He was a competent administrator and politician (he knew how to navigate the political system, knew how to raise money, knew the communities). Black mayors in Oakland and in other parts of the country become susceptible to pro-growth politics. They often employ a method of cooperation with the business and corporate community, at the risk of demobilizing and alienating the poor community. The poor community became demobilized because the people they elected did not come through with their campaign promises. Harris was not as antagonistic towards progressives as Wilson, but could not cooperate with the progressive community.
Harris was reelected as the progressive community could not come up with the funds or organization to defeat him. Harris pushed for the strong mayor government in prop 10. He lost the fight from both the right and left - he was called “King Elihu,” etc. Most of the opposition was from the right and was coupled with a lack of enthusiasm from the left (if he hadn’t previously demobilized the left, the measure would have had a chance of passage as it lost by 5 points). He decided not to run for mayor again. Overall, progressives were disappointed with the Harris regime.
Links and References
- Elihu Harris on Wikipedia