Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Breaking: Gay man resigns Oakland Port seat


Michael Lighty (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
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The first out person to serve on Oakland's powerful Port Commission resigned from his seat this week, setting off a scramble to see that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan appoints another LGBT person to fill the vacancy.

Michael Lighty, director of public policy for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, tendered his resignation Tuesday, January 3, the Bay Area Reporter has learned.

Due to his job requiring extensive travel out of town, Lighty's absentee rate at port meetings had approached 70 percent last year. He reportedly decided it would be better if he stepped down and allow someone else to be appointed.

Lighty could not immediately be reached for comment. He had been serving out the remainder of former Commissioner Anthony Batarse's term, which ends July 10, 2013.

Robert Bernardo, a gay man who is the port's manager of media and public relations, said Lighty had been absent from meetings in recent months.

"I know he has missed meetings, but as to the reason why, that I don’t know," said Bernardo, adding that Lighty would be missed. "I have had the pleasure of working with him when he did international media interviews. I really liked Mr. Lighty."

Sue Piper, a spokeswoman for Quan, told the B.A.R. Wednesday afternoon that she was unsure if the mayor had been told of Lighty's resignation. Nor could she say if the mayor would look for another LGBT person to replace him.

Already, one openly gay applicant has applied to serve out the remainder of Lighty's term. Oakland Planning Commissioner Michael Colbruno, whose term ends in May, submitted a letter of interest in the seat to Jean's office Wednesday morning.

"My name has been bandied about for the port in the past. I always declined it because I had clients before the port and thought it would be a conflict of interest," Colbruno, 51, told the B.A.R.

He used to represent Clear Channel Outdoor, which owns a billboard on port property, and handled advertising for the Oakland airport, another port tenant. Now the political consultant's client list does not include any that deal with the Oakland port.

"Now, I have no conflicts so I am going for it," said Colbruno, who is with the Milo Group of California. "We are trying to keep that seat in LGBT hands."

He does have maritime experience, as he was the legislative director in Sacramento in the late 1990s for lesbian former Assemblywoman Carole Migden, who served on the Assembly Select Committee on Ports.

"I have experience there," said Colbruno.

The vacancy is now the second one on the Port Commission that could cause headaches for Quan, who is fighting off attempts to recall her from office. One grievance fueling the recall efforts within the city's black community was Quan's decision last year not to reappoint Port Commissioner Margaret Gordon, who is African American.

Her pick for the seat was Jakada Imani, a black man who is executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. A strong ally of Quan's, Imani withdrew his nomination in November when it became clear he did not have the support of the City Council, which approves mayoral appointments to city commissions, due to the controversy.

When former Mayor Ron Dellums first appointed Lighty to the Port Commission in 2009, his selection also sparked heated debate. The council at first deadlocked on his appointment, and it took pressure from the LGBT community, including lesbian At-Large City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, to secure Lighty's confirmation.

An aide for Kaplan told the B.A.R. that she is supportive of seeing Colbruno be named to the seat. Lighty is also said to back having Colbruno be named his replacement on the oversight panel.

"Councilwoman Kaplan would be pleased to support Mr. Colbruno being appointed to that seat. She thinks that his experience as a planning commissioner very well suits him to be a tremendous asset," said Jason Overman, a spokesman for Kaplan. "She feels he would be not only knowledgeable but very experienced, and most of all, a very competent commissioner. She would be happy to support that appointment."

As for Lighty, Overman said that Kaplan "has the utmost respect for Mr. Lighty and certainly wishes him well. He is doing a lot of great and important work."

So far there appears to be little support among Oakland's LGBT community to recall Quan, as the B.A.R. noted in a story last month. But that could change if the mayor opts to select a straight person for Lighty's port seat.

Though there are also two more port terms that expire this summer on July 11. Both Commission President Pamela Calloway and Second Vice President James W. Head will be up for re-appointment, and Quan could opt to name Colbruno to one of their seats.

In addition to the vacancies, Quan's handling of Occupy Oakland demonstrations that closed down the port twice in the fall has also come under fire. After she told the San Francisco Chronicle she wasn't sure if they could keep the ports open during future protests, the backlash reached all the way to Sacramento, where Governor Jerry Brown, a former Oakland mayor himself, called on city leaders to keep the busy maritime facility working.

Quan later issued a statement clarifying her comments, saying they referred to cost-sharing plans between the city and port to pay for the additional police services to deal with any protests.

"We can keep the port open. I was providing background on how complex and costly it can be to do so," stated Quan. "The city and port are committed to working closely together to keep this economic engine for the region open."

Asked about the controversy, Colbruno downplayed it, saying the question seemed unfair since there were no looming plans to again shut down the port.

"I do think the port needs to stay open for commerce. Let me be crystal clear about that," said Colbruno. "The people getting hurt right now are the truckers. They are the 99 percent; the protesters should focus on the 1 percent."

The two port seats up for grabs aren't the only ones Quan has to fill this year. According to a newsletter she emailed constituents in late December, Quan is seeking applicants for a number of positions on city oversight panels.

Currently, there are vacancies on the Budget Advisory Committee, Citizen's Police Review Board, Planning Commission, Wildfire Prevention Assessment District Advisory Board, and the Measure Z-Cannabis Regulatory Commission, stated the email.

"Each board and commission requires specific interests and skills, so if you think you are qualified please send a letter of interest and your resume to Richard Cowan, Community Services Manager, who oversees my appointments," stated Quan. "While I am always looking for representatives from traditionally under-represented parts of the City, we are also seeking qualified board and commission members. 

Anyone interested in applying should send a cover letter and resume to Cowan at

 The city website has more information on Oakland's other boards and commissions.

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