Maurice Goodman of Millbrae: Good man, good mayor

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Vice Mayor Maurice Goodman, posing outside Millbrae City Hall, boldly includes the Black community in his representation of all of Millbrae. – Photo: Kia Shaun Walton

by Kia Shaun Walton

Millbrae Vice Mayor Maurice Goodman extends a firm handshake, punctual and professional in a gray three-piece suit. Simply Maurice, his people-first personality collapses the distance one might expect from a public official. A calm confidence emanates, seeming much less to do with the  fact of his photo hanging on the wall of Millbrae City Hall as it does his core values. As he states it, “I’m centered in what I believe the community needs. And that means someone that’s going to be a voice, that’s going to be a unifier, that’s going to uplift and bring people together.” 

Representation is central to Vice Mayor Goodman’s approach to developing “the foundation” of Millbrae, described as “a culture of properly looking at race and being able to create healthy environments for people and safe environments for people to talk about issues of concern.” As a Black man, leader, father and politician, Vice Mayor Goodman has endured the absence of this foundation, from lack of endorsements, to housing discrimination, to an assault by a police officer, and threats to be removed from office the day he was sworn in. Undaunted, he intends to be bold in his representation.

Speaking to the inequity in education, housing, healthcare, economics, employment and public safety, he says, “[representation] is about being in the room … So if you’re not in those rooms … then the whole population of Black folks here in San Mateo County is not going to exist because it continues to dwindle.” For the small bastion of Black residents in Millbrae, which hovered at just 0.5% in 2023, according to US Census records, Vice Mayor Goodman attempts to provide “a sense of permission for individuals to be themselves.” 

Vice Mayor Goodman has supported culturally affirming efforts like tree planting in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., renaming a BART station street “Harriet Tubman Way” and in 2023 celebrating Millbrae’s first annual Juneteenth festival. He also plans to honor Chinedu Okobi, a Black man who was killed as the result of Millbrae police misconduct in 2018. “Representation,” Vice Mayor Goodman says, “bleeds into everything, and it should be interwoven with that focus on the humanity of an individual, seeing that individual.” 

Championing the creation of Millbrae’s first Social Equity Commission, which “has the autonomy to have very open, frank conversations around race, class and equity and how we can work better as a community,” Vice Mayor Goodman continues to align his actions with his words. The commission, composed of 12 community members and five alternates, includes high school students, adults and seniors; persons living in single parent homes, unhoused people; Black, Asian, Native/Indigenous American and white people; as well as undocumented people. In selecting the diverse composition, Vice Mayor Goodman says, “If you’re in our community, we are very intentional. I’m making every single person in our community feel represented on that commission.” 

Vice Mayor Goodman continues, It’s been embedded in how the city operates as well. We actually have our own staff group working on issues and making sure that equity is woven into everything that we do here as a city and staff.” Some of this weaving is evidenced by Millbrae’s response to unhoused individuals, now partnering with LiveMoves to provide counselors at the BART station and a non-police line that merchants, residents or visitors can call to provide service to community members in need. 

On more than one occasion, Vice Mayor Goodman has invited community members to “be on the right side of history when it comes to showing people who we really are as a community.” He recalls Project Homekey, a California program that provides local government agencies with funds to purchase and rehabilitate housing – including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings and other properties – and convert them into permanent, long-term housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.” His supportive stance on the initiative that would affordably house teachers and other community members caused some to launch a recall. The controversy garnered local and international attention on Fox News and England’s Daily Mirror.

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Vice Mayor Maurice Goodman inside Millbrae City Hall stands in front of the City Seal, committed to equity in city governance. – Photo: Kia Shaun Walton

Lack of adequate or unbiased information regarding Project Homekey might explain why even though he had no decision making power in the matter, theoretically, if the recall passes, Vice Mayor Maurice Goodman could be removed from office. Still, Vice Mayor Goodman is careful not to “indict the city” for the actions of a few residents. He points instead to bias, assumptions and misunderstanding of a vocal minority.  

The grace he extends to the approximately 900 recall petition signers is consistent with his professional ethic. Staunchly against “finger pointing” and racially or culturally divisive practices, Mayor Goodman says in response to the challenge of creating an equitable community, “You’re trying to shift mindsets and get people to see that you have to have a sense of compassion. You have to have a sense of responsibility for others and doing your part.”

Acting president of the San Mateo branch of the NAACP,  former president of the San Mateo County Community College Board – the first Black person and person of color to achieve this – vice president of the San Mateo County Community College Housing Board, board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of North San Mateo County, and two time president of the South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees, Vice Mayor Goodman is doing his part and then some. 

Concurrent with much of the work he has done in San Mateo County, Vice Mayor Goodman also served as the executive director of Operation Genesis, a non-profit that focused on Hunters Point, a district of San Francisco, that took Black youth to Ghana and facilitated gun-free police engagement with youth in the community.

Reflecting on his work in the political and nonprofit sectors, he shares, “There are all these wonderful things, but I felt like I had to live in two worlds … I was always trying to keep what decisions I made politically away from people to be able to retaliate against the nonprofit.” His openness regarding his vast involvement in San Mateo and San Francisco counties is new: “I just started to be able to say, ‘OK, I need to show who I am.’”

Perhaps what sets Vice Mayor Goodman apart as a leader is his choice to metabolize unjust experiences and center the greater, more equitable good. He says he works on “taking time to get out of the storm,” continuing, “I felt myself being in that storm where you don’t get to separate yourself from the issue enough, where you can be more thoughtful and not reactionary. Because you can allow … people to take you out of a place of love.” 

To the many challenges he experiences, he offers: “Things like that will embolden me. Like you are on the right track. Keep doing what you’re doing because it ain’t about anybody else; it’s about the work.”

 Kia Shaun Walton (she/he) is a freelance journalist and educator working in the Bay Area. Kia is committed to justice, integrity and community. Please direct any inquiries to kia@sfbayview.com