Darrel Carey, president of the East Bay Small Business Council, looks past City Councilmember Larry Reid in front of Oakland City Hall following a verbal altercation with developer Phil Tagami on Tuesday.
Darrel Carey, president of the East Bay Small Business Council, looks past City Councilmember Larry Reid in front of Oakland City Hall following a verbal altercation with developer Phil Tagami on Tuesday. (Laura Oda - Staff)
OAKLAND — Two men known to blow off steam at city meetings from time to time nearly came to physical blows outside City Hall Tuesday afternoon, although the only casualty appears to be Councilmember Larry Reid's bad back, wrenched while trying to keep the peace.

The near dust-up happened in the middle of Tuesday's Community and Economic Development Committee meeting. The room was packed because comedy film mogul Keenen Ivory Wayans was in the gallery.

It wasn't exactly Oakland's shining moment; then again, it could provide fodder for Wayans' next movie.

Darrel Carey, president of the East Bay Small BusinessCouncil, criticized Rotunda developer Phil Tagami's efforts to award contracts on the Fox Theater restoration to small, minority-owned businesses. Carey, who was paid by Tagami to do outreach to those very businesses, admitted he had previously spoken glowingly of the project, before doing an about-face and saying Tagami put them "through hell," stretching out the last word as 'hay-ell."

Tagami, co-owner of California Capital Group and project manager for the Fox Theater restoration, bristled at Carey's remarks, calling his story "fiction." He told the committee he had exceeded his own goal of hiring 50 percent local businesses and 20 percent small local businesses for the Fox project, and that he had even raised millions of dollars for a program to help small contractors who weren't yet qualified or lacked licenses and insurance.

But the real fireworks started when Reid publicly thanked Carey for being a watchdog to make sure developers were hiring small minority businesses on their projects.

"That's a shakedown!" Tagami yelled, annoyed that Reid's comments somehow validated Carey's point.

"You've been (shaking down) the city for years," Carey shot back from across the room.

At that point Tagami announced he was leaving. Carey called him outside to fight. Both men stormed up separate aisles and out the door.

Reid rushed after them and held Carey back while Tagami walked to his office across City Hall plaza.

"Darrel was just so angry at Phil, and you know he was ready to fight," Reid said. "I'm trying to keep Darrel from going after him, but he just threw me aside and said 'Get off me,' and I slipped and hurt my back a little bit.

"I think Phil has done an outstanding job with the program he's put together," Reid added. "It's a program other developers should be able to emulate."

Carey and Tagami used to be on pretty good terms, and Tagami had hired Carey to do outreach to small local and minority contractors for the Fox restoration, for which Tagami said Carey "did a fine job." The East Bay Small Business Council hosted a construction outreach and bidding conference at the Rotunda more than a year ago, and Tagami's company was a sponsor and a presenter.

But Carey is known around City Hall for getting hot under the collar and being pretty loose with his threats. He confronted Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) outside a meeting last year after she voted to award a contract to a business he didn't favor, yelling and swearing at her until her chief of staff intervened.

Tagami is also not afraid to speak his mind and tell the council members — sometimes loudly and vociferously — when they are making what he thinks are mistakes. But he hasn't challenged anyone to a fight.

Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland), who was chairing the meeting at the time and tried unsuccessfully to quell the outbursts, told the people in the gallery not to worry, noting that the men and their personalities were well-known.

Carey returned to the meeting and apologized for his behavior.

Tagami said he called police after Tuesday's incident, during which he said Carey threatened him and his family. He said he's not sure whether a police report will suffice or he needs to take it a step further and file for a restraining order.

"He didn't hit me. He wanted to start an altercation. ... He had four or five people holding him back. I just kept walking, I had nothing to say," Tagami said. "My level of disgust is at an all-time high."