OAKLAND -- The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is welcoming a new leader to the helm, longtime Oakland resident Barbara Leslie.
Leslie, who will be the group's first woman president, has strong ties to both the city's civic and business communities and plans to use those connections to foster dialogue and communication between the chamber and City Hall.
"The best policy can be made with everyone at the table," she said.
The chamber selected Leslie after a nationwide search for a new president and CEO to replace interim CEO Dan Quigley. She will take over in April.
Dan Cohen of Full Court Press Communications, a chamber board member who was also on the search committee, called Leslie a "rock star" and praised her dual abilities to build public will and impact policy.
"She knows the chamber, she knows the community and she knows that the future of Oakland is dependent on a strong, local, vibrant economy," he said.
Leslie, director of external affairs for AT&T in Alameda County for the past 13 years, isn't new to the chamber. She has held various leadership positions already, including as a founder of OakPAC, the chamber's political action committee that supports candidates sympathetic to a business viewpoint.
"It's sort of nice synergy to come back to the same location," she said.
With 20 years living and raising a family in Rockridge, Leslie has always been part of the city's business scene. She was head of the Oakland Realtors Association and has been a board member of chambers in Hayward, Berkeley and Walnut Creek and for Oakland's African-American Chamber.
But it's her experience on the other side of the table that makes her unique. She worked for City Manager Robert Bobb during the mayoralty of Jerry Brown, where she dealt with various city departments, including public works, the fire department and the budget office. That work within city government has given her respect for the work that officials and administrators do and some appreciation in return.
"They understand that I understand what they do," she explained.
The Oakland Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1905 and has more than 1,000 members. Its key mission is to promote economic growth, which it sees as crucial to making and keeping Oakland a great place to live. That's something Leslie agrees with.
"I think those are inextricably linked," she said.
But just as Oakland is a city of contrasts, not all of the chamber members have the same view of things and Leslie plans to spend her first few months listening to members to hear what they have to say.
"Because Oakland is changing, by definition, our strategic objectives are changing," she said.
Leslie said she was "bullish" on the city and hoped to spread that enthusiasm. Despite some of the negative views of the city, Leslie has great hopes for her hometown.
"It's a great city," she said. "It really has so much to offer."