Ex-senator Don Perata has changed his positions in recent days on at least two issues of controversy during the campaign — the format of mayoral debates and his call for eliminating the Oakland Public Ethics Commission. For months, Perata said he would not participate in debates unless all ten candidates for mayor were invited. In fact, at least one debate organizer, the Sierra Club, changed its debate format to include all candidates after Perata refused to attend. But then late last week, Perata changed his tune and criticized the ten-person format for promoting superficiality.
For weeks, some observers criticized Perata’s insistence that all candidates be invited to every debate, noting that having ten candidates on the dais meant there wasn’t much time for anything more than superficial responses to questions. The Tribune editorial board said it was “dismayed” by Perata’s demands. “With so many people on the podium, the serious candidates did not have an opportunity to give substantive answers,” Trib columnist Tammerlin Drummond wrote, describing the editorial board's thinking. “Frustrated voters felt they still knew very little about the mayoral choices beyond campaign slogans.”
Some of Perata’s opponents, meanwhile, contended that the ex-senator preferred superficial debates because the format helped him hide his total lack of knowledge about Oakland’s problems. Indeed, the Trib editorial board members remarked that when they met with the top four candidates together — Perata, Jean Quan, Rebecca Kaplan, and Joe Tuman — they were “appalled” about how little Perata knew compared to the others. “We were shocked by Perata's evasiveness, use of faulty facts, and ignorance of some of the major issues facing the city,” Drummond wrote, adding that ex-senator “didn't offer up a single fresh idea and didn't even make an effort to appear prepared.”
Fellow Tribune columnist Dave Newhouse, who also attended the editorial board meeting with the candidates, was equally amazed at Perata’s ignorance compared to Quan, Kaplan, and Tuman. “Unlike the other three, he leaned back in his chair, offered vague answers, and was sometimes uninformed on city policy,” Newhouse wrote of Perata. “He had to be corrected by council members Quan and Kaplan."
But then late last week, Perata did a complete about-face, telling the Chronicle that having ten candidates at a debate — a format that he demanded — was depriving voters of substantive discussions. "We are promoting bumper-sticker speaking," the ex-senator told the newspaper, apparently with a straight face. Unfortunately, the paper failed to call him out on his flip-flop.
Throughout the campaign, Perata also has said he would help balance Oakland’s budget by eliminating the city’s Public Ethics Commission. But his plan prompted much derision because the Ethics Commission operates on a tiny budget that would barely put a dent in Oakland’s deficit and because the commission enforces the city’s ethics laws and Perata has had numerous questionable ethical dealings over the years.
Perata’s idea also had one fatal flaw. He apparently didn’t realize that he had no power to eliminate the commission if elected mayor. That’s because the commission was established by Oakland voters, and only they, in the form of a ballot measure, can do away with it, explained Dan Purnell, the commission’s executive director.
So what did Perata do after his bright idea was exposed? He flip-flopped again. Last week, during a debate hosted by the Rockridge Community Council and League of Women Voters, he answered “no” when asked whether he was in favor of abolishing the Ethics Commission.