Over the past week, several Oakland politicians indebted to former state Senator Don Perata have come out strongly for his mayoral candidacy. At least two of them, Oakland City Councilmembers Jane Brunner and Larry Reid, have been known over the years as “Peratistas,” a nickname given to Oakland politicians who owe their careers at least in part to Perata.
Late last week, Perata paid for a glossy mailer that was written by Brunner and sent to residents in her North Oakland district, extolling the ex-senator’s long career in politics. Brunner has been an ardent Perata supporter for nearly two decades. He helped launch her political career, strongly backing her first successful run for city council in 1996. The two, as the Express has previously reported, also once had a romantic relationship. Brunner was also helped in 1996 by then-Councilwoman Sheila Jordan, another longtime Peratista (the term was first coined by an Oakland Tribune columnist in the 1990s).
In the past week, Perata also financed a mailer written by Reid and sent to residents in his East Oakland district. The missive included a Perata “I Believe in Oakland” potholder, a campaign gimmick the ex-senator has used since the 1990s. Perata and his best donors and friends have long supported Reid’s council campaigns.
Perata also funded a mailer sent to Asian voters throughout Oakland with a message from outgoing Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker. The mailer was printed in numerous Asian languages and urged people to vote for Perata and for Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, who is running for reelection and is very popular in Oakland’s Chinatown district. The mailer is a bit misleading, because it makes it seem as if Kernighan has endorsed Perata, too, when she has not. The councilwoman has remained neutral during the mayoral race.
Councilwoman Jean Quan, who is one of Perata’s main competitors for mayor, said she wasn’t surprised that he’s targeting Asian voters in the final days of the campaign. Quan noted that polls have showed that she is running a very close second to Perata and that he needs all the votes he can get to win. Quan is a Chinese-American who would be the first Asian-American mayor in Oakland history, and is expected to garner much of the Asian vote.
But Quan said she was surprised that Brunner was campaigning for Perata, because Quan said Brunner told her that she also was going to remain neutral, and that if she did decide to endorse, she would call Quan first before making up her mind. “She didn’t do that,” Quan said of Brunner.
Brunner did not return a phone call seeking comment. Several City Hall sources said Brunner is banking on Perata backing her bid for Oakland city attorney in 2012. Brunner, a labor lawyer, has long coveted the position.
Two knowledgeable sources also say that Reid may be worried about Perata running a candidate against him for council. The ex-senator has a long record of seeking revenge against those who cross him. As state president pro tem, he once locked out several Democratic legislators from their Capitol offices after they attended a fund-raiser that he didn't authorize. And political committees with close ties to Perata have run candidates against Democratic legislators who refused to hire his friends.
It also should be noted that the Perata-Brunner connection has involved some striking contradictions this election cycle. Throughout the mayoral campaign, Perata has hammered the council, and Quan in particular, for budget decisions in which Brunner played the leading role. Brunner, for example, was the primary backer of Measure X on the November ballot — the $360 parcel tax that Perata has been campaigning against. Perata also has strongly criticized the council for laying off eighty police officers when the cops union refused to start paying into their pensions. Quan voted for the layoffs — but so did Brunner, as did Perata’s closest political ally, Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente. Yet Perata has steadfastly refused to criticize either Brunner or De La Fuente.
Perata also has proposed slashing $5.8 million from City Attorney John Russo’s budget. The ex-senator has proposed eliminating all outside legal counsel and cutting seven staff attorneys. In the past, Russo has vigorously defended his office’s budget, and has fiercely and publicly resisted proposed cuts. But now the city attorney is refusing to comment on Perata’s proposal. Russo also has been known over the years as a “Peratista,” but in truth, he's had an on-again-off-again political relationship with the ex-senator.