Updated: Oakland A's owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher, who desparately want to move their team to San Jose, are trying to influence the outcome of the Oakland mayor’s race, pumping $25,000 into a political committee that is backing ex-state Senator Don Perata. The move is unusual because Oakland sports team owners don't typically attempt to sway city elections and because Wolff is known for being frugal with his money. The large donations also came after recent statements made by Perata that stopping the A’s move to the South Bay will not be a priority if he becomes mayor.
At a debate last month sponsored by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, Perata answered “no” when asked whether he would consider spending any taxpayer funds on helping keep the A’s in Oakland. By contrast, two of his main competitors, Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan said they would try to keep the A’s from leaving with the use of city redevelopment funds — which typically cannot be used for basic services, such a police, fire, libraries, and parks and recreation.
Quan favors a new ballpark for the A’s in Jack London Square, at the so-called Victory Court site along the Lake Merritt Channel. Kaplan supports a new ballpark on the existing Oakland Coliseum property surrounded by a shopping and entertainment district.
It’s becoming more common for cities to use redevelopment funds to help sports teams build new stadiums. San Jose plans to use such funds to acquire land for a new A’s ballpark and build needed infrastructure. And San Francisco limited its use of public money to redevelopment funds in helping the Giants build AT&T Park. Quan, Kaplan, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, and Council President Jane Brunner have ruled out using general fund money for the A's, but support using redevelopment funds to acquire land and build infrastructure for a new stadium. Indeed, it likely would be impossible to keep the A's from moving without spending redevelopment dollars.
In addition, at a recent editorial board meeting with the Oakland Tribune, Perata appeared uninterested in talking about keeping the A’s in town, according to several attendees. “He was very evasive,” said Kaplan, who was at the meeting with Quan, Perata, and fellow mayoral candidate Joe Tuman. “He basically conveyed that keeping the A’s is not very important.”
After the editorial board meeting, one of the attendees, Tribune columnist Dave Newhouse, published a piece on October 6 about the mayoral candidates and their thoughts on the A’s and the Golden State Warriors. Newhouse quoted Perata as being resigned to the fact that the A’s are leaving. “I don't think the A's are going to stay here,” Perata said. “We can't play in this game, putting up the money. We haven't been smart with our franchises.”
In an interview, Wolff denied that Perata's stance on the A's had anything to do with his $10,000 donation, saying he's supporting the ex-senator because he thinks he's the best mayoral candidate. Fisher donated $15,000. "I've known him for years," Wolff said of Perata, "and I respect him." Wolff also said he hasn't been paying attention to what Perata has been saying on the campaign trail.
But an attempt by an Oakland sports team owner to affect the outcome of a mayor's race may be unprecedented in recent decades. “I’ve been in Oakland since 1964, and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Newhouse said in an interview after being told of what Wolff had done. Newhouse also said that Perata’s disinterest in keeping the A’s in Oakland “makes more sense” in light of Wolff’s attempt to get the ex-senator elected.
Indeed, it seems unlikely that Wolff and Fisher would support a candidate who would try to stop their San Jose plans. Wolff has been adamant in recent years that the team can’t survive in Oakland and that he’s determined to move the ballclub to San Jose. He expressed deep frustration earlier this year when Dellums, Brunner, and a local booster group led by Planning Commissioner Doug Boxer submitted a plan for a new A’s ballpark in Jack London Square. Wolff views the proposal as an unnecessary roadblock to his planned move to the South Bay and is angry that a Major League Baseball blue-ribbon panel has been studying Oakland’s idea.
Perata also has a long history of delivering for his donors. Newly filed campaign finance reports show that Wolff donated $10,000 on October 12 to a group with close ties to Perata called Coalition for a Safer California. A's majority owner Fisher donated $15,000 to the group on October 11. Both donations came after the chamber debate and after Newhouse's piece came out. Fisher also has been a strong proponent of moving the A's to San Jose.
Coalition for a Safer California has reported spending at least $141,000 trying to get Perata elected mayor of Oakland. The group is run by Perata’s longtime friend, Paul Kinney, and is financed primarily by the ex-senator’s employer, the California Prison guard’s union. The group also has sent out three hit-piece mailers that were full of falsehoods, attacking Quan and Kaplan — the two mayoral candidates who most strongly favor keeping the A’s in Oakland.
Earlier this year, Wolff also donated $500 to another Perata committee, Hope 2010. The committee is supposed to back a 2012 statewide ballot measure that would tax cigarettes to fund cancer research, but there’s some evidence that Perata has been using the committee to assist his mayoral candidacy — an apparent violation of state and local election laws.