If campaign contributions are any indicator, then Oakland City Attorney John Russo may have the inside track to the Alameda city manager’s job. Campaign finance reports show that Russo donated at least $1,750 in the second-half of last year to the same three Alameda city leaders who ousted the last city manager. As the Express reported last week, some island residents also fear that those same three city leaders — Mayor Marie Gilmore, Vice Mayor Rob Bonta, and Councilwoman Lena Tam — may be attempting a power grab inside Alameda City Hall. The three also have the power to select the next city manager.
Records show that Russo donated $1,000 to Gilmore’s mayoral campaign, making him one of her largest contributors. Russo also donated $500 to Tam’s campaign. He made the contribution on July 10 — just days after it was revealed that Tam was under investigation for leaking city documents to developer SunCal and the Alameda firefighters union at a time when both were negotiating deals with the city. A donation from Oakland’s city attorney, in other words, could have been perceived as a vote of confidence during a difficult time for Tam. Records show that Russo also donated $250 to Bonta.
It’s somewhat unusual for an elected Oakland city leader to involve himself in Alameda politics. Russo’s donations also raise questions as to whether he has been eyeing the Alameda city manager’s job for some time. He has been unhappy in Oakland, and has had trouble getting along with several members of the Oakland city council in the past few years. Records also show that no other elected leader in Oakland city government made donations to Alameda candidates last year. Russo also backed the right candidates. Gilmore won the mayor’s office and Bonta and Tam won two of the three available spots on the city council.
Then in late December, Gilmore, Bonta, and Tam formed a majority voting bloc to oust Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant during a controversial closed-door meeting. The Oakland Tribune reported this morning that Russo applied for Gallant’s old job earlier this month, and is now one of the three finalists for the position. Gilmore and Bonta are leading the search for the new city manager. And they only need three votes on the five-member council to select Russo for the job.
Update 11:50 a.m.: Alex Katz, a spokesman for Russo and the Oakland City Attorney's Office, said Russo had also previously donated to Tam and Gilmore, and has a history of donating to candidates in the cities of Richmond and Piedmont.