Throughout much of the past decade, Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Desley Brooks were fierce political foes. The two occasionally traded allegations of corruption, and tried to oust each other from office by backing opposing candidates. But over the past year or two, the De La Fuente-Brooks feud has thawed considerably. Then last week, the onetime enemies engaged in what amounted to a public lovefest as De La Fuente rushed to Brooks’ defense after she was implicated in political wrongdoing.
But De La Fuente, whom for years could not hide his intense hostility for Brooks and would have loved nothing more than for her to be roasted publicly for as long as possible, instead completely brushed off Moreno. In the end, Brooks said she had to go to bathroom and missed the vote, but De La Fuente’s actions had even his most ardent supporters scratching their heads. Even San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson, whose unflagging public adoration for De La Fuente has lasted for more than a decade, publicly called out the councilman in a column last Friday, saying that De La Fuente’s actions, along with several other councilmembers (including Jane Brunner), who made excuses for Brooks, were “cowardly, irresponsible and loathsome.”
So what happened? De La Fuente’s change of heart toward Brooks appears to have begun as early as two years ago. In the spring of 2010, the two councilmembers, who often had disagreed on matters large and small, found themselves on the same side of a controversial issue. Both openly declared that the city should lay off police officers if the police union refused to pay into its pension plan. In fact, De La Fuente and Brooks became the leading voices for laying off cops, and eventually paved the way for the city to slash eighty police positions.
De La Fuente and Brooks then found more common ground over the past year in their mutual dislike for Mayor Jean Quan. Both of have emerged as leading critics of the mayor, especially on her handling of Occupy Oakland. De La Fuente, in particular, has repeatedly harangued Quan for not cracking down more swiftly and more forcefully against the Occupy movement.
And finally there’s this: De La Fuente declared last week that he plans to run for mayor if there’s a recall election this year. In other words, if he’s going to get more than the 30 percent of the vote he received when he ran in 2006, he needs as many supporters as possible — and he needs to turn as many enemies as he can into friends. That’s particularly true with Oakland’s black community, which traditionally has opposed him. With his unwavering defense of Brooks last week, De La Fuente might have thawed that relationship, too. But will he lose some of his traditional support in the process?