Jane Brunner may have replaced Ignacio De La Fuente on Monday as Oakland's City Council president, but that doesn't necessarily mean the longtime Fruitvale politician will out of power for long. After the eight-member council voted unanimously to name Brunner the new president, the panel then voted 8-0 to select De La Fuente as vice mayor. Typically, the role of vice mayor is just ceremonial, but there is one major exception. Under the city charter, the vice mayor assumes the role of mayor if the mayor were to leave office before the end of his term.
Rumors have spread for months that a recall campaign may be mounted against Mayor Ron Dellums, or that the former longtime congressman may seek a post in the incoming Obama Administration. As the Express has reported, Dellums has been largely absent from Oakland City Hall during his first two years in office and is widely viewed as an ineffective mayor. If he were to leave early, then De La Fuente, as vice mayor, would finally become mayor -- a job that he has sought for years. Dellums defeated De La Fuente in the 2006 mayoral race.
When De La Fuente announced late Sunday that he would not seek another two-year term as council president, it looked at first to be a slap in the face to the longtime councilman. He's been on the council since 1992 and has served as council president since the job was created in 1999. City Hall sources said that with the retirement of Councilman Henry Chang, De La Fuente no longer had the five votes needed to maintain the presidency. Chang had been a steadfast supporter of De La Fuente for more than a decade.
But Chang was replaced by AC Transit board member Rebecca Kaplan, who defeated a De La Fuente-backed candidate, Oakland school board member Kerry Hamill, in the November election. Sources said Kaplan helped broker a behind-the-scenes deal to replace De La Fuente with Brunner as president, and give him the vice mayor's job. At Monday's swearing-in ceremony at City Hall, it was Kaplan who nominated De La Fuente as vice mayor. The deal also made Councilman Larry Reid the new president pro tem and gives him the inside track to being president of the council in 2011.
Under the city charter, if Dellums leaves office more than one year before his term expires, then De La Fuente would become mayor until there is a special election, which must be held within 180 days of Dellums' departure. But it's unclear whether De La Fuente would run for mayor in the special election or step aside for his longtime close friend and ally Don Perata, who was termed out last month from the state senate. Perata has long wanted to be mayor of Oakland.