For more than a decade, ABC Security has been the poster child for pay-to-play politics and cronyism that has plagued Oakland City Hall. The private security contractor had repeatedly received mediocre reviews for its work, and yet it held firmly onto to its $2-million-a-year contract. It was no coincidence that its owner, Ana Chretien, is one of the most generous campaign donors in Oakland, and is close friends with influential city leaders, particularly Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente.
However, when the Oakland City Council voted last week to finally end ABC’s security contract at City Hall, it represented yet another changing of the political guard in Oakland, following the election last November of Mayor Jean Quan over ex-state Senator Don Perata. Chretien also is friends with Perata and was one of his most faithful campaign donors over the years, and it’s a safe bet that ABC Security would still have its city contract if Perata were mayor instead of Quan.
Perata, of course, had a long history of taking good care of his friends and campaign donors, and he was fiercely loyal to De La Fuente. So while the Quan administration had recommended strongly that the City Hall contract be awarded to Cypress Security, because it scored as the highest rated firm, it seems likely that, based on past history, a Perata administration would have found a way for ABC Security to keep its annual $2 million, even though it was rated as only the sixth best of the firms that bid.
Chretien also could no longer count on De La Fuente’s influence to help her keep her deal. Things were different back in 2001, when the Port of Oakland appeared to be poised to award its private security contract to another company, because of ABC Security’s less-than-stellar performance. De La Fuente, at the time, was president of the council, and his last-minute lobbying on Chretien’s behalf was enough to change the port commissioners’ minds.
That move, however, quickly turned out to be an embarrassment for the port in the days immediately following September 11. Federal authorities, at the time, had threatened to shut down Oakland Airport after they found ABC Security guards asleep while guarding the airport’s fuel farm. A chastened port commission, led by then-Commissioner Phil Tagami, eventually awarded half of ABC Security’s airport contract to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department despite protestations from De La Fuente.
In recent weeks, however, De La Fuente was able to keep Chretien’s hopes alive when he muscled her City Hall contract through a council committee with the help of Jane Brunner. City Auditor Courtney Ruby then made things uncomfortable for De La Fuente and Brunner when she announced that ABC Security had apparently violated the city’s campaign laws when it donated $1,800 last year to local politicians while its contract was up for renewal.
Yet even without Ruby’s announcement, Chretien didn’t appear to have the votes to get her contract re-upped. With Perata in retirement and De La Fuente’s influence greatly diminished, it didn’t look as if Chretien could muster the five votes needed. Even if she could have somehow gotten Council President Larry Reid in her camp, it looked as if the best she could cobble together was a 4-4 vote. And if that had happened, Quan was ready to break the tie and vote against her.
It never got that far because Reid voted “no,” too. As a result, the council and the new mayor struck a blow for fairness, and against cronyism.
Let’s hope they keep it up.