For the past few decades, the Oakland police union has exerted substantial influence over City Hall. Politicians have traditionally been afraid to oppose the union for fear of political payback at election time. But with the defeat of three police-union-backed candidates in last week's election, including Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Jane Brunner, the union's power in Oakland politics is now greatly diminished.
The police union spent heavily during the campaign on behalf of De La Fuente and Brunner, but they were trounced by Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and City Attorney Barbara Parker, respectively. Kaplan whipped De La Fuente by 21 percentage points in the Oakland At-Large council race, 61.2 percent to 38.8 percent. And Parker destroyed Brunner in the city attorney contest by more than 37 points, 68.5 percent to 31.1 percent. The lopsided defeats for De La Fuente and Brunner represented perhaps the two worst political beatings for the police union in its history. Oakland politicians, in short, should never again be afraid of the Oakland Police Officers' Association.
Likewise, the De La Fuente and Brunner losses represented the final nail in the coffin for the once-mighty political machine run by longtime state Senator Don Perata. De La Fuente has long been Perata's close friend and political ally, and the machine used to control Oakland politics through fear, intimidation, and big-money campaigns. The machine had been on the wane since Perata lost the 2010 mayor's race to Jean Quan. De La Fuente and Brunner were the last members of the machine in Oakland politics, and their exit from City Hall this December effectively means that the machine will finally be dead. The last vestige of the once powerful political network is Councilman Larry Reid, who often voted with De La Fuente and Brunner, but was never really a member of Perata's camp.
De La Fuente and Brunner are also leaving office under a cloud of shame. At one time, both had respectable records as Oakland city councilmembers. But they badly tarnished their legacies this fall with intensely negative campaigns against Kaplan and Brunner that grossly distorted their records in office. And when voters soundly rejected the nastiness last week, they also perhaps sent a strong message to political candidates who may think about going negative in the future.
"The divisive and deceptive campaigns lost — and they lost by a big margin," Kaplan noted. Kaplan also said she believes that De La Fuente and Brunner's departure will go a long ways toward ending the rancor that has plagued the council over the years. "I think we're going to see a lot of unity in terms of personal dynamics going forward," she said.
Both De La Fuente and Brunner have long been known for carrying grudges, and several City Hall insiders said over the past few weeks that they expected De La Fuente and Brunner — if they had won — to exact revenge against people and organizations that did not endorse them or had supported Kaplan and Parker. The only councilmember to endorse De La Fuente and Brunner was Desley Brooks. Although Brooks has clashed for years with many of her council colleagues, she'll now be in the minority on the panel with De La Fuente and Brunner gone.
Also, council President Reid, who won leadership of the council with the backing of De La Fuente and Brooks, is unlikely to maintain that position after the swearing-in ceremony of new councilmembers this January. With the three new councilmembers coming on board, I expect the council presidency to go to Pat Kernighan, Libby Schaaf, or Kaplan, who often vote together on issues.
And in the years to come, it'll be interesting to see whether any local candidates decide to hire the architect of the negative De La Fuente and Brunner campaigns — Oakland political operative Larry Tramutola. Tramutola, who had also been Perata's campaign manager, also engineered the series of false and misleading attacks financed by the police union this year against Kaplan and Parker.
Finally, De La Fuente displayed a lack of class last week when he refused to concede defeat to Kaplan and congratulate her for her hard-fought victory — even though he was down by more than twenty points and it was virtually impossible for him to win.
Other Oakland City Council winners included Dan Kalb in District 1, North Oakland; Lynette Gibson-McElhaney in District 3, West Oakland-Downtown; Noel Gallo in council District 5, Fruitvale-Glenview; and Reid in District 7, East Oakland.
In school board races, incumbents Jody London and Jumoke Hinton Hodge won easy reelection. And they'll be joined on the board by newcomers Rosie Torres and James Harris. Measure J, the Oakland schools infrastructure bond, won handily, garnering 83.8 percent of the vote. It needed 55 percent to pass.
Mayor Tom Bates easily won reelection, as did city council incumbents Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Max Anderson, and Susan Wengraf. Of Berkeley's ballot measures, Measures M and R won, while Measures U and V lost. Measure S, the sit-lie ordinance, also lost in a tight contest, while Measure T (West Berkeley development) was still too close to call as of early Tuesday.
Measure A1, the Oakland Zoo tax measure, failed to garner the 66.67 percent needed by about five percentage points. Measure B1, the transportation tax, was still too close to call; as of early Tuesday, it was less than one point short of the 66.67 percent needed.
In the state Assembly 18th District contest, Rob Bonta defeated Abel Guillen in a close contest, while Bill Quirk held a narrow lead over Jennifer Ong in a race that was still too close to call.
With Bonta's victory, the Alameda City Council will add three new members: Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Tony Daysog, and Stewart Chen. And in the Alameda County Board of Supervisors District 2 race, appointed incumbent Richard Valle finished first, ahead of Mark Green and Mary Hayashi.
In Richmond, Measure N, the Soda Tax, was easily defeated, while Nat Bates, Tom Butt, and Gregory Bell led in a city council contest that was still too close to call.
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