The Man 

How Don Perata became the politician he is today.

Page 4 of 5

Others say Perata's influence in Oakland has been overblown. "I've sometimes agreed with Perata on votes and sometimes disagreed with him," said Oakland Councilwoman Brunner, adding that she has never felt pressure from Perata to vote a specific way.

Still, there's no denying that Oakland has done right by Perata's buddies. For example, John Foster -- Perata's former student, longtime friend, and campaign donor -- received a no-bid contract in 2001 to erect a giant row of billboards next to the Coliseum and Arena. Then last year, the Port Commission handed his company, Foster Interstate Media, the exclusive right to put up billboards around the airport.

But few contractors have done better than Perata's old pal DeSilva, who was the single biggest beneficiary of port expansion projects from 1999 to 2002. DeSilva won the most major port contract bid competitions -- fourteen -- of any single business, totaling $178.3 million, port records show. And in late 2002, the council also green-lighted DeSilva's controversial plan to build four hundred homes in the flood-prone Leona Quarry.

Back in the early '90s, Perata was instrumental in getting DeSilva appointed to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Board, with an eye on persuading the Raiders to come back to Oakland. DeSilva had a prior business relationship with one of the minority owners, so when talks began in earnest in the spring of 1995, he became the key negotiator for the city and county.

The deal DeSilva and the Raiders hammered out was supposed to cost taxpayers nothing, but turned out to be an epic boondoggle. The public subsidy has now topped $200 million and is growing by $20 million annually--and the Raiders won a $34 million verdict last year in their suit against the city and county.

Despite his close ties to DeSilva and the work he did behind closed doors on the Raiders deal, Perata somehow managed to escape blame. It was perhaps the first example of what would become another of his trademarks -- avoiding political fallout from a scandal.

Perata did it again in 1996 when the feds started investigating bond financier Calvin Grigsby. As a supervisor, Perata had helped steer eleven county bond deals to his friend Grigsby's firm. Grigsby also had handled the $198 million in bonds sold to finance the Raiders deal. Records show that Grigsby also paid Perata $15,000 for consulting work after Perata left the board.

Grigsby was indicted in the late '90s in a federal public corruption probe in Miami. He was later acquitted and returned to the Bay Area, where last year he hired Lily Hu to be his lobbyist in an Oakland development deal. Perata, of course, had helped Hu launch her lobbying business, and many of her clients also happen to be his friends.


Perata has added to his reputation in the past decade as a man to be reckoned with by intentionally fostering a Mafioso mystique. "The Don," as he is sometimes called in homage to the fictional mob boss Don Corleone from The Godfather, has made no secret of his love for that movie and for the HBO show The Sopranos. According to a 2002 Tribune story, he had a life-size photo of James Gandolfini, who plays Tony Soprano, posted on the wall in his Sacramento Senate office.

Also on his office wall was a plaque that reads The Peratas, written like the logo from The Sopranos with a handgun in the place of the "r," the Tribune reported. Perata, by the way, carries a gun himself; he has a concealed-weapon permit from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

As first reported in an August 2004 Los Angeles Times story, Perata e-mailed Chaconas in January 2001 referencing the horse's-head-in-the-bed scene from the first Godfather movie as a figurative consequence for Chaconas if he didn't do what the senator wanted. When asked whether he took the e-mail seriously, Chaconas replied: "Absolutely. But what are you going to do? I was scared, but I wasn't going to do what he asked unless it was good for Oakland schools."

Perata wanted Chaconas to hire Grigsby to sell the district's $300 million in construction bonds approved by voters in 2000. He also introduced Chaconas to Staples, who was shilling waterless toilets. Chaconas turned down both solicitations. When asked whether he now believes those decisions led to Perata's campaign to get him fired last year, Chaconas said: "Let's put it this way. I knew that if I ever got into trouble, I would go down the tubes."

When he isn't pushing deals for his friends, Perata has a reputation for being a charmer, well-liked by powerful women. When talking to City Hall insiders about him, stories about his various romantic relationships invariably come up. One concerns Brunner, who, sources said, dated Perata for at least a year. Brunner refused to comment on the relationship. But many people in Oakland believe the affair somehow ended badly.

Why? A few years ago, Brunner expressed a strong desire to run for state Assembly. She formed a campaign committee in 2001 and began raising money. But her plans suddenly stopped when the legislative redistricting committee drew her block out of the 14th Assembly district as part of the realignment of districts done every ten years. It was widely viewed as typical Perata handiwork. After all, he was chairman of the Senate redistricting committee at the time.

"One block," one high-placed city source said. "That was so cold."

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