The Man 

How Don Perata became the politician he is today.

Page 3 of 5

Around this time, Perata began to involve his adult son, Nick, more closely in his financial affairs. These arrangements have since become the focus of much scrutiny, raising public questions about whether Perata was enriching himself illegally with campaign funds by laundering them through his son.

Campaign finance records show that from 1998 to the present, the younger Perata grossed at least $910,098 in political consulting work on his father's campaigns or on political committees the elder Perata personally launched or was associated with. During the same period, Nick, 31, paid rent to his father for two years for the home he and his wife, Katie, were living in. And for the past five years, he has paid rent for office space in another of the elder Perata's Alameda properties. He also has bought two homes from his dad in the past three years, paying him $850,000.

Perata also has helped launch his daughter's political consulting career. Rebecca Perata-Rosati, 36, and her companies BPR Productions and Vox Populi have been paid at least $61,734 since the beginning of 2000 by her father's campaign and political committees he has been associated with.

Perata's financial deals with his children are being probed by federal authorities. Father, son, and daughter have all denied wrongdoing.

By the late 1990s, Perata had assembled most of the basic building blocks of his machine, forging key relationships with Oakland politicians. Chief among them was Ignacio De La Fuente, a councilman from the city's Fruitvale district, who remains Perata's closest political ally.

The two first met in the mid-'80s when De La Fuente was a union activist fighting to save the jobs of 1,800 workers in East Oakland. Perata had just been elected to the board of supervisors and immediately responded to the union rep's call. "He came down to the picket line," De La Fuente recalled. "We've been friends ever since."

Perata backed De La Fuente's successful run for city council in 1992. He also helped launch the careers of several East Bay politicians by introducing them to some of his largest donors and assisting in their campaigns. An Oakland Tribune columnist dubbed De La Fuente and other Perata allies in Oakland the "Peratistas." The group included Nate Miley, now on the county Board of Supervisors, and Sheila Jordan, the current county superintendent of schools. Other local elected officials supported by Perata include current Oakland City Councilmembers Danny Wan, Henry Chang, Jane Brunner, Larry Reid, and Jean Quan; school board members Noel Gallo and Kerry Hamill, who is also his former chief of staff; and City Attorney John Russo. Perata also was instrumental in the appointment of State Administrator Randolph Ward, who now has complete control over Oakland schools.

Perata established one of his most significant political partnerships in early 1999 when he buddied up to newly elected Mayor Jerry Brown, who had won in a landslide. The state senator quickly recognized Brown's charisma with voters, and within two months of the new mayor being sworn in, Perata sought to increase that influence by exercising some of his own.

Perata introduced a bill in the Legislature designed to hand Brown the power to appoint a trustee-administrator to take over Oakland schools. At the time, the school district was enmeshed in controversy over the questionable use of public funds by then-Superintendent Carole Quan, whom Perata and Brown wanted to oust. The takeover threat worked. Quan resigned, and the school board agreed to replace her with George Musgrove, one of Brown's deputies.

One year later, the school board dumped Musgrove for Dennis Chaconas over Brown and Perata's objections. But following two years of staggering cost overruns, Perata and Brown again teamed up in the 2003 state takeover of Oakland schools. Early on, Perata called for Chaconas to be fired, and wrote the takeover legislation. Brown, whose dislike of Chaconas was almost legendary, called Ward's appointment a "win-win" for Oakland.

Shortly after befriending Brown, Perata also introduced a bill that would have put the mayor on the Port Commission and allowed the governor to appoint two new commissioners. Brown was upset that outgoing Mayor Elihu Harris had appointed his estranged wife, Kathy Neal, to the commission before he left office. And Perata was unhappy with some of the decisions coming out of the Port Commission, which oversees not only the country's fourth-largest container port, but also much of Oakland's waterfront and Oakland International Airport. The senator eventually dropped the port takeover legislation after Brown appointed two new commission members in April 1999 -- his developer friends John Protopappas and Phil Tagami, who became close to Perata as well.

Still, despite Perata and Brown's cooperation on such issues, some City Hall insiders say the two have a relationship of convenience. Brown's immense popularity required Perata to cozy up to him, while Brown quickly realized his success in the mayor's office depended upon him obtaining buy-in from De La Fuente, whose actions are generally considered to have Perata's approval. "Nothing gets done in this town without Ignacio signing off on it," a high-placed city source said.

The need to work together hasn't stopped either Perata or Brown from badmouthing one another behind the scenes, said one Oakland public official who was once backed by both men. "Jerry would say Don is a crook, and Don would say Jerry is a flake," said school board member Dan Siegel, who is now a political enemy of both. Through a spokesman, Brown said: "Siegel is mistaken," and refused to comment further.

Perata's many alliances allow him to wield considerable power in Oakland. Many of the public officials Perata has supported must consider his desires because they are beholden to him, critics of his pet projects often claim. Maybe more important is the fear Perata instills even when he doesn't personally apply pressure to oppose or support a particular contract or project. "Who wants to run the risk of losing his financial support or having a candidate he backs run against you?" said one City Hall source. "The politics in this town are really simple."


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