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Don Perata Interview - Oakland Mayor's Race



Of all the candidates in the Oakland Mayor's Race, Former California State Senator Don Perata, a Democrat, is the one who has the mosts: most experienced, most talked-about, and most controversial.

Don Perata 
Don Perata's controversy and scandal has been so well-reported it seemed the East Bay Express' Robert Gammon paid his bills from it. Indeed, Perata's controversies have clouded his ability to explain his case to be Mayor of Oakland, which is what this video interview is about. This video interview is Perata's platform, just as I've created for every other Oaklander running for any office.

I've known Don Perata for at least 17 years, and have seen a different side of Perata than what's painted elsewhere. When I was a columnist for The Montclarion, Don Perata was an Alameda County Supervisor, and before that he was a school teacher. Then, as I worked for the last two Mayors of Oakland before Ron Dellums, Perata became California Assemblyman, then California Senator. Over that period of time, Perata has always been a friend.

To my mind, the next logical place for Perata was Congress and the Senate, so I was shocked that Perata instead ran for Mayor of Oakland and not the Senate. (That takes nothing away from U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer; it speaks to Perata's overall experience.) That was why I did not come out and immediately support Perata for Mayor. Don Perata as Mayor was just different from the World view I have of Don Perata.

A long talk with Perata

Because of our history, Perata and I talked a his campaign office for 31 minutes on camera, and 40 total off of it. We could have talked for three hours. What follows is a summary of the total interview, which is in the video above.

Why did Don run?

We got right to the question of why Don Perata is running for Mayor of Oakland. "I've always wanted to be the Mayor of Oakland," Perata said, "it's kind of ironic. The last thing i'm gonna do politically is be elected mayor of the city. It's just because I love the city. I think it's got, unlike the State of California, which am now persuaded is not governable with its current structure, Oakland is. It's large enough to make a difference; small enough to get your arms around. And I can. I'm in a position in my life right now where I can do it."

Perata also points to the murder of four Oakland police officers by Convicted Felon Lovell Mixon in 2009 as the other reason why he decided to run for Mayor of Oakland.

Why California is ungovernable

Perata's statement is based on the loss of tax revenue due to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978. Prop 13 reduced California property tax rates, which were as high as 16 percent in some counties, to a uniform 1 percent state wide. The resultant loss of revenue has wrecked California's public service and education system for the last generation.

Perata also points to the 2/3rd majority needed to pass tax and revenue initiatives, which he says gives "one third of the population control over the future of the state." He says 18 to 20 percent of the California electorate can control what happens to the majority.

Perata's disappointed in California GOP Governor and Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, who Perata says came in from the "outside" and "unprepared" "kinda like Meg Whitman," Perata said. Whitman is the EBay chief who's the GOP representative running for Governor of California against Jerry Brown.

Perata, of course, supports Jerry Brown, and talks as if he thinks the election will be a cake-walk for Brown, saying "I hope Jerry can fix the place. He certainly knows Sacramento. He proved in Oakland when he was Mayor that he could certainly feel the pulse then act on the pulse. But I'm telling you, it's a killer."

Don Perata on The Mayor of Oakland as a "black seat"

I do not duck from racial conversations and am delighted that my practice upsets some people, but race is a part of life that can't be ignored and is always there in our face. Oakland, for years, has been considered a "black town" and because of that, it was thought that the Mayor of Oakland should be black. Oakland's history until the 70s was that of a small town ran by a few white business men and blacks were in the background.

All of that changed when Lionel Wilson became Oakland's first black mayor in 1976, taking office in 1977. Given Oakland's mostly black demographic at the time, and the passage of the Civil Rights Amendment the decade before, and the overall more intelligent evolution of race relations in America, Wilson's rise was logical.

But Oakland's population has changed and is moving toward that perfect racial balance I predicted would happen in The Montclarion in 1994. Institutional investor racism, which caused development dollars to leap-frog Oakland, relaxed when Jerry Brown was elected Mayor of Oakland in 1998.

Since that time, and Brown's effort to develop more market rate housing units in Downtown Oakland as part of something called "The 10K Project," Oakland's population has been altered dramatically. So much so that, again, Oakland faces the prospect of having its second white Mayor in three terms. I asked Perata if the idea that some in Oakland considered the Mayor's office a "black seat" gave him pause, because blacks may not know the white Don Perata.

Perata said "I've been white all my life....Three out of the last four Mayors have been African American. And I think people will speak to that, themselves, whether or not they were happy or disappointed. I've found - and I've represented Oakland my entire career - I've never found that anyone asked first what color I was. They wanted to get something done. They really want: don't con me. Don't push me off. I don't care if it's your job or not. I elected you; I want your help. It's never, ever, and I've told my staff that; if someone calls, has a problem, help them solve it."

How has Oakland changed?

Don Perata says the good side of Oakland's change is that "it's become more pluralistic. We have a lot more of an integrated community." The bad side of change is in education, something of concern to a person who was, for 16 years, an educator. Perata blames Prop 13 for an edcuation system that he says "is failing us." How does Oakland fix that?

"I do not think there's a political will to fix Prop 13," Perata said. He points to the action of what he called "Devolution": sending revenue raising power for education back to California cities and away from Sacramento. Perata thinks Oakland's historic generosity will cause it to pay more for education. Don says the job is to convince the Oakland Hills people to help those in the flatlands.

Maintaining Oakland safety

Don Perata quotes Woody Allen, who said "half the part of life is just showing up." Perata applies that view to his belief that the Mayor of Oakland must be out to show up where crimes have been committed to show Oaklanders that the mayor cares. "When we had the takeover robbery as we did in Piedmont Avenue. The Mayor goes in with his staff to show that Oakland is a safe community..You go where things are happening to show that the Mayor cares...This is a city in dire need of leadership."

On the Leadership Vacuum in Oakland

In one of our many inteviews, Oakland City Attorney John Russo said there was a leadership vacuum and that Don Perata and Jean Quan recognized that. We picked up on Russo's claim that essentially, there's no run running the City of Oakland and getting the City Council to do anything is like herding cats.

Perata says the Mayor of Oakland must set the pace and can do so because its a strong mayor system that was installed by Jerry Brown. The Mayor is accountable: "You appoint all the department heads...You prepare the budget...You have to have; politicians are lousy at forward planning, but that's what we have to do."

Don Perata said he'd talk to the Oakland City Council more often, which he says is something Jerry Brown did not do when he was mayor. "Then you can communicate the plan for this administration," he said. "We're not going to have seven districts where they are sovern and they can say 'this project is not going into my district.' Those days are over with," he says.

Perata disagrees with Greg Harland on Police salaries

Mayoral opponent Greg Harland thinks Oakland police and fire officials make too much money compared to other cities and the only way to control the budget is to reduce their compensation. Don Perata says that its important to have well-compensated police officers to keep the city safe. He disagrees with the idea of reducing police and fire compensation, although he did not mention Harland by name; I did.

Perata pointed to the current Oakland City Council public meetings on the Oakland budget as a sign of the City Council not wanting to address the budget problem head on: It's a little late in the game to be having budget hearings," Don said. "I think that what they're doing right now is an avoidance tactic. I think they don't want to make a decision, so have a lot of meetings. They should have been working on this thing for the last 10 months. They got concessions - good concessions - from police and fire a year ago. We knew, when those were made,they never bothered to have any ongoing discussions. Then they start jamming people from the dais. And I'm getting a little tired of picking on the guy that does the work."

The impact of Carjacking on Perata

I asked Don Perata how being carjacked effected him. In December 2007 Don Perata was the victim of an attempt to take his car while he was in it at gunpoint - a practice called carjacking. He was unharmed, but the experience was a traumatic one. "I haven't changed the way I drive or where I drive. But it was a life experience. This kid went on an eight day crime spree. I was the only guy he didn't shoot at." Perata says it resonates with people who say it can happen to anyone.

I think the incident helped to frame Perata's emphasis on safety, because from my question he launched into a talk on the need to control the parolee population in Oakland. Oakland has about 6,800 parolees in Oakland according to Perata. He wants the population to be controlled and "we have to help them adjust and adapt" to society after jail.

Perata on Economic Development and cocktails

Perata thinks helping small businesses like restaurants thrive is the key to Oakland's economy. He pointed to restaurants as one example, stating that Oakland needs more waiter and waitress and bartending jobs that they provide. But humorously, Perata informed me that he "loves my alcohol" and that his favorite drink was whiskey (Wild Turkey) and an Old Fashioned, something of a preference I share with him. Don Perata says it's no trick to mix a good drink; having more restaurants provides the chance for more bartenders to be employed.

Perata wants to have walking beat cops to help restaurants, which, if you think about it, goes back to his concern for safety in Oakland.

Sports in Oakland

Don Perata and sports in Oakland share a long history, the recital of which, in this segment, is so extensive it would be unfair to other candidates to give a full view of it. Perata was one of the first elected officials to work to bring the Raiders back to Oakland and has a long standing and good relationship with Oakland Raiders Manager of The General Partner Al Davis. Perata has long been a pro-Oakland sports fan, so I asked him about the Oakland's A's efforts to leave the city.

"I've been dismayed," Perata said. "I don't know who's right or who's wrong, but I know when you start actively going to another city and doing press conferences and things of that nature, that's out of bounds." Perata said that Oakland is a city with a rich sports tradition, "We should not have a team taken from us." But that does not mean Perata thinks we have a blank check to build a stadium.

Both Perata and I were surprised the San Francisco 49ers won the stadium vote. He thinks it's going to be hard for Santa Clara to afford to build an NFL Football stadium.

Ending the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority?

Don Perata said something that was music to this blogger's ears: changing the awfully managed and terrible Coliseum Joint Powers Authority. The "JPA" as, it's referred to, was established in 1996 really as a legal seat for the issuance of the $290 million in bonds that paid for the upgrade of the Oakland Coliseum to cause the Raiders to return to Oakland.

Oakland Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente directed an effort that resulted in the expansion of the JPA from two people, the Oakland City Manager Craig Kocian and Alameda County Supervisor Susan Muranishi, to eight elected officials, 50 percent city and 50 percent county.

During that process, De La Fuente engineered the ugly ouster of then-President and Peerless Coffee Boss George Vukasin, Coliseum head Bob Quintella, and a great staff of operations people.

With that, the days of the Coliseum being ran as a private corporation were over and replaced by the hyper-political and massively secretive and inefficient organization that presides over the Coliseum today. An organization which hired SMG to run its operations under a maintenance-deferred contract that has not been completely reviewed by the Oakland City Council yet, as of this writing.

Perata wants to change the JPA from its current form. "I we have to get out from under that," Perata says. "We can still own it," but he favors a private ownership structure.

Perata on The Golden State Warriors and San Francisco

The Golden State Warriors are for sale and some media type have been beating the drum for the organization to move to San Francisco. While the reality is that's not going to happen officially, there's enough talk about it to have some Oaklanders concerned. Perata said "If I were in Sacramento right now, and they were talking to San Francisco like they're talking, I'd figure out some way to womp um." San Francisco, he says, does not have the corporate base they used to have. Perata thinks we have to fight for what we have and start talking to the 49ers owners, the Yorks, about having the 49ers share the Coliseum with the Oakland Raiders.

The Mayor's Office under Perata

Perata says he and his staff will spend time in the community. He wants the best department heads working in Oakland. He wants to be a mayor who's, as he says "present." He wants to know every morning what his department heads are going to do every day. There no chance of Robert Bobb returning to Oakland because, as Perata observed, he's outgrown Oakland and become a celebrity in his work to fix the Detroit school system.

Again, Don Perata and I could have talked for three hours. For the entire conversation, make a good meal, mix a stiff drink, sit back, watch the video, and make your own decision on Perata for Mayor of Oakland. His website is Perata4Mayor.com.
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