I like Don Perata
I should probably start out by saying that although it took me a while to come to a decision about the Mayor’s race, it was never because I bought into that whole “anyone but Perata” thing. I admire Don Perata. I have admired him for many years.
The fact that he works for the CCPOA does not bother me. When politicians retire, they become lobbyists and political consultants. They all do it. Before Ron Dellums returned to Oakland to run for Mayor, he was a lobbyist for defense contractors and prescription drug companies. There were many reasons I thought that Ron Dellums would not make a good Mayor, but that wasn’t one of them.
I know that it really bothers some people. And to them, all I can say is that if it upsets you so much, if you think it’s more important than his record and his platform and his ability to lead Oakland, well, then you probably should not vote for him. It’s not like I’m some huge fan of the prison guards union either. But for my part, I don’t begrudge people for needing to make a living.
Maybe that’s because of how I grew up — my father is in the oil business. He became a geologist because he loved rocks. And he got into oil because he had a family to support. Where I’m from, lots of people are in this industry, and growing up, it never occurred to me that working in energy made you a bad person. But since I came to the West Coast 13 years ago, I have gotten more earfuls than I would have imagined possible about how everyone in the oil industry is completely evil and soulless. But you know what? I spent my whole life growing up surrounded by people who are part of it. And most of them are very nice people who do good things for their communities. So I’ve learned not to make broad judgements about people’s character based on their careers.
The fact that Don Perata eats dinner at Oliveto using campaign funds? That also doesn’t bother me. When it comes to the way public money is handled? I believe that is absolutely sacrosanct. But campaign donations? I don’t care. That’s not my problem. If Perata’s donors don’t like the way he’s using their money, they can stop giving it to him.
The Raiders deal? That doesn’t bother me either. Yeah, it was a bad deal. But the fact is, every single City Councilmember and every single Supervisor at the time supported it. The press supported it. And people were clamoring for someone to find a way to bring the Raiders back. When you have been in public service for decades, you are inevitably going to have made some bad calls. That’s just life. And what matters to me is not whether someone has ever made a mistake (because the only way to have an error-free record is to have never done anything), but whether or not they are able to acknowledge when they’ve made one and learn from it so they can do better in the future. And Don Perata has done that.
So while I know those are big issues for some people, I just wanted to say right from the beginning that they never have been for me.
It’s a tough State
One thing that has been really striking to me over the course of this election is learning how many people are just completely tuned out of news about the State.
I mean, I’m not like, obsessive about State politics or anything. But I do try to keep up with what’s going on. I read the Sacramento Bee RSS feed. I subscribe to some State blogs. And while there are plenty of people engaged on the State level who have legitimate beef with Don Perata based on policy disagreements (and I respect that), that is not, for the most part, what I have been encountering around here. What I have been running into is person after person who is convinced that they hate Don Perata and that he was bad for the State, but knows absolutely nothing about his record. I mention this because I think that one’s perspective on Don Perata is very different if the only things you know about him come from reading local stories about the FBI investigation or listening fearmongering from supporters of other candidates.
So if you don’t follow the State, I have two things to tell you. First, you should immediately start listening to the Capital Notes podcast from KQED California Report Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers and Capitol Weekly’s Anthony York. You can listen to it on your headphones on the bus, it only takes half an hour a week, and it is by far the easiest way to keep yourself in touch with State politics. Second, it is rough up there in Sacramento. The two-thirds vote requirement to get a budget has created a truly insane situation where the minority party has all the power when it comes to spending, and because the budget is the only thing they have power over, the hold every other thing in the whole damn State hostage to it.
A tremendous legislative record
And ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger came to office, he has been submitting budgets that rob transportation, education, and social services. And Don Perata has been there fighting to protect these things that I hold dear. It took compromise, leadership, and concessions to get budgets passed. And he did it. It wasn’t always pretty, and the results weren’t always great, but he took the hand he had been dealt and did what he needed to do to get the job done.
And Don Perata has been there on issues I care about.
When the Governor decided he wanted to put tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure bonds on the ballot, and came up with a plan that was all about building dams and highways in the Central Valley, Don Perata stood up and fought to make that package work for cities and the for the environment. And it was hard, and it took months, and it took compromise, but it happened.
And we got Proposition 1C, which funded affordable housing, emergency shelter, down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers, environmental remediation to support urban infill, and high-density, transit-oriented development. We got Proposition 1D, which funded badly needed upgrades to school and university facilities. We got Proposition 1E, which protected watersheds and wetlands. And we got Proposition 1B, which provided funding for air quality improvements at urban ports and public transportation. These things matter to me.
I care about the environment. Without Don Perata, we would not have AB 32. (For those who aren’t aware, AB 32 is landmark climate change legislation that mandates dramatic greenhouse gas emissions reductions. It is a huge deal.) You think that getting that passed was easy? You think everyone liked it? Well, obviously not, since they are trying to get rid of it on the ballot right now! At the same time, although to less fanfare, Don Perata also authored successful legislation to create emissions standards for electricity used in California (i.e., make your energy cleaner).
I care about public transportation. When Bay Area public transit agencies were bleeding, Don Perata made sure that operations funding was a part of RM2. Again, this is a big deal. Nobody ever wants to include operations money in anything!
And I care about Oakland. And Don Perata has been there for Oakland. Whether it’s stepping in to help save a skate park or supporting literacy for Oakland school children, Don Perata has consistently remembered the people he represents and delivered on the home front. He got us the money to build Mandela Parkway. When we were struggling with the sideshow problem, he changed State law to help. When violent crime in Oakland skyrocketed, Don Perata stepped in to bring people together to look for solutions, and then went out and raised the money to do something about it.
So, for me, my initial reluctance to support Don Perata was never an issue of being dissatisfied with his work on the State level. Rather, I was concerned how that would translate to Oakland. After all (and yes, I do realize there are big differences between the two, chief among them being that Sacramento is a hell of a lot closer to Oakland than Washington DC), that didn’t work out so well the last time around. I thought he had been a good leader of the State Senate, but wasn’t sure if that would make him a good Mayor.
But after watching his campaign for the last several months, I feel confident that he knows what Oakland needs and is prepared to lead this City in the right direction. I agree that we need to prioritize health care and green industry when it comes to business attraction and job creation. I agree that we need to improve our partnerships with schools and not decimate our police force. And I agree that we need to take a hard, line-by-line look at the budget and stop just endlessly chipping away at every damn service this City provides. If we keep doing it the way we have been, there’s going to be nothing left.
I read through his questionnaires for the Sierra Club (PDF) and Make Oakland Better Now!, and I agree with what he has to say. I watched his responses to the Great Oakland Public Schools video voter guide, and I was impressed by those as well.
I know that a lot of people criticize him for not going to all the debates, but honestly, that doesn’t bother me. The number of candidate forums this year was truly ridiculous. If it was me, I wouldn’t have gone to them all either. He went to (I think) nine of them, which is more than the total number of Mayoral candidate forums there even were in the last election. And I personally don’t find these forums with a ridiculous number of candidates particularly useful. The answers are such short sound bites that you don’t really learn anything.
His reluctance to spend every night at a candidate forum mostly attended by supporters of one candidate or another (there tend to be not very many undecided voters at these things) might have bothered me if Don Perata had not made himself accessible to voters in any other way. But that’s not the case. He held eight large, widely advertised public events where he stood up there for an hour and a half and answered unfiltered questions from anyone who wanted to ask. So I just don’t see how you can reconcile that with this thing people keep saying about how he doesn’t want to talk to voters. I mean, to me, that seems a lot more informative. And I really appreciate that he did that, especially in comparison to certain other candidates who only have events where you have to pay to hear them talk.
What Oakland needs
Oakland needs a leader. We need someone who face problems head on. Not only does Don Perata have a long history of doing exactly that in Sacramento, he has also demonstrated a willingness to to it here. Of all ten candidates running for Mayor, Perata is the only one who has actually put out a proposed package of budget cuts. I don’t think all of them are the right thing to do, but I think that many of them are, and I have tremendous respect for the fact that he did it when no one else has been willing to. It takes courage and leadership to put your ideas out there and open them up for criticism like that.
Oakland is in crisis. It needs a leader. It needs someone who is not afraid to make hard decisions, or to make cuts that are unpopular. It needs someone who can pull together the votes for tough decisions, and Don Perata has many years of experience doing exactly that.
I want Oakland to grow, so I want a Mayor who can attract development and will support it. I want someone who is willing to make priorities about the budget and about our core services and stick to them.
The Best Mayor for Oakland
I have no second thoughts about this decision. I don’t feel any hesitation about it. It took me a long time, and a lot of thought to get here. But I want to be absolutely clear that my vote for Don Perata is not a hold my nose choice. No, Don Perata is not my fantasy Oakland Mayor. I want our very own Cory Booker. But you can’t always get the fantasy. In fact, usually, you don’t. And I do believe, based on his record and his vision, that Don Perata will be a very good Mayor. And I definitely believe that he is by leaps and bounds the best of the choices we have.
I don’t expect all of my readers to agree with my choice. My opinion is just that — the opinion of one person. I like to hope that I’ve earned enough respect from my readers over the years that you’ll at least take my thoughts into consideration as one of the many factors you consider when making a decision. I do think that it would behoove everyone to try to put the endless vitriol and half-truths being spread by Jean Quan and Robert Gammon and take an honest look at Don Perata and his tremendous record of tangible accomplishments.
I know my readership includes many devoted Rebecca Kaplan supporters, and you know what, I sympathize. I really, really do. Like I said yesterday, I wish so much that I could vote for her and feel good about it. Her energy and her optimism and all of that is very appealing. I spent months trying to find a way to convince myself that she could be an effective Mayor, and looking at her record, I just couldn’t do it. If you’re already sold on her, well, I don’t have a lot of hopes about convincing you to change your mind — after all, having been a Kaplan supporter myself, I know what it’s like to have drunk that kool aid. So, you know what? Go for it. Make Rebecca Kaplan your first choice. But I really hope you’ll consider marking my guy number 2.
One final note
So. I have something I want to say in anticipation of comments.
The decision to support Don Perata has been very difficult for me personally. Not because I personally feel bad about it (see above), but because I have taken such incredible amounts of shit for it from people I know, almost all of whom are supporting Rebecca Kaplan. People I thought were good friends won’t even speak to me anymore, and those who will seem to feel like my support for a candidate they don’t like entitles them to say all sorts of horrible, nasty things about my character and my values, and…well, it has just been really, really hard for me.
And you know what? I’m sure I’ll take more shit for it here. But all I can do is what I believe is right. And I believe that Don Perata is the best person to be Mayor of Oakland.
If you want to ask me honest questions about that, I welcome them. I do have limited time, but I think that this is important, and I know a lot of people are predisposed to be against Perata, and I want them to open their minds. So I will do my absolute best to answer any questions and respond to any comments that indicate genuine curiosity and invite honest debate.
But if you want to leave some nasty comment about my integrity, or craft some ridiculous elaborate conspiracy theory about why I would support Perata — well, you know what? I can’t stop you. But I’m going to say right now, just so we’re all clear, that I am not going to dignify any comments like that with a response.
I have been putting myself and my opinions out there for public criticism and debate for more than four years, and I have given tremendous amounts of time to trying to help Oakland move in the direction I believe it should go. And I think that, through my work, I should have established a certain level of trust — if not in my judgment, then at least in my integrity. And if you disagree? Well, if my history isn’t enough to convince you of my honesty of heart, then there’s nothing new I can say that is going to.