The Mayor Ron Dellums era in Oakland started dramatically and three months early this week with a Thursday morning press conference by the incoming mayor on the City Hall steps, announcing that he had brokered a deal to prevent the impending infusion of thousands of dollars of business money into the last two weeks of the District 2 City Council and City Auditor races.
With Michael Colbruno, chairman of the politically powerful OakPAC Oakland Chamber of Commerce political action committee, standing on one side and Congressmember Barbara Lee standing on the other, Dellums told a battery of television cameras and reporters that OakPAC had voluntarily agreed not to spend some $116,000 in last-minute money planned for local candidates in the Nov. 7 election.
The agreement means Oak-PAC will not exercise the rights it won last week to break Oakland’s six-year-old campaign expenditure rules. A U.S. District Judge had temporarily lifted Oak-land’s spending limit for political action committees.
The City Hall press conference, attended by District 2 Coun-cilmember Pat Kernighan and her challenger, Aimee Allison, as well as several other City Council-members and local political figures, came immediately following an hour-long Thursday morning meeting between Dellums and OakPAC officials, in which the deal was brokered.
“The timing was inappropriate,” Dellums said. “This is not the time to change the rules. OakPAC agreed to back away and not pull the trigger. This signals that if we come to the table with each other, there’s no problem that we cannot address. This marks a new day in Oakland.”
OakPAC chairman Colbruno said that his organization will immediately pull any money they had planned to put into the Oakland races.
“We are happy and pleased to join Mr. Dellums in this agreement,” he said. “The tenor of Karl Rove-type politics has grown ugly around the nation, and if Mr. Dellums thinks that an infusion of cash into the Oakland races at this date is a bad thing, it is important that we honor that. We will have a philosophical discussion about the appropriateness [of the Oakland political expenditure guidelines] following the election in November.”
Asked why OakPAC would voluntarily give up a court victory it had so recently fought and won, Colbruno glanced at Dellums standing next to him and said, a little sheepishly, that “we have a compelling and persuasive mayor coming into office.”
Neither man went into details of what was said in the hour-long negotiation session that preceded the joint press conference.
While the negotiations did not include other political campaign committees, Dellums said that he “hoped that every independent expenditure group steps back as well” and voluntarily refrains from spending above the existing Oakland limits.
Dellums does not take the mayor’s office until next January, and has kept a decidedly low profile in the months since he won the June election. But the brokered deal showed the enormous power and influence the former Congressmember wields. Current Congressmember Barbara Lee said that the brokered agreement was “a marvelous example of what’s to come under Mayor Dellums’ leadership. We always knew that Ron was a uniter, not a divider.”
Pointedly absent from the press conference, or the negotiations, were representatives of the current occupier of the Oakland mayor’s office, Jerry Brown. Asked if he had consulted with Brown over the OakPAC negotiations, Dellums said, “No, but perhaps he’s been busy, out campaigning.”
Brown is running in the general election for California Attorney General.
The Dellums/OakPAC agreement and press conference ended a rapid-fire series of events beginning on Thursday of last week.
On that day, U.S. District Court Judge Martin J. Jenkins temporarily granted OakPAC’s petition to overturn Oakland’s political action spending limits, suspending those limits through the November election. Under Oakland’s campaign expenditure law, on the books since 2000, political action committees can collect as much as they wish, but are limited in the amount of money they can spend in a race from each donation received. OakPAC had argued that the limits unconstitutionally infringed on First Amendment freedom of speech rights.
OakPAC immediately announced that it was planning to spend “at least $116,500 on campaign mailings, door hangers and automated telephone calls to support and oppose local candidates,” according to the Oakland Tribune. OakPAC has endorsed incumbent Kernighan over challenger Allison in the Oakland District Two Council race and challenger Courtney Ruby over incumbent Roland Smith in the City Auditor race.
Facing a last-minute onslaught of money in opposition to her candidacy, on Tuesday Allison and her supporters held a rally on the steps of Oakland City Hall denouncing the judge’s decision and OakPAC’s actions.
“They are trying to buy this election for Pat Kernighan,” Allison said in a prepared statement. “Whoever you’re supporting, it’s a stunning and unconscionable subversion of clean election and clean campaign laws. We are standing together to say that District Two—and Oakland—cannot be bought.”
Asked on Thursday if his intervention into the campaign finance issue signaled a defacto endorsement of Allison—Dellums has not made an endorsement in the District Two race—the mayor-elect said, “I am not getting involved in a partisan level in that race. I will have to be able to work with whoever gets elected. I’m taking the position that if the voters of Oakland were smart enough to elect me, they are smart enough to decide on their own who should be the next councilmember from district two.”
That did not dampen Allison’s spirits. Following the Dellums/OakPAC press conference, a delighted Allison led a spirited victory celebration with supporters in front of City Hall. She told reporters that she obviously supported the agreement, saying that “to change the law in mid-stream subverts the process.”
For her part, a more subdued Kernighan said “sure” when asked if she supported the Dellums/OakPAC agreement. “I think it’s a wonderful agreement. I think it’s a good sign that Dellums is bringing people together in this city, and I support that.”
The councilmember added, “Now we can get back to the real issues in the campaign, which are who has the experience and the track record of activism and can best serve District 2.”
Kernighan said that she had not participated in the Dellums/OakPAC meeting that led to the spending limit agreement, but that she “hadn’t asked for the extra [financial contribution] help in the first place. I don’t think it was helping me. I am a longtime proponent of campaign expenditure limits. I support the current Oakland law.”