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Brunner Elected Oakland City Council President

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday January 07, 2009 - 06:38:00 PM

The era of male-dominated city government ended in Oakland Monday morning—and perhaps the era of a city government dominated by former state Sen. Don Perata as well—when North Oakland Councilmember Jane Brunner was elected to the powerful position of Oakland City Council president, to succeed the outgoing Ignacio De La Fuente. 

With women now holding a 6-2 advantage over men in the Oakland City Council, Brunner becomes the first woman to head the city’s ruling legislative body. Oakland mayors—who have always been men—chaired the council until the passage of Oakland’s strong mayor initiative 10 years ago. Since then, the position of council president has been held by De La Fuente. 

Monday’s special council meeting to inaugurate newly elected councilmembers, Oakland school board members, and other city officials also opened the unofficial beginning of campaigning for the 2010 mayoral election, with Oakland City Attorney John Russo giving an inaugural speech that had all the earmarks of a bid for Oakland mayor. 

As an indication that he knew he did not have the five council votes necessary to keep the position for a fifth straight two-year term, De La Fuente had issued a press statement late Sunday evening saying that “after much consideration, I have decided not to pursue another term as council president, and will instead offer my support and experience to whomever the council selects to assume the role.” 

Among other things, the Oakland City Council president chairs council meetings and decides the composition and chairmanship of the council’s various committees. 

Other than switching places with De La Fuente as chair of the Rules and Legislation Committee—giving her considerable power over the setting of the council agendas—Brunner made virtually no changes in committee chairmanships from De La Fuente’s previous selections. Larry Reid remained chair of the Public Safety Committee, Jean Quan of Finance, and Nancy Nadel of Public Works. De La Fuente will take Brunner’s place as chair of the Community and Economic Development Committee, and Desley Brooks will succeed Henry Chang as chair of the Life Enrichment Committee. 

De La Fuente did not come out the complete loser of the day, however. He was unanimously elected to the position of vice mayor, the city officer who succeeds the city’s mayor should he leave office early. 

The council’s unanimous decision to select Brunner capped two months of intense speculation and backroom political maneuvering that began with last November’s general election, when progressive and former Green Party member Rebecca Kaplan beat out Oakland School Board member and former Perata Chief of Staff Kerry Hamill in a runoff for the at-large Oakland City Council seat. The outgoing At-Large Councilmember Henry Chang had been a reliable vote for De La Fuente, and Chang’s decision not to run for re-election set off a scramble for the council presidency between De La Fuente, Brunner, and councilmembers Larry Reid and Jean Quan. 

Chang’s retirement, Kaplan’s subsequent defeat of Hamill, and Brunner’s election to the council presidency also means that former state Sen. Don Perata has lost considerable power and influence with the Oakland City Council. 

De La Fuente is Perata’s closest political ally on the council, one of the most important members of a group of officeholders—commonly known as the Peratistas—spread through city governments throughout the East Bay. It was through this network of city government influence that Perata was reportedly able to influence the awarding of development and procurement contracts to favored developers and businesses, which the former State Senate leader then cashed in for political favors and campaign contributions.  

While Brunner was once considered a political ally of Perata as well, their political relationship may have soured several years ago when the state senator reportedly blocked Brunner’s plans to run for the California State Assembly. 

Perata, currently under investigation over allegations of political corruption by the United States Attorney’s Office and a federal grand jury, has indicated his interest in running for Oakland mayor in 2010. The current Oakland mayor, Ron Dellums, is eligible to run for a second term when his current term runs out, but has not yet indicated whether he intends to run for re-election. 

Meanwhile, City Attorney Russo gave every indication that he is interested in a position other than his current job. 

In a three-page prepared inaugural speech with copies handed out to reporters prior to Monday’s meeting, Russo briefly thanked voters for re-electing him as city attorney, and then launched into a program for reform of Oakland city government that concentrated, in part, on reducing the size of the city’s governmental organization to meet the current budget crisis as well as increasing the “crime fighting capacity” of the Oakland Police Department. 

Councilmember Jean Quan is reportedly also looking into a run for mayor in 2010. 

Meanwhile, Mayor Dellums was not present in City Council chambers for Monday’s meeting. Dellums was several blocks away at the Oakland Marriott auditorium, giving remarks and joining a gathering of several thousand in a memorial service for the late Oakland activist Dr. C. Diane Howell. The 58-year-old Howell, who ran the highly successful Oakland Black Expo for several years and published the monthly Black Business Listings newspaper, died late last year after a short illness. Monday’s council meeting was cut short so that members could also leave early to attend the end of the Howell memorial.