Back to Oakland?

In what could be his first move toward the mayor's seat, Don Perata's political machine is working overtime to elect one of its own to Oakland's City Council
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jesse@sfbg.com

Big money is flowing into an Oakland City Council campaign, fueling rumors that state Senate President Don Perata might be preparing for a Willie Brown–style move from Sacramento kingpin to Bay Area mayor.

Perata's former chief of staff Kerry Hamill is vying for the city's at-large council seat, running against AC Transit board member Rebecca Kaplan. Two independent expenditure committees with possible links to Perata are laying out tens of thousands of dollars on Hamill's behalf. Sources say Perata has been fundraising for his ex-staffer, as has Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, a longtime Perata loyalist. And it appears one of De La Fuente's efforts to raise cash may have skirted the boundaries of state law.

The stakes for De La Fuente are definitely high. Hamill's election would help him retain his role as president of the closely divided council. But the scuttlebutt around Oakland is that a successful Hamill candidacy could have bigger implications. It might just pave the way for something many local observers see as inevitable: a Perata run for mayor.

Current Mayor Ron Dellums is reeling from a spike in violent crime, huge budget deficits, and a detached leadership style, all of which is fueling a nascent recall movement. Perata will be termed out of state office this year and has made no secret of his interest in Oakland's top job, despite allegedly being the target of an ongoing political corruption investigation by the FBI. Having a powerful colleague like Hamill on the council, while keeping De La Fuente in control of the body, could make a run for mayor attractive to Perata (who didn't return our calls for comment).

"He's going to run. Everybody knows he's going to run," Oakland City Attorney John Russo told the Guardian, adding that the flurry of campaigning for Hamill is "absolutely a signal" of Perata's mayoral ambitions. "That group of people [Perata and his allies] clearly see their interests lying with Kerry."

Reached for comment, Hamill said, "Don's supporting me because I'm the best candidate.... Whether it is for selfish reasons like making sure the right people for him are on the council or not, I believe he is supporting me because he likes my work."

OUTSIDE INFLUENCE

If you live in Oakland or have spent any time there recently, chances are you've seen the pro-Hamill campaign signs promising "Safe Neighborhoods Now" affixed to fences and lampposts all over town. Oakland mailboxes have been stuffed with flyers backing Hamill's candidacy. The signs and some of the other materials position Hamill in opposition to Dellums more than Kaplan, with one mail piece hammering the current mayor for his handling of the city's recent crime wave.

Hamill's campaign did not produce the signs or much of the literature championing her. Instead, two newly formed independent expenditure committees doled out more than $87,000 on her behalf in the first half of this year alone. The groups are not required to disclose their recent spending until Oct. 6, but given the volume of material being generated, there is little doubt their combined outlays will top $100,000 for the year. Hamill told us that outside groups are also aiding her opponent Kaplan, though she did not name them. Our examination of campaign records found that the California Nurses Association paid $24,535 for a pro-Kaplan mailer in May.

"That's definitely a lot of money," Alameda County supervisor Keith Carson told us, referring to the spending in support of Hamill. "It certainly raises your antenna. In any campaign when you have two separate entrants putting resources in, you pause and ask, 'What's behind it?'<0x2009>"

On the surface the two groups backing Hamill appear unconnected.

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