1. He’s Lazy. Don Perata appears to be no more interested in putting in the hard work needed to solve Oakland’s problems than the current mayor. Oakland desperately needs a fully engaged leader with viable plans for fixing the city, but Perata has offered no detailed proposal for how to do it. And he’s been a no-show to a vast majority of mayoral debates so far, leaving voters to wonder what he believes in. And when he does show up, he usually acts as if he doesn’t want to be there, offering rambling criticisms of city government and empty bromides about what he would do if he wins.
2. He’s Corrupt. Perata’s dizzying career of pay-to-play financial dealings convinced the FBI‘s public corruption squad that he was guilty of criminal wrongdoing. They investigated him for more than five years and then, when local prosecutors declined to file charges, took their case to Sacramento. The ex-senator claimed he was the victim of a right-wing conspiracy orchestrated by the Bush White House, but it was newspaper stories about Perata in the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and East Bay Express that prompted the FBI to launch its probe. The vast right-wing conspiracy actually spared the senator — by making his case look politically inspired when it was not.
3. It’s All About Don. Perata has attempted to portray himself as a down-to-earth politician. But records show he has spent more than $1 million of his campaign funds in the past decade on living large — throwing lavish parties, dining at upscale restaurants, relaxing at expensive hotels, and showering gifts on himself, his friends, and his donors.
4. The Raiders Deal. Perata was the behind-the-scenes architect of what is probably the worst financial debacle in Oakland history. In 1995, the city and Alameda County floated $200 million in bonds to finance a massive remodel of the coliseum to get the Raiders back from Los Angeles. The deal was supposed to cost taxpayers nothing, but the ticket scheme created to pay for the bonds flopped badly. And now Oakland taxpayers are on the hook for $10 million in debt payments a year through 2025. The total cost to the city and county is already more than $300 million and it will eventually top $600 million.
5. The Diaper Tax. Perata pushed legislation in Sacramento to levy a 25-cent tax on diapers after a company — Knowaste — claimed it had a viable plan for recycling dirty diapers and hired Perata’s close friend and business partner, Timothy Staples, as a “consultant.” The deal became a focus of the FBI probe because Perata shared proceeds from his business partnership with Staples. An embarrassed Perata later dropped the legislation after the Tribune wrote about it.
6. Auto Insurance. Perata pushed state legislation to gut consumer protections for low-income drivers after the giant auto insurer Mercury Insurance paid $50,000 to a political committee that also hired his business partner Staples. The courts later ruled that Perata’s bill was unconstitutional.
7. Foreclosures. Perata sponsored state legislation that would have killed Oakland’s tough predatory lending law after receiving at least $200,000 in campaign donations from Ameriquest, the onetime nationwide leader in subprime lending. Oakland’s law was designed to curb the practice of unscrupulous lenders giving home loans to people who couldn’t afford to repay them. But Perata continued to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from Ameriquest even after the attorneys general of 49 states, including California, charged the company with widespread fraud.
8. Oakland Bad Port Deal No. 1. The Oakland Port Commission, led by Perata’s developer friends, Phil Tagami and John Protopappas, sold 64 acres of Oakland’s public waterfront for just $18 million to developers Reynolds and Brown and Signature Properties — both of whom have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Perata’s campaign coffers. The land was never put on the market and the sale price was likely half of what it was worth. Perata later carried state legislation that cemented the deal.
9. Oakland Bad Port Deal No. 2. The port commission, again led by Protopappas and Tagami, sold most of the publicly owned buildings in Jack London Square to developers Hal Ellis and Jim Falaschi for just $17 million — a fraction of their likely value. Falaschi has donated about $100,000 to Perata campaigns over the years. Again, the buildings never went on the market. Perata was Falaschi’s former employee. And as senator, Perata ordered a state audit of the port’s real estate holdings that the commission later used to justify this sale.
10. The Road to Nowhere. Perata helped steer at least $40 million in taxpayer funds to build a road from the Oakland Airport to a half-empty business park in Alameda that appeared to only benefit his close friend and big donor, Ron Cowan. The deal also was part of the FBI probe.
11. Billboards. Perata carried state legislation that allowed his longtime close friend and faithful donor John Foster to erect a series of billboards outside the Oakland Coliseum.
12. Oakland Schools Corruption. After then-Oakland schools Superintendent Dennis Chaconas refused to hire a Perata crony in 2002, Perata sent Chaconas a threatening e-mail, referencing the horse-head-in-the-bed scene from the Godfather.
13. The Three Rs. After Perata and then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help reform Oakland schools, the senator took more than $30,000 from that effort and dumped it into his senate campaign account. Then he spent $40,000 from that same account to buy a luxury box at the Coliseum, where he hosted a giant party for his friends and campaign donors.
14. Mobster. In addition to the Godfather threat to Chaconas, Perata has purposely fostered the image of a mobster. Friends and foes have called him “The Don,” he conspicuously carried a gun around with him, and he kept a life-size cutout of Tony Soprano in his senate office. He also posted a plaque in his office that read, “The Peratas,” written like the logo from The Sopranos with a handgun in the place of the “r.”
15. The Prison Lobby. As president pro tem of the state senate, Perata helped shield the powerful California prison guard’s union from budget cuts, even though California prison guards are among the highest paid in the nation. Then after Perata was termed out of office at the end of 2008, the California prison guard’s union hired him as a “political consultant.” The union has paid him at least $469,000 since then even though it has mounted no political campaigns during that time. The union also financed two hit-piece mailers that were full of falsehoods against two of Perata’s main competitors in the 2010 mayor’s race — Councilwomen Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan.
16. Sacramento Incompetence. People often say, “Yeah, I know Perata is corrupt, but he gets things done.” But it’s a myth. In 2004, this newspaper conducted a thorough analysis of every bill he had introduced in the state senate and discovered he had one of the worst records in Sacramento for getting his legislation passed into law.
17. Money Laundering Part I. Perata and various political campaigns closely associated with him paid more than $1.2 million to the senator’s son, Nick Perata, for work as a “consultant.” The elder Perata then collected office-space rent from his son and his son purchased two homes from him. These deals also were a focus of the FBI probe.
18. Money Laundering Part II. Perata had a similar relationship with his business partner Staples. Various political campaigns closely associated with Perata hired Staples as a “consultant.” Staples not only was Perata’s business partner, but he also hired Perata separately as a “consultant” and paid him more than $100,000 a year. Perata later severed his business ties with Staples after the Chronicle published stories about it.
19. Money Laundering Part III. Several years ago, Perata launched a campaign committee, saying he planned to run for the state Board of Equalization. He raised hundreds of the thousands of dollars for that campaign, which he never pursued, but then spent the funds on living large and his legal defense during the FBI probe.
20. Favors for Friends. After Perata ended his business dealings with Staples, the senator’s longtime close friend and confidante Sandra Polka suddenly became one of the highest-paid political consultants in the state — even though she apparently isn’t very good at it. She made more than $1.4 million from 2004 to 2006 from Perata’s campaigns and those closely associated with him, while many of the candidates she tried to get elected ended up losing.
21. Illegal Campaigning. In 1998, Perata broke state campaign finance law in order to win a close race for the state senate. Now there’s evidence that he’s breaking the law again. See “Don Perata Appears to Break Several Laws” in this issue.
22. Unethical Campaigning. In 1998, Perata also convinced progressive Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson to run for the state Senate against fellow progressive Assemblywoman Dion Aroner. Perata told Carson that he had no plans to run himself, but then after Carson jumped into the race, Perata did, too. Aroner and Carson split the progressive vote, thereby helping Perata win the race. Now, several black Oakland leaders think he’s making a similar move this year. See “The Baffling Mayoral Bid of Marcie Hodge,” 9/29/2010.
23. The Cancer Campaign. Perata has been blurring the lines between his mayoral campaign and Hope 2010, a political committee he runs that is supposed to support a 2012 ballot measure that would tax cigarettes to fund cancer research. The two committees share the same office space and several of the same consultants. The cancer committee also paid for a glossy mailer sent to Oakland voters earlier this year that seemed designed to enhance Perata’s mayoral bid. It is illegal for a candidate to use funds from a ballot measure committee to assist his run for office.
24. Buying the Oakland Mayor’s Race. Perata has blown the lid off Oakland’s campaign expenditure limit of $379,000, spending more than $600,000 in an effort to win the mayor’s race. It’s the first time that an Oakland political candidate has ever exceeded the city’s spending cap. Perata contends that it’s legal for him to do so because a Sacramento group with close ties to him went over the spending limit for independent committees, too. The group, Coalition for a Safer California, is run by a longtime friend of the ex-senator, and is funded by his best donors and the state prison guard’s union.
25. No More Stories by Robert Gammon. The final reason for not putting Perata on your ballot — no more stories about the ex-senator from Express reporter Robert Gammon. Well, at least not as many.