Last year, several Oakland councilmembers put forward a plan to make the city attorney an appointed position. It was clear at the time that the council intended to keep City Attorney Barbara Parker in her job. Parker has earned a reputation over the years as being both an excellent lawyer and a consummate professional. Councilmembers also knew that one of their colleagues, Councilwoman Jane Brunner, planned to run against Parker if the city attorney remained an elected position. Although Brunner also is a lawyer, she is known better for being a career politician and prodigious fund-raiser.
The conventional wisdom was that Brunner would easily outraise and outspend Parker and thus win this year’s election. Brunner also made it known that she strongly opposed the proposal to turn the city attorney into an appointed position — knowing that her fellow councilmembers would select Parker over her.
Last November, city voters rejected the council’s proposal after opponents argued that such a move would strip voters of their democratic powers. Apparently lost on voters was the fact that councilmembers are their elected representatives who make decisions on their behalf all the time. Also lost was the fact that many cities have made the city attorney’s position appointed, realizing that the job is better suited for a nonpartisan legal expert than a politician adept at raising campaign cash.
Sure enough, Brunner ramped up her campaign for city attorney after the election. But then something happened that many people — including Brunner — didn’t expect: Parker turned out to be an excellent fund-raiser.
When including last year’s campaign finance reports, Parker actually out-raised Brunner — $151,863 to $120,208 — through the most recent reporting period, which ended June 30. So how did Brunner respond when she realized that Parker was beating her at her own game? The longtime North Oakland councilwoman began hurling charges at Parker, alleging that the city attorney was engaging in “pay-to-play” politics because Parker had received campaign donations from attorneys and firms that have done business with the city.
One of those firms is Keker & Van Nest of San Francisco. Jon Streeter, who is one of the firm’s partners and is the current president of the California State Bar, rejected the pay-to-play accusation, telling the legal newspaper The Recorder last week that he’s backing Parker because Brunner has “no significant experience in legal practice.”
Although Brunner has produced no evidence that Parker has provided favors to donors in exchange for campaign donations, the councilwoman has nonetheless continued to make unsubstantiated charges of pay-to-play. How unsubstantiated? Earlier this month, Parker’s office noted that, under her command, the city reduced its spending on outside law firms by 40 percent last year. So the lawyers and firms donating money to Parker’s campaign don’t appear to be getting many favors.
In fact, if they were searching for favors, they should be donating to Brunner. Over the past decade, Brunner and the council have helped make those firms wealthy by repeatedly voting to reduce the number of in-house lawyers in the City Attorney’s Office, thereby forcing the city to hire outside law firms to do its legal work.
Brunner’s allegations are even more hypocritical because she also has been receiving campaign donations for years from contractors and companies that do business with the city. Records show that in her campaign for city attorney, Brunner has received a total of $2,100 in donations from B&B Vehicle Processing and its owners, who have long held the exclusive monopoly contract on towing and storing cars for the City of Oakland. Brunner also received $700 from Waste Management, which holds the city’s garbage-collecting contract, and donations totaling $1,100 from Douglas Parking, which has contracts with the city to operate city-owned garages.
Not to mention the $700 donation from the Tidewater Group, which is co-run by Ana Chretien, owner of ABC Security, and which has maintained private security contracts with the city over the past two decades. ABC Security also has donated $700 to Brunner’s city attorney campaign. Last year, the Chronicle noted that Brunner voted to reject a recommendation by city staff to hire a new security firm and instead voted to renew ABC Security’s contract after receiving a $350 donation from the company.
In other words, Brunner has repeatedly engaged in the pay-to-play politics that she’s now criticizing Parker of doing. To quote Bill Clinton in his Democratic National Convention speech, noting the numerous hypocritical statements that GOP Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan made about President Barack Obama‘s Medicare savings: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for what you did.”
Moreover, evidence shows that Brunner has actually engaged in pay-to-play — by voting to award a contract to a donor, ABC Security, that, according to nonpartisan city staffers, didn’t deserve it. Not surprisingly, Brunner’s hypocritical allegations against Parker have angered several of her council colleagues. “It’s amazing to me that Jane has the gall to make this accusation, when Jane has been hitting up developers for contributions for years, even though she runs the council’s economic development committee,” Councilwoman Pat Kernighan told the Express. “I guess Jane is admitting that she gave favors to all the developers she took money from, and is assuming that anyone else would do the same.”