There’s something about Larry: Oakland-based political consultant Larry Tramutola — our very own Richie Ross — has been ruffling feathers around City Hall with his most recent shenanigans. It was Tramutola whose firm came up with all those charming “It’s Just Too Extreme” mailers — you know, the anti-Measure EE fliers from a landlords’ group featuring photos of attack dogs, litter, white-trash bikers, and … Nancy Nadel? Wait, the councilwoman? The big EE supporter?
Indeed. One Tramutola mailer, featuring Nadel’s photo, takes her views out of context to conclude: “Even Measure EE’s strongest supporter thinks it’s just too extreme.”
“I am appalled,” Nadel told 7 Days just before the measure EEked out a victory that could still be reversed by absentee ballots. “I’m looking at a potential legal response. I think if anything’s too extreme, it’s the campaign consultant.” Does Nadel have a case, legally? Probably not, but put her down as one pol who won’t be hiring the Tramutola Company in the near future.
Councilman Danny Wan has a different beef: The Measure DD campaign, in which Wan and colleague Jane Brunner played an active role, enlisted Tramutola to push its Lake Merritt/water-quality bond initiative. But a couple of days before the election, without ever consulting the DD crew, Tramutola sent out a mailer that combined his two clients’ causes — pro-DD and anti-EE. The leaflet left the impression that the two campaigns were linked, sending DD backers into convulsions of damage control on election eve. Wan promptly shot off a furious e-mail: “Larry Tramutola is fired from the DD campaign as far as I am considered,” he wrote, as if it really mattered at that point. “His behavior is unethical and breached the faith and trust that the DD campaign, the people of Oakland, and the city placed in his professionalism.”
Sandy Strehlou, one of the campaign’s lead volunteers, fears Tramutola’s ploy will sour many of her fellow volunteers on politics. “For Larry, this was a means to an end,” she says. “For us, it was about having a community base, and he sacrificed that.”
Will this bad blood hurt his consulting business? Tramutola was on vacation and thus unavailable for comment, but it’s highly unlikely. The guy may use some lowbrow tactics, sure, but he also knows how to win: Measure DD prevailed by a landslide. His client Tom Bates kneecapped incumbent Shirley Dean in the Berkeley mayor’s race, and client Jean Quan won herself an Oakland council seat even though her rival had endorsements from the Tribune and retiring incumbent Dick Spees. And Measure EE, the “just cause” eviction measure he was hired to oppose, was nearly defeated in a tenant-majority city that passed a living wage ordinance by a 3-to-1 margin.
While Brunner calls the DD-EE flier “wrong” and “a mistake,” even she seems willing to cut Larry a little slack. “I think we need to set ground rules for future work, if there is future work, and I haven’t made that decision,” she says. “I think he was brilliant in the [DD] campaign, so I think this ending was really sad.”
And does Brunner think all this could hurt Tramutola? “I don’t think anyone will remember what happened a week after the election,” says the councilwoman. — Michael Mechanic
Republican? Dem’s fighting words: Tramutola is far from cornering the local market on negative campaigning. Campaigns go negative because it works — usually. But it can also backfire, and as a result political consultants are getting more creative, some would say sneaky, when designing so-called hit pieces. Witness what happened in the El Cerrito City Council race, where Vice Mayor Kathie Perka lost her seat to challenger Sandi Potter.
A couple of weeks before the election, voters in El Cerrito received what appeared to be a GOP-sponsored mailer for Perka. Under the heading “Republican values for El Cerrito,” it featured smiling side-by-side photos of Perka and Guv wannabe Bill Simon, and promised: “Republican Kathie Perka will continue to move our agenda forward on the City Council.” The piece also applauded her “solid” votes against affordable housing, against expanding bicycle parking at the BART station, and against a bilingual Montessori preschool. The brochure concluded, “Kathie Perka is running against Sandi Potter — the only Democrat in the race. Sandi Potter … is endorsed by Congressman George Miller and the other Democratic elected officials. She doesn’t share Kathie Perka’s values.”
The “Republican” piece, paid for a group calling itself the Committee for Sound Public Policy, was created by Democratic consultant Kevin Reikes and sent exclusively to Democratic voters. Reikes managed to go negative without sounding negative — his mailer functioned as a hit piece, since the Demos reading it would be sure not to vote for Perka. “It says nothing negative against Kathie Perka. We let voters draw their own conclusions,” says Reikes. “It’s always better when doing a hit to lead the horse to water, but you shouldn’t force water down the horse’s throat.”
We’re gagging anyway. — Will Harper
About last, Knight: Count Ronald J. Temple among the election night losers. The chancellor of the Peralta Community College District lost a staunch backer on the board of trustees when challenger Linda Handy upset incumbent Area 3 trustee Brenda Knight. Without Knight, Temple now faces a potentially hostile board majority.
Knight had been Temple’s top apologist. She defended his $256,000 salary and voted to award a no-bid contract to a company founded by an ex-con — a company for which Temple once served as a consultant. A couple of months ago, Temple returned the favor and urged district vendors and bigwigs to each kick in between $500 and $5,000 to throw a couple of grandiose parties for Knight, to celebrate her being the first African-American woman elected to chair the Association of Community College Trustees.
By contrast, Handy made keeping the chancellor in line a major feature of her campaign position paper: “This is a question about who is the boss and I do not believe that the Board as a whole has exercised its appropriate authority in managing the Chancellor’s performance.” But don’t expect Temple to shirk from a tough new work environment. Getting fired, after all, would definitely be more lucrative for Temple than resigning. The chancellor’s generous three-year rollover contract, which doesn’t expire until June 2005, requires the district to cut him a check for up to eighteen months’ pay if he gets canned. Were he ever to quit, there’d be no golden parachute for Dr. Ron. — Will Harper
Fear of flying low: Hoping to do its part to commemorate the anniversary of September 11, the Antioch City Council attempted to pass a resolution on September 10 that would guarantee its flag be flown at half-mast “every September 11 until terrorism had been eradicated,” says Linda Pappas Diaz, the acting city manager. (Translation: forever.)
But as the council quickly discovered when someone objected, it was well beyond city jurisdiction to make that kind of pronouncement. The handling of Old Glory is strictly regulated by federal law and only the president or the governor of a state has the power to determine a tragedy’s half-staff-worthiness. True, President Bush called for the lowering of flags on September 11, but just for this year. Only Memorial Day has a permanent half-mast-flag status.
Antioch also realized — to its patriotic dismay — that it had repeatedly violated federal laws in the past when it chose to lower its flag to mark the death of a police officer or firefighter. “It’s very clear on who can designate the lowering of the flag,” says Pappas Diaz of the statute.
So now the city is exercising its patriotism by attempting to rewrite federal law. City leaders want the feds to extend local governments the power to regulate flag-flying, and to make September 11 a permanent half-mast day. This week, councilmembers plan to introduce a resolution, and if it passes, to forward it to Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, whom they hope will champion the idea in Congress.
What sounds like a reasonable proposal could quickly run into trouble, though, especially if a town wanted to recognize controversial figures — or ones not even dead. In Modesto, for example, veterans groups recently assailed the mayor for flying the flag at half-staff in remembrance of Chandra Levy and other missing persons. Go figure. — Helene Blatter