Ex-state Senator Don Perata and Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente have been close political allies and friends for much of the past fifteen years. Rarely have they disagreed on a substantive issue. But right now they’re on opposite sides of a pivotal dispute over whether Oakland police should begin contributing toward their pensions or face layoffs.
De La Fuente has been one of the most critical voices in city government about unsustainable police benefits. He also has been the driving force behind a plan to lay off up to 150 cops if the police union refuses to start paying 9 percent into cops' pensions to help the city bridge a $31 million deficit. According to the Tribune, De La Fuente called the cops’ union decision to hold a press conference yesterday near the site of a recent homicide "outrageous" and "unacceptable."
The councilman also said the city would be irresponsible to accept the police union’s demand of no layoffs indefinitely if cops agree to pay into their pensions like all other city employee unions. “There's no way that we can guarantee there won't be layoffs when we have even bigger budget deficits next year and the following year,” he said.
Perata, by contrast, has become the police union’s personal champion during his run for Oakland mayor. In fact, Perata accompanied the cops’ union to yesterday’s press conference — the one that De La Fuente called “outrageous” and “unacceptable.” Perata said he doesn’t think the police union should agree to start contributing to its pensions unless councilmembers make other budget cuts they’re proposing and put a half-cent sales tax measure that he has been advocating on the ballot.
Although political candidates are expected to make stands on issues of the day, Perata’s decision to align himself so closely with the police union and against the policies of the city and its elected officials is unusual. It’s rare for a candidate to intervene so publicly on behalf of a special interest — in this case the police union — and advocate against the interests of public officials. There’s even an argument to be made that Perata is making it more difficult for elected city leaders to do their jobs, especially if he has emboldened the police union to dig in and refuse to bargain. After all, union leaders may conclude that if they can hold out until Perata is elected mayor, then their troubles will go away.
And although politicians and friends often disagree on issues, it’s rare for Perata and De La Fuente to differ on something so substantive. The argument over expensive public-employee pensions and whether voters should tax themselves more reveal core differences between the two men on how to best solve government problems. So it’ll be interesting to see if De La Fuente campaigns strongly this fall on behalf of his friend — as expected — when his views on how to balance the city’s budget appear to be more in line with Perata’s main competitors: Councilwomen Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan.