Influential San Francisco developer Joe O’Donoghue has pumped $45,000 into the Oakland City Council District 4 race in an attempt to elect political newcomer, Jill Broadhurst, public records show. O’Donoghue funneled the big donation through the local landlord group, Alameda Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County, which then sent out several mailers, touting Broadhurst’s candidacy. The last-minute expenditures exceeded Oakland’s campaign limit, thereby lifting the spending caps in the race. But several Oakland sources say there’s an alternative motive for the recent influx of cash — bad blood between O’Donoghue’s friend and business associate Carlos Plazola and Broadhurst’s competitor Libby Schaaf.
Plazola and Schaaf used to work side-by-side as aides for Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, but several knowledgeable sources say they never got along. Plazola has been known over the years for his ethically questionable dealings, while Schaaf has a reputation for being a straight shooter. And now that Plazola is a lobbyist for developers, he might have difficulty getting face-time with Schaaf if she’s elected to the council. That’s not a good situation if you’re trying to make a living as a lobbyist for developers in a down economy. Plazola, not surprisingly, has endorsed Broadhurst.
In addition, at least one of the O’Donaghue-financed mailers takes a swipe at Schaaf. The mailer doesn’t mention her by name, but accuses a competitor of Broadhurst’s as being beholden to the existing power structure. "In City Hall, Insiders and Politicians Are Supporting One of Their Own for Council District 4," the mailer reads. The reference obviously refers to Schaaf because she is the only candidate in the race who has worked at Oakland City Hall, having also served as an aide to the city council and to former Mayor Jerry Brown. She also has been endorsed by several council members, including De La Fuente.
In an interview, Schaaf declined to comment on her rocky relationship with Plazola. But she said Plazola knows from working with her that she'll be an “independent” vote on the council. “He knows that I have Oakland’s best interests at heart, and that I’ll do what I think is best for the city.”
Schaaf also said that even though the caps have now been lifted in the race for the District 4 seat, which represents the Montclair, Dimond, and Laurel neighborhoods, she doesn’t plan to exceed the campaign limit for council contests. As for O’Donoghue, she said, “I think it’s disappointing that a single San Francisco developer is manipulating Oakland’s campaign finance rules to try to influence the outcome of the election.”
Neither Plazola nor O’Donoghue returned phone calls seeking comment for this post. The two are friends and worked together on a proposed 42-story condo tower on Lake Merritt, known as the Emerald Views. O’Donoghue is friends with the project’s sponsor and Plazola was their lobbyist. In addition, it’s unclear why O’Donoghue would suddenly inject himself in such a big way in an Oakland City Council race when he has not done so in the past — unless it was to help Plazola.
Sources said the other possibility is that O’Donoghue and Plazola may be worried that even though Schaaf is generally pro-development, she may be like Councilwoman Pat Kernighan. Kernighan had been expected to be a rubber-stamp for developers, but she’s turned out to be fiercely independent. Kernighan also has questions about the Emerald Views project. Plazola and O’Donoghue will need all the votes they can muster to win approval of the controversial development.
As for Broadhurst, she also did not respond to a request for comment. But sources said they have no reason to believe that Broadhurst has made a quid pro quo with Plazola or O’Donoghue. Instead, it appears that they believe they’ll have a better shot with her than with Schaaf.
In the end, however, O’Donoghue and Plazola may have made themselves an unnecessary enemy. Schaaf is the favorite to win next week’s election to replace Councilwoman Jean Quan, who is running for mayor.