Why I Support Don Perata (Part II)
Part II of an occasional series. Part I here.
One of the big problems with the Dellums administration is that, from the start, Mayor Dellums has delegated governing the city to the city administrator and the city council. The city council, of course, is the city’s legislative body, and is not supposed to be “governing” the city in a strict, political science sense.
(In political science we define “the government” to be the elected executives and the heads of departments and agencies, who are temporarily in charge of directing the apparatus of the state. So, for instance the British cabinet is the UK’s government, and President Obama and his cabinet make up the current US government. The legislature is something different.)
And while the city charter does task the city administrator with executive authority because he or she directs the department heads, the charter also established a strong-mayor system in which the city administrator serves at the pleasure of the mayor. Having both a strong mayor and a city administrator doesn’t really make sense to me, since it allows the mayor to be as much or as little engaged as the mayor wants. The mayor can tell the administrator what to do, or withdraw and put all governing responsibility on the administrator, in a way that the mayor could not do to a chief of staff or deputy mayor.
In strong mayor systems without a city administrator, like San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles, the mayor’s role is perfectly clear: she is unambiguously the chief executive, and doesn’t have a co-executive with charter responsibilities. When something gets fucked up in these cities’ governments, then the mayor gets blamed and can’t blame anyone else.
Not so in Oakland, where just recently Ron Dellums defined his position thusly:
Tuesday marked Dellums’ first public statements on the budget, even though the council has been trying to figure out for months how to eliminate what is now a $30.5 million deficit. He insisted, however, that he had not been “missing in action.”
Dellums said that he had been deeply involved in budget discussions with City Administrator Dan Lindheim, who has been talking with council members, union leaders and community members.
Dellums said that it was not his responsibility to negotiate details with council members or unions.
“I’m the master strategist,” Dellums said. “My job is to establish strategy, to establish the policy framework within which those negotiations would take place. And I have assiduously and diligently and coherently done just that.”
Dellums added, “I have been briefed to the max. It would seem to me that to the most casual observer, that I’m totally in command of what it is we’re trying to do. My job is to direct.”
And showing up at City Hall is not a requirement, said Dellums, who is frequently absent from the mayor’s office.
“In the world of computers and the world of telephones and the world of faxes, you can do this job anywhere,” he said.
Anyway, this quirk in our charter allowed Ron Dellums, over the past four years, to delegate his duties to and deflect blame onto the city administrator.
While this situation suggests the need for charter reform, it certainly demands that our next mayor be a strong, hands-on executive who will not delegate, or will not be forced to delegate.
Reason Number Two: Real Executive Leadership
The second reason I support Don Perata for mayor is that he will not delegate his duties as mayor. He is a hands-on leader. He is a public executive. His managerial experience means that he will not be forced to delegate his duties, as Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan inevitably would, following in the footsteps of Ron Dellums’ failed administration.
Don Perata’s Executive Leadership Experience
Don Perata has held a variety of executive leadership positions both inside and outside of government. Most obviously he served as Senate Majority Leader and then Senate President in the California legislature. In these roles, he had both constitutional leadership duties and party leadership duties. He was forced to make tough, often zero-sum decisions about funding, programs, short- and long-term goals, that ultimately reconciled the wishes of his caucus and plotted a path forward for the state.
Senator Perata has also served on and chaired the board of successful non-profits, like OPLP, and run his own political consulting firm. In less formal leadership roles, he has championed many legislative struggles, and directed several successful local and statewide initiative campaigns. While he has worked as a legislator most of his career, he served as the executive leader in these legislative bodies and also outside them.
The Other Candidates
Jean Quan has served as chairwoman of the budget committee of the city council. She has also served on the board of at least one non-profit. I can’t find any record of her chairing any committees while on the school board. On her website, she claims to have “led state and national organizations advocating for urban and immigrant students,” but doesn’t name the state and national organizations that she led. I would like to hear more!
I can find no evidence that Rebecca Kaplan has served in an executive leadership position in any prior position. I believe she served as a transit advocate prior to being a marijuana legalization advocate. I think she also worked on the political campaign for the inclusive housing ordinance, but did not lead that effort. As far as I can tell, she was not the chairwoman of any committee on the AC transit board [correction: in comments, V-Smoothe tells us that Kaplan was Board Vice-President, as well as Chair of the External Affairs, Operations, Paratransit Service Policy, and Finance Committees.], and isn’t currently the chairwoman of any committee on the city council. Of course, she had only been on the city council for a year when she decided to run for mayor.
Kaplan’s official bio essentially confirms this: she “helped to bring”, “worked to improve”, has “a strong commitment to”, etc. As far as my research shows, whatever leadership she displayed or accomplishments she claims to have achieved were essentially in an informal capacity. In other words, as an advocate not as an executive.
(Incidentally, I encourage supporters of these other candidates to send me examples of executive leadership that I can post in this entry.)
Executive vs. Advocate
As I conceive it, the main difference between a policy advocate and a public executive is that executives have to make tough decisions regarding personnel, budgets, and policy that advocates mainly don’t. Many of these decisions are zero-sum—that is, they create losers as well as winners. That’s why they’re tough decisions. Every dollar you spend on X, means that you can’t spend that dollar on Y.
Advocates, on the other hand, rarely advocate cutting Y—they just want more of X. That’s fine. And advocates are an important part of our system. But the leadership skills that come from being an advocate are not the same as the leadership skills that are needed to be an effective public executive.
During the most recent budget scuffle, I think Jean Quan has at least showed a bit of leadership by being willing to cut police services. Although I don’t agree with her position, Quan has nonetheless been involved in the negotiations with Councilors De La Fuente and Jane Brunner, and the city administrator, and the police union.
Rebecca Kaplan has not been involved, voted against the cuts, but hasn’t offered any immediate alternatives. If she is mayor, will Kaplan just delegate her duties similar to Ron Dellums? Who will negotiate with the unions? Will she rely on the city council to negotiate, like Dellums did? What programs will she cut? What hard decisions is she prepared to make? We just don’t know, given her lack of previous executive experience. As voters, we have no clues as to how she would govern in difficult times.
Perhaps Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan will be outstanding executives, but certainly we can’t rely on their background to give us any indication. Which to me, given the budget problems that Oakland faces and the difficult choices we have to make over the next few years, is an unacceptable risk.