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Money from A’s owner may have cost Perata

Kimberly*/FlickrOakland A's owner and Perata donor Lewis Wolff.

The winner and the loser had the same take on the year’s biggest local election shocker.

Oakland’s new system of ranked-choice voting, with its so-called “instant runoff” feature, made it possible for city council member Jean Quan to win the mayor's race against her better-financed rival, powerful former state Senate leader Don Perata, the candidates agreed. 

But not everybody in Oakland is so sure.

An interesting alt-explanation for Quan’s stunning win over The Teflon Don appeared on the Oakland Tribune’s sports page, in the middle of an items column by sportswriter Carl Steward.

In Steward’s analysis, the election's outcome was foreordained when Perata got the kiss of death – in the form of a campaign donation – from the most hated man in the world of Oakland sports.

That would be Lewis Wolff, the Los Angeles developer who led the limited partnership that bought the Oakland Athletics baseball team in 2005 – and who has been trying to move the team out of town ever since.

Soon after arriving, Wolff rejected the sites suggested by Oakland civic leaders for a new, baseball-only park to replace the aging Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Instead, Wolff announced he would move the storied franchise – it has won six American League pennants and four World Series since moving to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968 – to a cow pasture in Fremont.

But the locale for Wolff’s proposed “baseball village” real estate development lacked freeway access and was far from BART. Eventually, the deal collapsed.

Since then, Wolff has concentrated on moving the team to San Jose. The World Champion San Francisco Giants oppose the plan, claiming territorial rights to Santa Clara County.

Meanwhile, since Wolff arrived, A’s attendance is off 30 percent, or 600,000 per year. Disaffection from fans who know Wolff wants to move the team may explain the drop off in part. So does poor play – the A’s had a losing record in three of their last four seasons.

Another likely factor is Wolff’s decision to close the Coliseum’s third deck. For a big series against the Giants, New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, which traditionally sells out, the A’s have 10,000 fewer tickets available per game than in the glory years.

In a 2006 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Wolff denied he had closed the third deck to drive down attendance, and thus justify a move.

But he has worked other angles, including lobbying baseball commissioner Bud Selig – Wolff’s fraternity brother at the University of Wisconsin – and cultivating politicians.

A pliant Oakland city hall might be useful to Wolff in moving the A’s, if only to head off a lawsuit.

In any event, Wolff’s donations to Perata date back to 2006, when he gave $10,000 to Perata’s Rebuilding California PAC, records show. Also in 2006, Wolff's charitable foundation donated  $5,000 to Perata’s Third Wednesday Peacekeeper Fund nonprofit. Meanwhile, John J. Fisher, Wolff’s partner in the A’s, gave $7,500 to Perata’s nonprofit in 2008.

In May, Wolff gave $500 to Perata’s Hope 2010 Cure Cancer ballot committee, which was sponsoring a proposed new cigarette tax.

Then, in October, Wolff gave $10,000 to the Coalition for a Safer Oakland, a political committee that was backing Perata. Fisher gave the committee $15,000.

As the East Bay Express reported, the donations came after Perata, at a campaign debate, said he wouldn’t spend taxpayer funds to try to keep the A’s in Oakland.

That’s what killed Perata, according to the Trib’s Steward.

“That $25,000 donation Lew Wolff and John Fisher gave Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata didn't pay off for them,” the sportswriter wrote. “It didn't pay off for Perata, either.
“You wonder how many votes he lost by essentially stating he wouldn't lift a finger to stop an A's move to San Jose. Says here it cost him the election.”

 

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