OAKLAND — Jane Brunner was unanimously selected president of the Oakland City Council on Monday, becoming just the second person — and first woman — to serve in the position atop the eight-member board.
Brunner (North Oakland) replaced Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), who had held onto the presidency since it was created when Oakland switched to a strong-mayor form of government 10 years ago.
Brunner said the council's work will not be easy with the economic challenges facing the nation and the city.
"We have a really good City Council," Brunner said. "We've been good. But Oaklanders are looking for leadership, and I think we need to step up and provide more leadership than we have in the past."
De La Fuente announced Sunday night that he would not pursue the presidency, though it became clear well ahead of Monday's meeting his colleagues would choose someone else.
The vote was taken after swearing-in ceremonies for officials elected in 2008 — including the new citywide council member, Rebecca Kaplan.
Kaplan's election over Kerry Hamill in November may have helped tip the balance against De La Fuente, but a number of council members indicated they were ready to see a change — and one vote may not have made the difference this time.
"It was pretty clear we were going to choose somebody new, and Jane is one of the more senior members," said Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel), adding, "What people really wanted was for it to be a dignified, easy transition compared to last time, compared to how ugly that was."
Indeed, Monday's selection of Brunner lacked the drama of two years ago, when De La Fuente fended off a challenge for the presidency from Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) while facing a hostile crowd at Mayor Ron Dellums' swearing-in ceremony.
De La Fuente said he was "very honored" and "very grateful" his colleagues chose him to lead the council five times previously and said he will continue working hard on the issues important to him, including stricter accountability measures and better management of city resources.
"I've been a fighter all my life," he said. "And I will continue to be, and if people think I'm going to go to sleep, they have another thing coming."
After Brunner was chosen president, council members unanimously selected De La Fuente as vice mayor, a mostly ceremonial position with one major caveat: If the mayor's office is vacated, it is filled by the vice mayor.
Speculation is growing that Dellums could be offered a U.S. State Department job in the new administration. If he leaves office anytime soon, De La Fuente would become mayor and a special election would be held within a 180-day period.
Brunner and De La Fuente were re-elected as council members in 2008 and joined Kaplan, Reid, Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland) and City Attorney John Russo in taking the oath of office Monday.
In an inaugural speech, Russo challenged city leaders to make a "frank assessment" of the city's government.
"People of Oakland, our government is in trouble," he said. "Not in any legal sense, but by any common-sense standard this city's government is broke."
He challenged policymakers to make decisions he said will be popular with "hardly anyone" to get Oakland on the right track financially and said one year from now the city "will have to be a significantly smaller organization than it is today."
Also Monday, new school board members Jody London and Jumoke Hinton Hodge were sworn in alongside members Noel Gallo and Alice Spearman, who were re-elected last year.
Spearman subsequently was chosen as board president in a unanimous vote with Hinton Hodge abstaining.
For the school district and city alike, budget issues will be a primary challenge for those in office. The city is facing a $108 million deficit for the two-year period beginning July 1, and Brunner suggested a ground-up approach to tackle the fiscal woes.
"We could continue everything as it is and cut 5 percent, 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent," she said. "Or we could shake it up. And we could say, 'What does the city really need. What are our essential services? What do residents need to do in Oakland?'"
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435.