Oakland -- Threatened with recall just one year into her term, Mayor Jean Quan can't count on much support from City Council members, who council watchers say have little love for the mayor.
"I think some of them are glad that Jean Quan is having this problem," former Councilman Wilson Riles said. "There's a lot of emotional baggage that is being carried by these council members over differences they've had with her over the years."
With one recall petition circulating and another recall group announcing the hiring of a campaign consultant and its intention to spend $30,000 on paid signature gatherers, Oakland lawmakers are trying to steer clear of the subject.
While several council members say the recall effort would be an unfortunate distraction, only Nancy Nadel -- the lone council member to endorse Quan during the 2010 mayoral election -- says she would actively campaign against it.
Quan said she isn't bothered that council members weren't racing to defend her against the recall. "I'm sure a couple of them are looking at running," she said late last month.
The silence from council members underscores Quan's failure to develop close-knit relationships with her colleagues during nearly a decade in city government, City Hall observers say. It also illustrates that politicians remain unconvinced about the ability of recall leaders to gather enough signatures to trigger an election and the caliber of candidates who would seek to replace Quan.
"They don't know how it's going to play out," former Councilman Dick Spees said, noting that any council member who takes a strong stand now on the recall risks losing clout if the other side prevails. "It's most likely that you would be neutral on the subject and try to avoid it the best you can."
Two council members mentioned frequently as potential mayoral candidates in a recall election, Desley Brooks and Rebecca Kaplan, both refused to discuss the recall. Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, another potential candidate to replace Quan, said last month that he does not support any recall, but "sometimes we bring it on ourselves."
Besides Nadel, Councilwoman Pat Kernighan said she was generally opposed the recall. "I think the mayor has made some mistakes, but I think a recall should really be for corruption or serious malfeasance," she said.
Reasons for silence
Quan doesn't possess the type of power that cements political loyalties. She didn't play a significant part in helping elect the council members, nor does she control access to top campaign contributors.
Her leverage is further hampered by the fact that she didn't win a clear electoral mandate and that she's the first sitting council member in decades to win the mayor's job. "I think it was hard for the council to accept one of their own becoming the mayor," Quan said.
Several observers who praised Quan's work ethic said they thought the cold shoulder she's getting from the council over the recall has more to do with her personal style than their political calculations.
"Jean will take credit for everything and blame everything on someone else," said political consultant Larry Tramutola, who managed Quan's council campaigns before working against her on Don Perata's failed 2010 mayoral bid.
"I don't think generally there's a whole lot of love for her," he said. "She has been a lone wolf. She hasn't built the relationships you need to have."
Riles, a recall opponent, said there is a "brusqueness" about Quan that he thought irritated council members and made them less likely to defend her against the recall. "It's a measure of their political immaturity that they're allowing their own personal, emotional feelings to get entangled with their political positions."
There is still no guarantee that either of the two recall efforts will succeed in collecting the requisite 19,811 valid signatures over four months to qualify for the ballot. One recall petition is being circulated by two separate volunteer groups, neither of which has managed to blanket the city with signature gatherers.
Gene Hazzard, a leader of one of the groups, wouldn't disclose how many signatures he's collected, but he said he would step up his efforts now that the holiday season is over.
A second petition, led by businessman and former mayoral candidate Greg Harland, was dealt a setback last week when the city clerk found several minor errors in the recall petition, including print too small to meet legal requirements.
Harland's group, which resubmitted its petition and is waiting for city approval to begin collecting signatures, announced that its campaign will be headed by San Francisco-based political consultant Johnny Wang.
Wang, who hasn't yet been paid, said that Harland and his mostly unnamed backers, could themselves fund the $30,000 professional signature-gathering effort.
"We'll be hitting all the major shopping areas and transit corridors," Wang said. "This will be a very intense campaign."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.