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From the East Bay Express
By Robert Gammon
When Don Perata took his first stab at public office in 1975, he was a slow-growth leftist battling an Alameda building boom and the ambitious expansion plans of Harbor Bay Island developer Ron Cowan. Never short on guts, the 29-year-old set his sights high. He ran for mayor.
The city's establishment looked down on Perata as some sort of wild-haired antiwar protester. But the Alameda schoolteacher, who spent his days schooling kids on Watergate and the speeches of Malcolm X, did surprisingly well. He lost by a mere seven hundred votes to Chuck Corica, who went on to reign over Alameda politics for the next two decades.
"That's when I learned that campaigning is a game, as opposed to a higher calling," Perata told the Express in 1995. "It was a painful lesson." Painful, perhaps, but he learned it well. He promptly landed a job with Assemblyman John Miller, and when his boss was appointed to the bench in 1978, Perata again aimed high, making a run for Miller's seat. This time he squared off against another up-and-coming East Bay politician, Elihu Harris. And unlike Perata, Harris had the juice. He was financed by Perata's old nemesis, Cowan, and backed by state Senator Bill Lockyer. Harris outspent Perata six to one. Perata made it close anyway, losing by only six hundred votes.
Perata was zero for two, but he had shown political moxie and wasn't about to quit. Instead, he displayed what would become one of his political trademarks -- his ability to turn supporters of his opponents into allies. He persuaded Lockyer to hire him in Sacramento, and Lockyer in turn introduced him to state Senator Howard Berman, an influential Southern California legislator who also had supported Harris. Perata joined Berman's staff and took up with Berman's brother Michael, a legendary political operative. The Bermans taught Perata the art of fund-raising, hardball politics, and slick mailers; he was one of their star students.
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