OAKLAND — The once-revered mayor of this city, Lionel Wilson, agreed Wednesday that his failed attempt to lure back the Los Angeles Raiders had doomed his bid for a fourth term--making him another political victim of team owner Al Davis' attempt to find a new home for his ballclub.
But as he calmly acknowledged defeat, Wilson, who carried only 17% of the vote, said he would continue to work to win back the team that left for Los Angeles after the 1981 season.
Wilson said he had no regrets about pushing what proved to be a highly unpopular, $600-million package of guarantees, loans and grants aimed at attracting the Raiders.
"I know it had negative politics, but what else could I do but follow my convictions?" Wilson said. A private poll for the Wilson campaign showed that the 75-year-old mayor's approval rating dropped from 46% to 26% this year when details of the Raiders deal became public.
The two younger politicians--Assemblyman Elihu Harris and City Councilman Wilson Riles Jr.--who beat Wilson and must now face each other in a November runoff have said that they would fight any attempt by the city to put up public funds to help secure a new deal.
"It's inappropriate to use public money to guarantee a franchise a profit," said Harris, the big winner so far in the mayoral campaign. "No one wants to give up the crown jewels to get them back."
Harris, 42, who has represented Oakland in the Legislature for almost 12 years, said that the Raiders issue was just one factor in the election.
"The election was a referendum for change," Harris said. "We have to find innovative solutions for problems facing the urban lifestyle--education, drugs, crime and the quality of life."
An ally of Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco, Harris was able to raise more than $400,000 for a sophisticated campaign that won 46% of the vote. That was achingly close to the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Now Harris must face Riles, who finished second with 24% of the vote in this city of 360,000 residents. Wilson was a weak third in the eight-candidate field.
Riles, 44, is the son and namesake of a former state superintendent of public instruction and has served on the City Council for 11 years.
He agrees with Harris that Oakland wants the Raiders back, but not at public expense. "We want Al Davis in Oakland," Riles' campaign manager Marty Price said Wednesday. "We feel the Raiders belong here but not on his terms. . . . We can't do it financially. We have too many problems here."
Riles' opposition to the proposed Raiders deal gave a big boost to his low-spending campaign. He supported a drive that collected 33,000 signatures on a petition to put the Raiders contract before the voters--a move that forced Wilson and the rest of the council to back down.
While the deal's backers claimed that Oakland and Alameda County could profit by as much as $50 million over the 15 years of the contract if every game were sold out, critics argued that the city and county could lose as much as $254 million if sales fell far below expectations.
Wilson is not the first elected official to be hurt by his support for making a deal with the Raiders. Earlier this year, Joseph Breceda, a councilman with the tiny city of Irwindale, lost his seat to Frederick Barbosa. A dark horse candidate, Barbosa had sued to keep the Raiders from moving there from the team's current home, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Jacobs reported from Los Angeles, Zamora from Oakland.