Oakland City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jean Quan launched into full campaign mode Saturday afternoon, with a lively rally at Humanist Hall in North Oakland’s Northgate neighborhood. In an event designed to showcase a wide cross-section of Oakland leaders backing her candidacy, Quan said she wants to be a mayor who spearheads change through “block by block” community organizing.
“This is not a kickoff for a mayoral campaign,” Quan told the more than 200 supporters in attendance. “This is a kickoff for a grassroots movement of neighborhood leaders who insist that the city work with them and empower them.”
While Quan had already begun door-to-door canvassing and gatherings at supporters’ homes starting last fall, today’s event represented her first campaign-style rally with signs, songs and impassioned calls for volunteers. In a fifteen-minute speech, Quan identified five issues she will prioritize if elected: education, community policing, economic justice, environmental stewardship and ethical leadership. She touted her experience in Oakland city government—including twelve years on the School Board and eight years on City Council—as proof that she is the candidate best positioned to deliver on these goals right away.
“My roots in Oakland go back very, very far. I didn’t move here to run for mayor on my way up or way down in politics,” Quan said. “I’ve run 14 campaigns for the schools and parks in the city, I’ve run my own campaigns, we’ve personally knocked on 40,000 to 50,000 doors in Oakland in the past 20 years, and that’s been an incredible experience.”
Marge Gibson, a former City Council representative for North Oakland, picked up on this theme of Quan’s “deep roots” and contrasted her to Oakland’s two most recent mayors— California Attorney General Jerry Brown and incumbent mayor Ronald Dellums. Gibson said neither Brown nor Dellums entered into the mayor’s office with experience in Oakland city government and each faced a steep learning curve. Many Quan supporters have suggested her main opponent in the November 2010 mayoral race, former State Senate President Don Perata, also lacks a first-hand grasp of Oakland government.
“We’ve had a series of mayors that have parachuted in from other places and other jobs,” Gibson said. “It’s taken them four years to find out what the city is about, and they haven’t had time to do anything. It’s about time we had someone come in from the ground-up, and Jean Quan is coming in from the ground up.”
In addition to Perata and Quan, Dellums and City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan have also floated the idea of joining the mayor’s race. Neither has made an official announcement, however. The number of mayoral candidates could matter more this year than in previous elections, since under Oakland’s new ranked choice voting system, the city will skip its June party primaries, allowing voters to rank their top three choices for mayor in November. If no one wins a majority, the lowest polling candidate will be dropped, their second choice votes allocated to the other candidates, and a new tally made, until one candidate reaches the 50 percent mark. This change could upset the traditional Oakland campaign strategy of rallying one’s strongest supporters and ignoring those voters committed to supporting other candidates. Unlike a U.S. presidential election or the prom, being someone’s second choice in the Oakland mayoral race can still have its rewards: Rounding up enough second-choice votes could help a lower-profile candidate win.
Oakland North will profile Perata as his campaign events increase next month, and other candidates that enter the race before the August deadline. In materials he has sent to Oakland voters, Perata has described himself as a candidate who is “honored to have represent Oakland for more than 20 years” in the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and State Legislature. Whereas Quan sees her work in Oakland city government as a strength, Perata characterizes City Hall as “failing”—failures that he says have led to street violence, bloated bureaucracy and indecisive elected officials.
Today’s Quan rally was festooned with green “Jean for Mayor 2010” signs and volunteers signed up to canvass in Oakland neighborhoods. Constituents from Quan’s City Council home district chronicled some of her accomplishments. Dimond District organizer Daniel Swafford said Quan helped shut down the crime-ridden Hillcrest Motel and reinvigorate the neighborhood, an urban renewal strategy that could be replicated in other parts of the city.
Other community leaders from East and West Oakland said they’ve worked with Quan during her tenure in city government and would be telling their neighbors to vote for her. “I’ve been involved with the city for 43 years, and kept my nose in the politics to find out what’s going on,” said Sylvester Grisgby of East Oakland. “Jean is a tireless worker. She has the expertise and knowledge—she can build a strong foundation in Oakland. ”
With surveys showing crime and education foremost on Oakland voters’ minds, Quan touted her accomplishments on both fronts. She said Measure Y, which she helped draft and Oakland voters approved in 2004, has “put more police on the street than ever in the history of the city and crime has gone down for three years in a row.” Two of Oakland’s Measure Y Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council chairs, Montclair’s Nick Vigilante and Golden Gate’s Don Link, endorsed Quan at the rally. “I’m supporting Jean because of her leadership and unwavering support for community policing,” Link said. “She’s a leader with a vision, and a worker who puts herself in the trenches to do the difficult hands-on work that produces results.”
Quan also said she would be Oakland’s first “education mayor,” a point reinforced by the Oakland School Board directors Jody London and Christopher Dobbins who are endorsing her candidacy. Oakland State Assembly representative Sandre Swanson, Quan’s campaign co-chair, said Quan’s work helping return Oakland public schools from state control in 2008 represented one of her most important accomplishments. “It was Jean Quan that had a partnership with me in working long hours to ensure that we restored accountability back to our Oakland school board,” Swanson said. “She helped ensure that you as parents and community people had control over what educational decisions were taking place.” Another of Oakland’s State Assembly representatives, Mary Hayashi, also spoke on behalf of Quan at the rally.
It’s still more than seven months away from Election Day, however, and not all of Oakland political power brokers—including heads of labor unions, business organizations, and Representative Barbara Lee—have endorsed a mayoral candidate. Nor do these endorsements always pave the way to victory. Perata has already earned the endorsement of the Oakland Police Officers Association, and will likely announce other endorsements in coming weeks.
While Quan did not mention her main mayoral opponent by name, her speech highlighted what she characterized as Perata’s missteps in his time representing Oakland and Alameda County in state government. “We don’t need a mayor who’s taken a quarter of a million dollars a year from the prison guards union, who took half a million dollars to kill our foreclosure bill so thousands of people in this town have lost their homes,” Quan said. “We don’t need someone who makes fun of the fact that we passed bills about plastic bags and Styrofoam—Oakland has always been a leader in the environmental movement.”
Quan’s directed her sharpest attacks against Perata for the deal he brokered to entice the Raiders to return to Oakland during his tenure on the Alameda Board of Supervisors in the late 1990s. Quan said this deal is still wreaking havoc on the Oakland budget. “We don’t need a mayor whose funding for the developers left this city with a Raiders deal that will leave us paying $24 million a year until 2025,” Quan said. “If it weren’t for the Raiders deal, we’d have twice as many people working in our parks and working with our kids.”
Quan said that even though Oakland commentators like The Chronicle’s Chip Johnson have dismissed her as the “underdog” in a race against Perata, early polls commissioned by private parties actually show her in the lead. She doesn’t expect to beat Perata in terms of fundraising dollars, but said that building a strong base of volunteers can serve as an equalizer. “I’ve been outspent in every election I’ve been in, and I’ve won,” Quan said. “A thousand people is very hard to stop in this city. We’ll be in every precinct, and you can’t buy that kind of organization.”
As the rally drew to a close, Quan and her supporters mobilized to take their campaign door-to-door in West and East Oakland on a warm spring afternoon. “We can win this, and don’t let anyone tell you that we can’t,” Quan said, as the crowd responded with cheers of “Block by Block! and “Yes We Can!”