Jean Quan became Oakland’s new mayor during a ceremony at the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland on Monday. Crowds of people gathered inside the ornately designed theater, taking photos and searching for their seats to watch the ceremony. Quan is the first Asian American female mayor of any major U.S. city.
Along with Quan, other government officials were also sworn into office today, including two returning city council members, Patricia Kernighan and Desley Brooks; one new city council member, Libby Schaaf; and the returning city auditor, Courtney Ruby. Three returning Oakland school board members were also sworn in: David Kakishiba, Gary Yee and Christopher Dobbins,
On the stage at the Fox, Quan sat along the back wall, wearing a red suit, and was flanked by City Attorney John Russo and City Administrator Dan Lindheim. Joining them on the stage to participate in the ceremony was the entire city council, school board, and the city clerk and city auditor. According to Quan, former Mayor Ronald Dellums was absent because of family issues.
Quan’s swearing in was preceded by a historical walk through downtown Oakland that finished at the Fox. The ceremony kicked off with the crowd rising as an Oakland firefighter sang the national anthem and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Religious leaders led a prayer for Oakland, the Contare Children’s Choirs sang the song “Give us Hope,” and a sixth grader from Coliseum College Prep Academy recited a poem he had written about love.
As Quan happily raised her right hand and was sworn into office by LaTonda Simmons, the city clerk, her husband and two children joined her on the stage. The crowd gave her a standing ovation, clapping and cheering. Quan thanked the hundreds of volunteers who helped her during her campaign, saying their participation “can show grassroots can still beat money.” She announced that she was proud to be mayor of what Forbes magazine has dubbed the “fifth coolest city in the U.S.” along with being one of the most diverse cities in the world. “Whether you supported me or you didn’t support me for mayor, we are family because we all love this city,” she said.
In her speech, Quan outlined her top three priorities to begin her term. She opened with education. “The first thing I want to do is put the children at the heart of the politics and business in Oakland,” she said. She talked about her plan to ask for volunteer mentors for 2,000 of Oakland’s youth who are either in trouble with the law, missing too much school or aging out of foster care. Mentors will be able to help these young people, she said, and as a result high school graduation rates will increase and crime will go down.
Jobs and public safety were her other two priorities. Quan said she wants to focus on retail and shopping in Oakland and also give young people work training. When she talked about public safety, she mentioned that the state of California spends six to seven percent of its annual budget on education and 11 percent on prisons. “What’s wrong with that picture?” she asked. “I believe that crime is integrally linked to our children and their future and hope in our city.”
Quan has lived in Oakland for 32 years and has served the city for 20—first on the school board, then serving two terms on the city council as the representative from District 4. While on the council, she worked on education, public safety and environmental issues. After announcing her candidacy in early 2010, she faced off against 10 contenders including fellow councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and former state senate president Don Perata. Her closest rival, Don Perata, won the first round of votes in the city’s first election to feature ranked choice balloting, but she ultimately won by slightly under two percent of the vote after second and third choice votes were counted.
New councilmember Schaaf was sworn in on Monday to take Quan’s former District 4 seat. During the ceremony, the council also voted on new leadership positions, selecting District 6 representative Brooks for vice-mayor, District 7 representative Larry Reid as council president, and District 5 representative Ignacio De La Fuente as council vice-president. Upon being named the new council president Reid said, “Madam Mayor, this council is committed to working with you.”
Once the returning school board members were also sworn in, the whole school board voted to keep Yee as the school board president. “Despite the cuts, we have proven we are in an upward arc,” said Yee when he was re-named president. “For the first time in 20 years, enrollment in Oakland public schools is up.”
For her first 100 days in office, Quan plans to host town hall meetings in every council district in the city, starting with the Acorn neighborhood in West Oakland. One of her goals is to turn Oakland’s struggling neighborhoods around. “Oakland is a city of dreams,” she said, “and I want it to be the dream city for all of you.”
From 5 pm to 9pm on Monday, Quan will be hosting a public open house at City Hall to provide a “behind the scenes” look at the government offices. There will be refreshments and live music.
You can see video highlights from the ceremony here.