After months of fundraising, campaigning and speeches all around the city, five new faces will join the Oakland City Council and the city’s school board. Some of them have never held public office before; others have previously held other roles in local government.
In January the candidates will be sworn into office. The newcomers are working out their roles as elected officials and deciding how best to execute the ideas mentioned during their campaigns. Oakland North spoke to the winners to learn more about them and what their plans are for their time in office.
All voting percentages are based on the most recent statistics available from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, which last updated ranked choice tallies on Monday, November 12. The registrar has 28 days after the election to certify the result after counting absentee and provisional ballots.
Dan Kalb: City Council District 1
Dan Kalb beat out a field of seven contenders to win the District 1 seat with 51.91 percent of the most recent tally of ranked choice votes. He will replace Jane Brunner, who left to run an unsuccessful campaign for Oakland City Attorney. District 1 encompasses the Rockridge, Temescal and Golden Gate neighborhoods.
In his new role on the council, Kalb wants to focus on creating jobs in Oakland’s renewable energy sector. He is an environmental activist who spent 9 years as California Policy Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a California-based environmental advocacy group.
Kalb campaigned on a strong anti-crime platform, which was highlighted after he was the victim of a robbery on October 17 outside of his Temescal home. He wants to increase Oakland’s police force to over 800 officers. “We just don’t have enough police officers, and we need to focus a good chuck of any new money that comes in on new police and more crime investigators,” said Kalb.
As District 1 Councilmember, Kalb plans to revitalize the San Pablo Corridor, focusing on reducing prostitution and beautifying the district. “I want to make San Pablo Avenue one of the priority areas for Oakland,” said Kalb, referring to areas in Oakland that are designated by the city as centers for redevelopment. “They’re not paying attention to northwest Oakland right now.”
Lynette Gibson-McElhaney: City Council District 3
After six rounds of ballot counting, Lynette Gibson-McElhaney beat six other candidates competing for the city council District 3 seat, collecting 52.83 percent of the votes. She will replace Nancy Nadel, who served four terms as a city council member. District 3 includes downtown Oakland, Lake Merritt and Jack London Square. (Gibson-McElhaney did not respond to interview requests from Oakland North.)
Gibson-McElhaney is a longtime resident of Oakland who earned a degree in political science at UC Berkeley. Since 2001, she has been the executive director of the Richmond-based Neighborhood Housing Services of the East Bay, a community development corporation specializing in affordable housing counseling, development and advocacy.
During her campaign Gibson-McElhaney spoke about her expertise in working with a large organization and collaborating with a large workforce. During a community forum in July at Oakland City Hall she addressed the issue of affordable housing by saying you reduce government subsidies by providing more jobs for people. “Not just jobs that come from employers, but creating a platform for social entrepreneurs to emerge so they can pay themselves,” she said in a campaign video posted on YouTube. In her first term, she said, she would like to create 10,000 new jobs for Oakland residents.
According to her campaign materials, Gibson-McElhaney would also like to collaborate with the Oakland Unified School district to find methods that will improve literacy rates, increase school attendance and enrollment and restore vocational education programs. The campaign materials indicate she is also a supporter of CeaseFire, the police initiative targeting certain known violent offenders for either rehabilitation support or intensive law enforcement crackdown and will work with faith communities to help implement the program. In addition to a program like this, there is a need for a police department that is accessible, transparent, well trained, responsive and adequately staffed, Gibson-McElhaney said during a candidates’ forum on September 24. “We haven’t had that,” she said. “For too long we have had a department that has been quote rogue…. Leadership matters.”
Gibson-McElhaney has also said that she wants to improve schools, increase safety, bring transparency to Oakland’s government and create jobs. “All of Oakland’s problems are man-made problems,” Gibson-McElhaney said during that forum. “ They have man-made solutions.”
Noel Gallo: City Council District 5
Noel Gallo beat Mario Juarez, Dawn McMahan, and Aracely ”Shelly” Garza to win the District 5 seat with 55.27 percent of the votes after the final ranked choice tally. District 5 includes the Jingletown and Fruitvale neighborhoods.
Gallo gave up his seat on the Oakland Board of Education to run for the council. He had represented District 5 on the school board since 1992.
In his new role as councilmember, Gallo wants to reduce crime, improve affordable housing and create jobs. “We need to create an environment for entrepreneurs and young artists to be able to afford and live in that area,” said Gallo, referring to Jingletown.
As city councilmember, Gallo said he wants to “provide a positive, welcoming environment to do business in Oakland,” foster a growing artistic community in Jingletown, and develop Oakland’s manufacturing industry. “I am so impressed and excited by the Art Murmur events,” he said. “That is what I want to attract and grow because I see that as the future of Oakland.”
Gallo also wants to “take serious, drastic measures to reduce crime.” He supports the city’s existing gang injunctions and also supports a youth curfew as a method of preventing crime. “I grew up in Oakland when we had curfews,” he said. “For me, there are some youngsters who are under 18 who have no business being on the street past 10 pm.”
Gallo has lived in Oakland all his life. He graduated from Saint Elizabeth High School in the Fruitvale before being awarded a MBA from UC Berkeley. In his current position as regional director for Iowa-based Ray & Associates, Gallo leads superintendent searches for school districts throughout the country and has led recruitment drives for superintendents in San Jose and for the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
Rosie Torres: School Board District 5
“Tuesday was rather surreal,” Rosie Torres said of Election Night. “I was on pins and needles. I had a 10-point lead as far as votes. With my limited experience as a candidate to this race it made me very nervous because it didn’t seem like a lot.”
Torres earned 54.57 in the first round of ballots, beating out Mike Hutchinson in the race to fill the seat vacated by Gallo, who left to run for city council. District 5 encompasses schools in the Glenview and Fruitvale neighborhoods.
Rosie Torres is a practicing attorney. She worked in the San Joaquin County Counsel’s office, followed by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, before moving to Oakland to start her own firm. She decided to run for the school board because her work in family law courts gave her insight into the limitations young adults face when they don’t have an education, she said.
Torres campaigned on the platform that as a representative of the school board, she will work to achieve additional support for teachers, improve student retention, increase safety, raise student performance and increase transparency with the budget.
Torres said she wants to “hit the ground running” in January and will begin by looking at any disparities in the ways that schools are funded or that teachers are assigned to them. There are cases in which some schools have extremely qualified teachers with extra certifications and in other instances the teachers are very young and just starting their careers, Torres said. “We have to figure out how we can balance that,” Torres said. “Those schools that have some catch up to do, I want to see those schools have counselors and higher qualified teachers. It’s a triage.”
During the campaign she spoke to many parents who said they love Oakland elementary schools, but when the time comes to choose a junior high or high school they will leave and enroll the children in charter or private schools or in a school outside the district. Torres, who volunteers a great deal of her time to teens, believes these grade levels are the best place for her to focus her energy.
“People leave Oakland Unified public schools right around junior high and high school,” she said. “So if I can focus on when we lose our families it would make the most sense.”
She said she will also spend the next months learning where she will fit on the board because she wants to be the right asset to the other members and not duplicate their efforts. “I think the issue of community schools is probably where I am going to fit in, because I am so heavily involved in the community as an attorney and as a parent with a child in public middle school myself,” she said. “That is what I am looking forward to.”
James Harris: School Board District 7
James Harris beat incumbent Alice Spearman to win the Oakland District 7 school board seat representing East Oakland with 56.9 percent of the votes.
Harris has served on the board of Aim High, a summer program for disadvantaged youth, and is a founding member of Great Oakland Public Schools, a non-profit group advocating improvements in public schools. He is the founder of Morgan Media Group, a San Francisco-based marketing firm.
Harris said he wants to improve East Oakland’s educational system by attracting high quality teachers and focusing on underperforming African-American students. “I think what’s important is strong teachers and focusing on building strong ESL [English as a Second Language] programs and programs for the improvement of African-American boys and girls just across the board,” he said. “It’s hugely important that we get teachers in the classroom who are committed to the labor-intensive job that is teaching in Oakland.”
He also wants to build community engagement by improving outreach programs and urging the broader community in East Oakland to participate in the educational process. “I want to build partnerships within city government and the private sector,” he said.
Harris studied literature at Georgia State University and was awarded a bachelor’s degree in communication from Santa Clara University.