Oakland mayoral runners-up rehash race and look to the future
on January 24, 2011
In a local politics version of “Where Are They Now?” Oakland’s second and third runners-up in the November mayoral election came together on Saturday to talk about their plans for the future and their thoughts on the race’s outcome. At a public forum put on by Oakland’s John George Democratic Club, City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan outlined her assessment of the city’s first go at ranked choice voting, while political commentator and professor Joe Tuman announced his plans to pressure the city to reform all employee pensions and police staffing.
Ranked choice voting allows voters to name their first, second, and third choice candidates on their ballot. If no candidate wins the majority of first place votes, the last place candidates are eliminated and their votes are redistributed to the candidates that voters listed second. The process is repeated until one candidate receives a majority of votes. In Oakland’s mayoral race, ten candidates ran and votes were redistributed in nine rounds of elimination. Second place candidate Don Perata held the lead until the votes for Kaplan, who was in third place, were redistributed in the final round to eventual winner Jean Quan.
“The first and foremost thing I want to say about ranked choice voting is that it worked,” Kaplan said during Saturday’s talk at the Buttercup Grill near Jack London Square. “People were not confused, ballots were not miscast, the system worked as it was designed to.”
Kaplan said she felt that was important to make clear because, she said, “There’s been some attempt to cloud the issue.” After the election results were announced in November, first runner-up Don Perata distributed a press release saying people were confused by the system.
FairVote, an organization that promotes ranked choice voting, contested the Perata campaign’s allegations, particularly a press release claiming that “Don Perata beat Jean Quan by over 11,000 first choice votes citywide. This would be a landslide in any other voting format.” FairVote contended that since Perata garnered only 33.7 percent of first choice votes, he would not have won the election by an 11,000-vote margin alone. He would instead have had to go to a run-off with Jean Quan. Perata did not challenge the results formally and ultimately conceded the race to Quan.
Others also expressed concern over ranked-choice voting in its aftermath, including mayoral candidates Larry Lionel Young, Jr. and Don Macleay. For his part, Macleay said his campaign took the wrong approach by not letting voters know that they should choose the candidate with the slimmest chance first.
Several aspects of ranked choice voting allowed Kaplan’s campaign to succeed, she said at Saturday’s talk. The fact that there was no June primary forced Oaklanders to choose amongst all ten candidates in November, when there is traditionally a run-off between only the top two candidates. If there had been a June primary, “I probably would not have been able to run,” Kaplan said. Kaplan also said that having the race in November, when voters are already going to the polls to vote for state and national level candidates, encourages higher turnout and a more diverse set of voters, a claim FairVote has also made. “Far from ’turning voters away,’ [ranked-choice voting] actually provides for fuller voter participation than plurality voting and higher turnout than typical of traditional runoff elections,” read the FairVote press release responding to the Perata’s campaign’s concerns.
However, Kaplan allowed that the outcome of Oakland’s race was unusual, with Perata, a well-funded front-runner with a decade of experience in the state senate, losing out in the end. Saturday’s meeting facilitator, Jesse Allen-Taylor, told Kaplan, “The three of you surprised people,” referring to Kaplan, Quan, and Tuman, a political newcomer who came in fourth.
After Perata’s defeat, speculation mounted as to how Quan had managed it. Had she worked with the other lead candidates—Tuman and Kaplan—to create an anti-Perata bloc? Sue Piper, a campaign spokesperson for Quan, has said that Quan didn’t shy away from asking for a second place vote when she met voters who had decided on another candidate.
And while Kaplan, Quan, and Tuman generally held back from attacking each other, Quan spearheaded a September press conference calling out the Perata campaign’s spending tactics as unethical, if not illegal. The conference was in response to the Perata campaign’s announcement that an independent expenditure committee had spent more than $95,000 on his behalf, which meant that the $379,000 spending cap—previously agreed upon by all the mayoral candidates—was lifted for all of them. Quan and Kaplan also tried unsuccessfully to get the city council to approve a requirement that candidates not plan ahead with independent expenditure committees to spend more than the cap allows.
Kaplan denied on Saturday that she and Quan had colluded to defeat Perata. “We didn’t have, like a co-campaign plan,” Kaplan said. However, Kaplan did say that the two agreed not to attack each other at an early meeting of the Oakland Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, where club members urged candidates to work together. She also said that outside organizations urged voters to vote for Kaplan and Quan together, which aided both of their campaigns.
Tuman also said he did not openly suggest that voters adopt an alliance between candidates. “I did not ever say, ‘Rank them this way,’” he said.
Tuman may have been the cherry on top for residents who didn’t want to give any of their votes to Perata; he came forward unexpectedly as a viable candidate mid-election season. On the other hand, voters who supported Perata, and who didn’t want their second and third choice votes to go to Quan and Kaplan, were stuck voting for small potato candidates like Arnie Fields and Greg Harland, both of whom got less than one percent of first place votes. Meanwhile anti-Perata voters could look to the advice of the East Bay Express and the Oakland Tribune, both of which endorsed Kaplan, Tuman and Quan. These candidates carried 58.05 percent of first place votes among the three of them.
After Kaplan finished answering audience questions on Saturday, Tuman announced he would “love to run for office again,” but said that in the short term, he plans to pressure the city to reform pensions for police officers and all city employees. Tuman has joined the board of Make Oakland Better Now, a nonprofit that formed in 2009 to address the city’s public safety issues. At the January 17 city council meeting, Tuman and other Make Oakland Better Now members ceded their speaking time to board member Bruce Nye, who spent five minutes excoriating the city council for allowing the police department to fall into disrepair.
“The group is planning to present some ideas on the police department and police staffing” to the city council, Tuman said in an interview after Saturday’s event. He also told the audience that it might be necessary to turn Make Oakland Better Now into a political action committee in order to raise money to promote its agenda in the city council. While saying that donations to candidates and campaigns don’t buy results, Tuman said, “Everyone understands that you have access” with money.
Tuman also made his first public bid to get onto the city’s planning commission, a group of mayoral appointees who are approved for the position by the city council. As part of the Community and Economic Development Agency, the seven-person planning commission meets twice a month, making recommendations to the city council and creating proposals on zoning and development issues. If appointed for the commission, Tuman said that creating jobs would be a priority for him. “I’d be proactive as much as possible on the planning commission,” he said. Tuman also said that he’d let Quan know he was interested in either serving on the port commission or the planning commission, but that the port position had been filled already.
Kaplan, who ran on a campaign of business revitalization, also emphasized the need for job creation. “If we’re not creating jobs, none of this is going to matter,” she said of the election’s outcome. Kaplan pointed to councilmember Desley Brooks’ recent rewrite of the city’s local hiring policy, which the council will vote on soon, which would require the city’s contractors to give jobs to Oakland residents. The current local hiring policy focuses on construction projects. Kaplan said on Saturday that the new policy would apply to a much broader range of industries.
After Saturday’s talk, Kaplan unlocked her bicycle and loaded up her pannier with, among other things, her paperback Torah (it was the Sabbath after all). Before rolling away, she commented that one of the best things about being done with the mayoral campaign was being able to bike again. “I don’t have to carry around lawn signs,” she said.
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