As early returns trickle in, Oakland voters and candidates wait

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In a packed home in the Grand Lake neighborhood, supporters of Mayor Libby Schaaf and her campaign’s volunteers nibbled on quesadillas and checked back and forth between CNN and the front door to see when the candidate would arrive. Everyone from Jon Sarriugarte, the artist who designed the now-famous snail car, to city hall officials like District 3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, waited under orange and blue streamers. Schaaf’s older sister, Chris Schaaf, even drove in from Castro Valley to wait for the results. “We can’t vote for her, but we can support her,” Chris said.

Schaaf is up against nine other candidates as Oaklanders decide to keep the incumbent or bring in a new mayor. If re-elected, Schaaf would become the city’s first two-term mayor since Jerry Brown. A popular Democratic mayor, Schaaf is being challenged by activists like Cat Brooks, community organizer and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, who have criticized her for being too conservative and too lenient with the police department. Brooks and civil rights attorney Pamela Price, who have never held elected office before, have been Schaaf’s main competitors, sparring with Schaaf at recent mayoral forums.

Just before 8 p.m., Schaaf finally made her appearance. “The mayor is here!” a supporter shouted. An eruption of camera flashes and clicks quickly followed. “I think it’s safe to say … fuck Donald Trump!” a supporter yelled. Everyone laughed.

In front of the crowd, Schaaf read off her iPhone. “We are in the lead at 65 percent,” she said less than an hour after the polls closed. Cheers erupted and those closest to the mayor started chanting “Libby! Libby! Libby!”

Schaaf continued: “Cat Brooks has 15 percent.” Soft booing echoed from the back of the house.

When asked if Brooks’ race had any effect on hers, Schaaf said “I’m not sure if it did. Not that I can think of at least. Certainly the debates were a little more raucous in terms of booing.”

Meanwhile, a few dozen Brooks supporters were donning campaign shirts and eating treats from food trucks in the Fruitvale while waiting for the candidate to arrive soon after polls closed. Inside her party at Red Bay Coffee, a projector played the news overhead while a DJ played smooth jazz.

While dancing, Gilda Baker said that she didn’t know if she would attend Brooks’ party, but once she arrived, she knew she was in the right place. “I’m just hopeful. I don’t know how it all plays out, because we can’t determine,” Baker said.

Ashantewaa Boykin, who co-founded the Anti-Police Terror Project with Brooks, sat in the back taking it all in. “I believe in her. She’s so sincere and I think that’s what’s missing especially in local politics,” Boykin said.

When asked about what she thought of her longtime friend running a race against Schaaf, Boykin said of Brooks: “She was born a black woman in America, so it’s always been an uphill battle and I think that’s when she does her best.”

Brooks arrived at her party at 8:30 p.m. and was greeted by a round of cheers. Surrounded by cameras when entering the room, she started hugging supporters and dancing to the music.

“I’m so humbled. It’s so crazy,” Brooks said. “No matter what, we won.”

Aisha Dew, the campaign manager for the Brooks campaign, told the crowd to sit tight, reminding them that they’re not expecting results for a little while, maybe even two days. But then Brooks revved up her supporters again, telling everyone to “eat, drink and love on each other.”

“This was not the Cat Brooks campaign. This has been the people’s campaign. We decided to run together. We knocked on doors together,” Brooks said. “And we’re going to win together.”

At the KPFA watch party at the the New Parkway, Democratic House victories in Colorado and Michigan drew applause. The couches in both theaters of the graffiti-filled cinema were full of local politics fans watching the returns. The watch party was organized in collaboration with KPFA, a progressive Berkeley radio station. Six of the station’s apprentices interviewed attendees and local passersby about the election for a broadcast later this week.

“I wish we had interest in all mid-term elections, but this may be the spark of interest going forward of people understanding that the midterm elections are just as important of the presidential elections,” said KPFA apprentice Theodora Adkins, who described herself as a business professor by day and broadcaster by night.

At about 8:30 pm, the polls had just closed and most races were too close to call. According to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, with 17 percent of precincts reporting, Schaaf was leading the mayor’s race at 64 percent, with Brooks at 15 percent and Price at 10 percent. Under Oakland’s ranked choice voting protocol, a candidate can win if they receive more than 51 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting.

At that time, in the District 4 council race, Sheng Thao led with about 32 percent of the vote, but Pam Harris was close behind her at 23 percent and Charlie Michelson had received 18 percent of the votes, despite dropping out of the race several weeks ago.

In District 6, with 19 percent of the precincts reporting, Lauren Taylor had 42 percent of the vote, with incumbent Desley Brooks at 27 percent and Natasha Middleton with 12 percent.

Two local races seemed easy to call: On the school board, District 2 representative Aimee Eng and District 6 representative Shanthi Gonzales, who both ran unopposed, easily won their races. Kipp Academy educator Anthony Wilson ran a write-in campaign for the District 6 position.

Many of the 6 measures on Oakland’s ballot also showed clear early results. Measure V, which would allow the City Council to lower the tax on marijuana sales, had the strongest lead with 77 percent in favor and 23 percent opposed. Measure W, a vacant property tax that would fund homelessness solutions, stood at 66 percent in favor, and 34 percent opposed. Measure X, a real estate transfer tax that would affect Oakland’s most expensive residences, was at 63 percent in favor, 37 percent opposed. Measure Z, which would increase pay and protection for hotel workers, stood at 70 percent in favor, 30 percent opposed. And Measure AA, a parcel tax to fund early education, stood at 57 percent in favor, 41 percent opposed.

But Measure Y (which would expand eviction protections to some owner-occupied buildings that are currently exempt) was closely split with 52 percent of voters in favor of the measure and 48 percent opposed. The five other measures on the Oakland ballot were not as close.

As of 9 pm, 15 percent of registered voters had voted by mail, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.

Throughout the day, voters made their way to polling stations all across Oakland. In doing so, some encountered long lines, some even weaving around the courthouse to get their provisional votes in. The basement of the courthouse was crowded as people brushed by toward the back of the line, and workers were loud, calling out names.

Angelica Pan, 19 years old and a second year student at UC Berkeley was a first time voter. She rode a crowded bus for 40 minutes to get to the courthouse.

“I’ve registered to vote, but I never ended up voting, and now my voter registration’s inactive, so I’m here to activate it,” she said. Her change of address caused her some trouble. She arrived at the courthouse filled with people and was confused: “I didn’t really know what was going on,” she said. It took her over 40 minutes to get to the top of the line. When asked why she remained in line despite the long wait, she responded with a laugh, “My dad told me to vote.” But she really stayed to register “for future votes.”

The leading three female candidates for the District 4 city council race—Pam Harris, Nayeli Maxson and Sheng Thao—vied for the city council seat being vacated by Annie Campbell Washington. The other candidates included Joseph Tanios, Matt Hummel, and Joseph Simmons. Charlie Michelson was also on the ballot, although he dropped out in October for personal reasons. Less than a month before Election Day, the Harris, Maxson and Thao joined together, making a rare move in launching a campaign supporting one another.

Maxson’s District 4 Watch party was festive but calm as the 15 attendees who had gathered there as returns started to come in chatted over beers and hot wings. Sasha Brown, a friend of Maxson’s, said she was glad that Maxson decided to run. “When she told me she was running, I was like, ‘You would be the person to run,’” Brown said. “I think she has the skills, she has the experience.”

Brown spoke about Maxson’s strong resolve and her determination to bring change to the city council. “When she was telling me she was running, she was like, ‘I actually know the issues and the people, I feel like I have the skills to bring the city council together because there’s a lot of divisiveness,’” Brown said.

In the District 2 City Council race, incumbent Abel Guillén faced community organizers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Kenzie Smith. In District 6, Natasha Middleton, a management analyst at the Alameda County Probation Department, registered nurse Marlo Rodriguez, management consultant Loren Taylor and police oversight commissioner and foster youth counselor Mya Whitaker faced incumbent councilmember Desley Brooks.

Around 8 p.m., Natasha Middleton’s watch party remained a quiet affair. In the colorfully decorated garden of the Aloha Club in Oakland, a handful of campaign staff checked their phones and watched CNN on a large television screen. “I wouldn’t be a very good campaign manager if I wasn’t optimistic [for Natasha]” said campaign manager Lily Achatz.

Achatz would not comment, however, on whether anti-Brooks sentiment would benefit Middleton through ranked choice voting: “There’s a lot of drama happening and we’re not part of that. We’re part of a solution,” she said.

Esteem Brumfield, Middleton’s field director, added that he’s been working on the campaign since April but is unsure how ranked choice voting will influence the race. “I don’t know how many folks are comfortable or familiar with RCV in voting,” Brumfield said.

Middleton arrived to the event just after 8 p.m. — she continued to run phones up until the last minute. “I have said I want to unseat the incumbent,” she said.

Middleton said she doesn’t expect to see a result tonight, and she acknowledged that her opponent, Loren Taylor, ran a strong campaign. “I’m still a policy expert, that’s the difference,” she said.

On the school board Clarissa Doutherd, executive director of advocacy group Parent Voices Oakland, and Gary Yee, former Oakland schools superintendent, are vying for the District 4 seat.  At 7 p.m., shortly before the polls closed, about 30 people at the Oakland Education Association (OEA) offices were still making phone calls for Doutherd. OEA President Keith Brown said they’d be calling right up until the polls closed at 8 p.m., adding that teachers also came straight from school to help make calls.

This is the most teacher participation Brown said he’s seen in an election during his time with the union. Speaking of Doutherd, he called her “ a dynamite candidate because she’s a parent. She knows parent and teacher concerns and will make students a priority.”

Deirdre Snyder, OEA’s treasurer and a recently retired teacher who taught at Oakland Technical High School for 26 years, echoed Brown, saying Doutherd would be the only person on the school board “who actually understands what’s going on in schools.”

Synder said current school board members know little about what’s actually happening at the schools, especially when it comes to budget cuts. “They’ve got these glossy copies of reports at school board meetings, and we can’t even make copies in the schools,” Synder said.

Synder said she also sees Yee as part of the problem. Because of Yee’s prior time on the board and as superintendent, Synder said she thinks he’s gotten used to the problems and can’t see “how bad things really are.”

OEA vice president Ish Armendariz said that earlier today he was unsure about what would happen in the school board race. But as the day went, on his optimism has continued to rise: “There’s something in the air. It feels like people want change,” he said.

Later that night, Yee’s supporters gathered for pizza, wings, fries and beer at GO Public School Advocates election party at Grand Oaks Restaurant and Bar. About 15 people, with more trickling in, were watching the election results around 8:30 p.m.

Yee walked into restaurant with applause and cheers. Minutes after, Jess Stewart, the executive director of GO, announced the first results for the race. With 15 percent of precincts reporting, Yee had 66 percent of the vote.

Yee said he spent the day driving in his car poast all the different schools that he and his family attended over the years. He said he wanted to “remind himself what this race is all about, which is education and families.”

Stewart was optimistic coming into the night. She said GO volunteers were at polling stations throughout the day and were pleased with how many people said they were supporting Yee. “Gary just has so much support because of all the work he’s done in Oakland as a teacher, principal, board member and superintendent,” Stewart said.

 

Text editing by Casey Smith and photo editing by Maria Sestito, with reporting by Ricky Rodas, Annie Berman, Max Brimelow, Drew Costley, Wyatt Kroopf, Ali DeFazio, Katey Rusch, Jessica Alvarenga and Mickey Capper. Social media reporting by Amy Mostafa.

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