Libby Schaaf wins re-election; challengers sweep council incumbents

Mayor Libby Schaaf declares reelection victory in front of media, campaign volunteers and staff at St. Vincent De Paul Community Center Wednesday afternoon.

Mayor Libby Schaaf declares reelection victory in front of media, campaign volunteers and staff at St. Vincent De Paul Community Center Wednesday afternoon.

Libby Schaaf will likely serve as Oakland’s mayor for another four years. On Tuesday night unofficial results from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters showed Schaaf defeating a group of challengers including her stiffest competition, activist Cat Brooks, receiving more than twice as many votes as Brooks. However, Schaaf will run the city in cooperation with a much different city council after three new members were elected Tuesday night.

Challengers Loren Taylor and Nikki Fortunato Bas ousted incumbent city councilmembers Desley Brooks (District 6) and Abel Guillen (District 2), respectively. In the District 4 seat being vacated by City Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington, council staff member Sheng Thao beat five opponents, including the candidate endorsed by both the mayor and the incumbent, filmmaker Pam Harris.

This is based on preliminary election results from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters and it could change. On Wednesday afternoon, Registrar of Voters for Alameda County Tim Dupuis told Oakland North an estimated 250,000 mail-in ballots from throughout the county still need to be counted, a portion of which will be from Oakland voters.

District 6 City Council

So far local businessman Loren Taylor is winning 61.5 percent of the vote while Brooks secured 38.5 percent, likely ending the councilmember’s 16-year term in office.

“It was a good night. It was definitely a testament to all the support and community that really gathered around realizing this vision,” said Taylor who stayed up until 3:30 a.m. to see the results come in. “I am a bit beat.”

Schaaf had endorsed Taylor, and the councilmember-elect said the endorsement helped him achieve likely victory, but called it a “double-edged sword.”

“It’s been helpful in some parts of the district, but it’s been a liability in others,” said Taylor.

Taylor added that although he’s grateful for the support, he is not beholden to the mayor. “I’m not in anybody’s pocket and I’m not going to be anybody’s pocket,” said Taylor. “Where agendas align and where I see the value for advancing District 6 and this community, that’s where I will focus.”

Oakland North could not reach Councilmember Desley Brooks for comment, but shortly after the preliminary results were published, she posted a concession message on her Facebook page: “Congratulations Loren Taylor, District 6 Elect City Council Member!”

Taylor said he has not yet heard from Brooks, but plans to reach out in the coming days if she does not call him first.

District 2 City Council

In the District 2 race, the council will likely have another change in representation. Preliminary results show community organizer Nikki Fortunato Bas defeating Councilmember Abel Guillen with 51.1 percent of the vote compared to his 42.5 percent. The third candidate, Kenzie Smith, received 6.4 percent of the vote.

“This campaign has never been about me as an individual,” said Fortunato Bas, speaking by phone Tuesday morning. “This campaign has been about building a broader community movement.”

Fortunado Bas believes one of the factors that propelled her campaign to victory was that she started early. She launched her campaign last Thanksgiving and started door knocking in April.

Fortunado Bas said that Guillen called her after midnight to congratulate her and offer her assistance as she transitions into the office.

Oakland North could not reach Guillen for comment, but he did reach out to voters on Twitter Tuesday night conceding the race adding: “While this is not the outcome that I hoped for, I will continue my work to serve the City I love in a different capacity. I congratulate the Councilmember-elect and wish her and our city the best.”

District 4 City Council

It’s likely District 4 will also be represented by a new face: Sheng Thao, formerly Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan’s communications director, is on track to defeat the five other candidates vying to fill the seat being vacated by Annie Campbell-Washington.

After seven rounds, Registrar of Voters results showed Wednesday morning that Thao won 53.6 percent of the vote compared to her closest challenger, Pam Harris. Harris, who was endorsed by the mayor and the outgoing councilmember, received 46.4 percent to the vote.

“I’m feeling excited and I’m ready to start the work,” said Thao. She said she’s also proud because as the winner, she is the first Hmong-American woman elected to a city council in California.

Endorsed by Kaplan, Thao addressed concerns that she will always support the councilmember at-large. “Will I always vote with her? No. I’m going to decide on a case-by-case basis,” said Thao.

While Oakland North could not Pam Harris for comment, a message the candidate sent via email to supporters showed Harris is not yet conceding. While she acknowledged early results show her behind Thao she wrote in the email that she remains “hopeful. Yesterday, our county and our city were hit by an electoral wave. This unprecedented wave of same-day voter registrations and voters casting their absentee ballots on election day has left hundreds of thousands of votes not yet counted in our county.”

Mayor

In the race for mayor, early results show Libby Schaaf winning decisively with 56 percent of the vote in the first round of ranked choice voting. Her closest challenger, Cat Brooks, secured just 22.8 percent of the vote. Civil rights attorney Pamela Price won 12.6 percent.

While thousands of Oakland ballots still need to be counted, Schaaf declared victory at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. She told the group of reporters “You’re going to have four more years of me” as she walked into the cafeteria at St. Vincent De Paul Community Center in Oakland.

“I am so encouraged that there will be stability in city hall,” Schaaf told the room full of shelter staff and campaign volunteers. The mayor said she chose to hold her victory speech at the St. Vincent De Paul to highlight the work being done at the shelter.

On Wednesday morning Brooks appeared to concede as she thanked her supporters with a post on Twitter. “You who showed up and showed out. We have built a base of united Oakland, committed to building a progressive Oakland,” she wrote. And then, referring to the mayor, she wrote: “let’s hold her feet to the fire and build the town we want to see and deserve.”

But Wednesday night, in a phone interview Brooks said she was taking down the post. She said she was not conceding the race because of the thousands of mail-in ballots that still need to be counted.

Kaplan, who endorsed Brooks, acknowledged Wednesday morning the mayor’s likely victory but added that even if that is the case, the Brooks campaign should be proud and not disheartened. “While certainly many of us wanted her to be mayor, I still see what she did as a really important and positive accomplishment for the community in Oakland,” said Kaplan, referring to the large number of volunteers and community members who participated in the Brooks campaign.

Kaplan said she believes the campaign contributed to Thao’s victory in District 4 and Fortunado Bas’ victory in District 2 because it energized progressives and people who normally would not vote to turn out to the polls.

District 4 School Board

Longtime educator and former Oakland Unified Schools District board president Gary Yee faced off and won against opponent Clarissa Doutherd for the District 4 school board seat. Yee received over 60 percent of the votes.

On Wednesday morning, Doutherd’s supporters said they are moving on from last night’s defeat and looking ahead to what’s to come and how to work alongside Yee. “I am disappointed but not defeated,” said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association (OEA), the union that represents the city’s teachers.

Brown said despite the loss, he congratulated Yee and said he looks forward to “having conservations with him.” The OEA will continue to hold elected officials accountable and making sure students get the resources they need and deserve, he said.

Brown attributed Yee’s victory to his already well-established presence in the city. “Gary Yee is a brand name in Oakland,” Brown said, while his own team was “put into a position of educating voters on Clarissa.”

Like Kaplan, he said that enthusiasm for a newcomer candidate encouraged a lot of normally-inactive community members to participate in politics, and that he’s hopeful after seeing Fortunato Bas’ and Thao’s victories over Oakland City Council incumbents. “There’s optimism that progressive candidates of color can be successful in Oakland. I’m optimistic about those possibilities,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, Yee’s supporters are looking for positive changes with the help of the new director. “We are so excited,” said Jessica Stewart, executive director of GO Public Schools,  especially with Yee winning “with such a strong margin.” Her group campaigned on Yee’s behalf.

Stewart said voters are “excited to have a lifelong educator in that seat,” and above all one who has a history in and with the city. She said she believes Yee will bring with him “thoughtful” solutions to the fiscal and academic problems Oakland public schools have been facing, such as “spending within our means.”

“Less than a third of our kid can read at grade level,” said Stewart, adding that this was an issue across all public schools, both district-run and charter schools. “We need to do better.”

The two other school board candidates, District 2 Aimee Eng and District 6 Shanthi Gonzales incumbents, ran unopposed.

This story was updated at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 7, to provide new information about the vote count in Alameda County and to update the status of Brooks’ campaign.

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