Bi woman runs
for Oakland city council
by Matthew S. Bajko
Rebecca Kaplan, a bisexual woman who serves on the AC Transit board, picked up a key endorsement last week in her second bid to join the Oakland City Council.
The California Nurses Association announced it was backing Kaplan's campaign for the council's at-large seat on the June 3 primary ballot. Kaplan, a Green Party member and Alameda County's highest-ranking out politician, is trying to unseat longtime incumbent Councilman Henry Chang, who only recently ended speculation that he would not seek re-election and pulled papers for the race.
Should Kaplan win the election, she would be the first out woman to serve on Oakland's City Council and the first openly queer council member since Danny Wan resigned from his council seat in 2005. With Oakland having the state's largest population of lesbians and its LGBT community dispersed across town, it is possible for gay voters to come together to elect Kaplan to the at-large seat during Pride month.
"The LGBT community is ready to elect its own to the council again," said Kaplan.
Chang easily defeated Kaplan, who holds dual Canadian and American citizenship, during their first match-up in 2000. Two years later Kaplan, 37, ran unopposed for the AC Transit board's at-large seat. In 2006 she defeated a challenger to win a second term to the transit agency's system-wide seat that represents nearly 1.5 million people from Richmond to Fremont.
"The last time I ran I was 29 and I had never been in office. Now I have been governing for the past six years as a public official," said Kaplan, who is Jewish. "Nobody is going to be able to say I am not ready to do the job on day one."
Kaplan, a bus rider and resident of Oakland's Temescal neighborhood, currently serves as the AC Transit board's vice president. She has been in a committed relationship with her girlfriend for the last three and half years.
She said she wants to serve on the board because "whether it is gay rights or public safety these are things publicly elected officials can do something about."
A civil rights attorney, she has been a vocal advocate for transit-first policies and environmentally-friendly initiatives, such as installing solar panels at AC Transit headquarters and launching a pilot program with hydrogen fuel cell buses.
With Oakland griped by a rising wave of violence, and residents' frustration with Mayor Ron Dellums and the current City Council growing daily, political observers of the East Bay city are predicting a "throw the bums out" mentality could be a key motivator for voters this year.
Along with Kaplan, Chang is facing two other challengers: attorney Clinton Killian and Oakland Residents for Peaceful Neighborhoods co-founder Charles Pine. If Kaplan's public safety platform connects with residents, she could ride a wave of voter angst right into City Hall.
"In Oakland right now, we certainly need to improve our air quality, jobs, affordable housing and have some sort of coherent planning and permit approval system. But if we don't tackle public safety, we won't have the faith of the public to do anything else," said Kaplan.
Helping her succeed come June will be the nurses' unions 4,000 members who either live or work in Oakland. In announcing her union's backing of Kaplan February 21, Oakland resident Jan Rodolfo, an RN at Herrick Hospital and the elected secretary of the CNA, said, "Nurses know Rebecca Kaplan's commitment to community health, and through her years of legislative advocacy have come to rely upon her as an exceptionally talented and principled public servant. She'll make Oakland proud."