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Kaplan sees path for progressive in Oakland mayor's race

by Cynthia Laird

Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, left, embraces mayoral candidate Cat Brooks after endorsing her June 7. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, left, embraces mayoral candidate Cat Brooks after endorsing her June 7. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

Oakland City Councilwoman at-large Rebecca Kaplan last week decided not to run for mayor herself, and instead endorsed a progressive African-American woman with an eye on challenging Mayor Libby Schaaf from the left.

Kaplan, the City Council's only lesbian member, ended speculation she would again seek the mayor's office when she endorsed Cat Brooks Thursday, June 7, at Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland. She attended with her wife, Pamela Rosin, and she thanked the 50 or so people present for their support.

Schaaf, whose campaign released a poll showing her with a strong 46-point lead just hours before Kaplan's announcement, faces Oakland voters in November. That same poll, an online survey conducted May 30-June 4 among 449 likely voters by EMC Research, showed Kaplan at 15 percent, and Brooks, whose legal name is Sheilagh Polk, with 11 percent. Combined, that's 26 percent, if Kaplan's strong name identification translates to Brooks' campaign.

Kaplan represents the entire city, and has run successful citywide races for her council seat. Her mayoral campaigns, however, have come up short twice before, in 2010 when she lost to Jean Quan, and then again in 2014, when Schaaf won.

Kaplan had been spotted at a recent Alameda Labor Council dinner handing out "Kaplan for Mayor" stickers, and acknowledged to reporters, including the Bay Area Reporter, that she was exploring another mayoral campaign. That ended last week.

Brooks, a leader of Black Lives Matter and former KPFA radio host, co-founded the Anti-Police Terror Project. Police misconduct was a theme that Kaplan returned to during her speech.

"The level of police misconduct is totally unacceptable," she said, calling out the fact that officers in the Oakland Police Department were promoted even after their roles in a police sex scandal came to light.

"I know we need a person dedicated to justice," Kaplan told the audience, "and the best way to strengthen Oakland is that I'm endorsing and supporting Cat Brooks for mayor. I've had the opportunity to spend time with, and listen to, Cat Brooks, who has been speaking up for justice."

Kaplan also showed a map of the Oakland results for the Alameda County district attorney's race. While DA Nancy O'Malley won re-election in the countywide race with 59.59 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns, Kaplan pointed out that her challenger, civil rights attorney Pamela Price, won in the city.

"Oakland voted for justice," Kaplan said. "This is how people in Oakland voted."

Brooks pledged to make the city a sanctuary for all.

"I spend 50 percent of my time arguing with Libby and protesting Libby," Brooks told the crowd. "And I thought, what if there's no Libby?

"I have spent my time building an Oakland we want to live in," she added.

At the announcement, Kaplan denounced the Schaaf campaign's "push poll" and said it was done illegally because it was not disclosed who paid for it.

Emily Matthews, with the Schaaf campaign, responded: "Rebecca's wrong. This is common practice in thousands of polls done every year, and surely some done by Kaplan herself the same way. This is how polls get objective data."

Brooks said her campaign would be a "people's campaign." She plans to do a series of people's assemblies, or town halls, over the next two months.

"We can do this," she said.

Brooks said she wanted to make Oakland a sanctuary city "for black people, for queer people, teachers."

"It can be done," she said.

Other races
The Oakland City Council could see the addition of more out members after the November election. In District 6, lesbian Filipino-American nurse Marlo Rodriguez is running in a crowded field against incumbent Desley Brooks, who was found liable for assaulting former Black Panther Elaine Brown at an Oakland restaurant. Brown, who sued Desley Brooks and the city, won a $1.2 million judgment from the city and $75,000 from Desley Brooks personally.

In District 4, where Councilwoman Annie Campbell Washington decided not to seek re-election, bi lesbian community activist and nonprofit professional Pamela Harris announced she is running for the open seat. That field is also expected to be crowded.

Two months ago, Campbell Washington cited the "toxic" tone at City Hall as the reason why she was stepping down. Schaaf, who had held the District 4 council seat before becoming mayor, laid the blame for the dysfunction on Desley Brooks.

In District 2, Councilman Abel Guillen, who identifies as two spirit, is seeking re-election. He is being challenged by Nikki Fortunato Bas, a community organizer.

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