Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Quan for Oakland mayor


Jean Quan
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There are several qualified candidates running for Oakland mayor, but after reviewing the questionnaires we supplied and conducting interviews with three of them, we find ourselves surprised that in the end, we endorse Mayor Jean Quan for a second term.

The rap on Quan is that she's been ineffective, but a look at her record shows that on balance Oakland is headed in the right direction. The city's restaurant and nightlife scenes are bustling; housing projects are in progress, and new residents are moving to the city, due in part to the high cost of living in San Francisco. Quan has been successful in securing federal funds for new police officers and money to redevelop the Oakland Army Base.

During our editorial board meeting Quan offered an assertive defense of her tenure, which has been beset at times with inaccurate statements about crime statistics and a revolving door of city administrators and police chiefs. But it's precisely at times like this, when one's on defense, that some politicians find an inner strength. In fact, we wish she would display more of the charisma and confidence that she did in our meeting in her day-to-day running of the city.

In recent months, Oakland has experienced a dip in crime – there was a six-week stretch this summer without a murder. Oakland has, for the past couple of years, become a destination of its own, apart from being overshadowed by San Francisco. Just last week the American Planning Association named Oakland's Uptown district one of the 10 best neighborhoods in the country.

Quan is aware of the problems facing Oakland, especially its police department, which is understaffed and under federal oversight. But the mayor said the situation is getting better and is committed to fully regaining the department. "Oakland police have not drawn a gun and shot anyone in 15 months," she told us. Police officers are being actively recruited and academies are being provided with training on LGBT issues. This is crucial because there are active cases police are investigating that involve the LGBT community, such as the 2012 murder of trans woman Brandy Martell, which remains unsolved.

Should she be re-elected, Quan plans to move the city forward in a second term past the distractions and mistakes. She said that she spent the first two years in office "responding to disasters," and ticked off several of them: the demise of redevelopment agencies, budget shortfalls, and the fact that her predecessor was mostly absent. She said she led the fight among the Big 10 mayors to secure federal funding for transit-oriented development. She's fighting hard for Oakland's fair share of regional funding for public transportation and other projects.

Quan is also working on the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project and Brooklyn Basin, a large housing project. Many employees on those jobs, she noted, would get union cards. Measure Z funding and Operation Ceasefire, a crime prevention initiative, have started to pay off in that young men, many African American, are getting GED certificates so they can better qualify for jobs. Credit for these initiatives has been lost among the constant drumbeat of crime headlines, which only perpetuates Oakland's image as a gritty city out of control. It's not.

Critically, Quan is not giving up on the LGBT vote despite her major challenger being lesbian City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who leads the mayor in a trio of recent polls. But Quan said her own polling shows a more competitive race.

"I actually think I'm splitting the LGBT vote," Quan said, noting that she's been endorsed by gay outgoing Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and Joaquin Rivera, a gay man who sits on the Alameda County Board of Education.

Among her many accomplishments on LGBT issues are: first mayor to support the Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony; working with the council to award $1.3 million in funding for LGBT youth programs; and appointing a record number of LGBTQ commissioners to the planning and port commissions.

Regarding Oakland Pride, Quan said she's raised about $20,000 a year for the event. Kaplan told us she's made sure there's some money set aside in the city's budget for the annual festival. Both are right; Quan's a reliable ally and Kaplan is part of the community.

Quan's darkest moment as mayor came three years ago this month, when Oakland was ground zero for the local Occupy movement. She was seen as indecisive. But the mayor told us that she has "no regrets" about how Occupy Oakland was handled in general. There were a lot of poor and mentally ill people who filled Frank Ogawa Plaza at the time, and then one of the mentally ill people was hit over the head. "I don't regret trying to close it down," Quan said. "I do regret not specifically saying to the [police] chief, 'Don't close it till I get back from Washington.'"

In the aftermath of Occupy, the police department has changed its training and over 40 officers were disciplined. Out of 51 reform items, Quan said, the department has only five left to complete.

Quan said she thinks her biggest stamp on the city is that according to recent polls, people think Oakland is going in the right direction.

"It's the first time since Elihu," Quan said, referring to former Mayor Elihu Harris, who held office from 1991-99. "There's a little bit of optimism."

Optimism, of course, won't put the city back on track. But Quan, who's seen four balanced budgets passed and has presided over a city that is often overlooked, is the best person to continue that trajectory.

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