Editorial: Why we're ranking Oakland mayoral candidates

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday October 19, 2022
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Oakland City Hall will have a new occupant in the mayor's office in January. Photo: Cynthia Laird
Oakland City Hall will have a new occupant in the mayor's office in January. Photo: Cynthia Laird

Oakland voters face a critical decision electing a new mayor. Ranked choice voting has played a pivotal role in previous mayoral elections, especially in 2010 when Jean Quan secured victory with the help of lesbian fellow candidate Rebecca Kaplan and prevailed over Don Perata. This time, there are 10 candidates on the ballot and, while some of them are unlikely to secure more than a percentage point or two, there is one whom LGBTQ Oaklanders should not vote for. Therefore, we are ranking three candidates in the race in the hope that one of them secures enough first place votes, followed by second and third place votes, to win.

Sheng Thao. Photo: Courtesy the candidate  

First choice: Sheng Thao
Of the four major candidates in the race, current District 4 City Councilmember Sheng Thao is our first choice. The three candidates who returned the Bay Area Reporter's endorsement questionnaire — all straight allies — voiced support for the LGBTQ community, including the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center. But Thao stands out, because she was the only one to call out fellow candidate Seneca Scott after he was photographed with well-known transphobe Chris Elston at an Oakland event while wearing an anti-trans sandwich board. Thao also criticized perennial candidate Peter Liu for his antisemitism, as the Bay Area Reporter reported, and while candidate Loren Taylor did call out Liu for his rant, none of the other candidates have condemned Scott's action. When Scott talked with us about the photograph, he exhibited a lack of understanding about gender-affirming care for trans kids. While Liu is likely to lose again as in previous races, we believe Scott's antics render him unworthy of being Oakland's next mayor.

Thao stated in her endorsement questionnaire that she has had discussions with city staff on ways the city can expand protections against right-wing hatred in the city. As has been widely reported, Oakland has been the site of several violent anti-Asian incidents since the start of the COVID pandemic.

On homeless youth, Thao noted that she has been working with the community center to secure transitional housing for unhoused trans people. "I have also been in talks about creating more safe community space for our LGBTQ youth and performers — especially after the recent events in San Lorenzo," she wrote, referring to the Drag Queen Story Hour event in June at the library that was hijacked by alleged members of the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group.

Thao also committed to hiring LGBTQ staff to key roles including department heads and the city administrator. "I have always had LGBTQ staff in my office and will definitely continue that trend," she wrote. She's also open to establishing an LGBTQ district but would want that effort to be community-driven.

On Oakland Pride and the kerfuffle this year that resulted in two events in one week, Thao stated that the event should be held on one weekend and co-organized by both Oakland Pride and Pridefest Oakland.

Overall, Thao stated that she has the ability to bring people together who don't always agree. She's done this on the City Council to gather five votes in order to pass items, and she stated that she's done it with organized labor and businesses to get one version of the progressive business tax on the November ballot.

On public safety, a big issue in Oakland, Thao supports Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong and pledged to ensure consistent leadership in the department should she be elected. On the drug crisis, Thao stated that she recently wrote and passed a resolution calling for more support to tackle the opioid and fentanyl crisis, adding that more state and county funding is needed.

Thao has also changed her mind on occasion, particularly regarding police issues. Last year, after voting not to add additional police academies, Thao reversed course and did support more academies as violent crime was rising and the number of police officers was decreasing. To us, that shows an ability to learn and lead rather than stubbornly stand by a position.

Thao is our first choice for Oakland mayor, and we think that she would move the city forward.

Loren Taylor. Photo: Courtesy the candidate  

Second choice: Loren Taylor
Most observers have current District 6 City Councilmember Loren Taylor and Thao as the leading candidates in the mayor's race. Taylor, elected four years ago, represents much of East Oakland including the Eastmont, Maxwell Park, and Millsmont neighborhoods. He stated in his endorsement questionnaire that he's running for mayor to be a leader who unites communities to fulfill Oakland's potential. He stated he would focus on results.

Taylor is supportive of harm reduction approaches to the drug crisis, including supervised consumption sites. (Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles.) Taylor agreed with the governor that the city must prepare for any pilot program with community partnerships, such as a nonprofit, and comprehensive plans for siting. That said, Alameda County would need to provide much of the funding, as it's the provider of public health services in the city.

On LGBTQ issues, Taylor stated that he would direct staff to apply for grants that could secure sustainable funding for critical nonprofits like the LGBTQ center, as well as direct grants allocated by the city through the two-year budgeting process. He would also guide staff to integrate LGBTQ community considerations and needs into other funding streams, such as the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth and the Department of Violence Prevention. Like Thao, Taylor would prefer to see a single Oakland Pride event and hopes that can be achieved next year. Taylor also committed to having a dedicated liaison who will serve the LGBTQ community.

Taylor supports Armstrong, the police chief, and stated that he has done a good job with the resources he has. "We can be compassionate and focused on addressing root causes of crime while also supporting the good officers whose job it is to keep our community safe, and hold problematic officers accountable should there be a violation of constitutional policing practices," he stated.

Overall, Taylor understands the city and would be a good mayor.

Ignacio De La Fuente. Photo: Courtesy the candidate  

Third choice: Ignacio De La Fuente
Ignacio De La Fuente is a blast from the past. A former longtime City Council member and president of the body, he may not be as progressive as Thao and Taylor, but he has long been an ally to the LGBTQ community, dating back to his time as a union leader and when it was more risky to do so as an elected official. He stated in his endorsement questionnaire that he championed LGBTQ Oaklanders being appointed to boards and commissions, and hired LGBTQ people.

De La Fuente is a supporter of Covenant House, which provides shelter to homeless youth, including queer young people, and would continue that support so that it could continue to secure funding for its programs. "I am well aware that 40% of the homeless youth population identifies as LGBTQ," he wrote, adding that trans youth are often forced onto the street and become victims of violence. "The rates of violence against trans women is disgusting and again, I would work with LGBTQ leaders and agencies to address this problem," he stated.

De La Fuente stated that he would work with public and private sectors to build more affordable housing "and prioritize the improvement of basic city services that will allow the city and builders to make the progress that our community so desperately needs." He noted that when he was a councilmember, the city built much affordable housing in his District 5, which includes Fruitvale. He stated that as mayor, he would work with the city's Adult and Aging Services to develop a firm grasp on the needs of LGBTQ seniors.

Public safety is De La Fuente's top priority and he, too, supports the current police chief. He would increase the number of police officers to a minimum of 800. "Yes, there is funding in the city budget for these academies, but it is a matter of managing the budget to prioritize the academies and I am willing to do that to make this a reality," he stated. That obviously would take time, but there is a real issue of the city not having enough police officers as they retire or leave the force faster than new recruits can begin work. Oakland earlier this month recorded its 100th homicide of 2022; there were 124 in 2021.

De La Fuente has the experience in city government to be an effective mayor.

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