Mayor Jean Quan faces serious challengers to her reelection this year. Polls from last month have her in third place with the support of 10% of those polled. Councilmember Libby Schaaf is in second with 16% and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan at 18% despite the fact that Kaplan has no intention to run. A plurality of voters are still undecided however, and the other candidates are beginning to raise money and cultivate name recognition. Oakland Tech students were the first to bring all the challengers together for a city hall panel last Saturday the 22nd. The primary issue of the race is shaping up to be public safety, how to combat the crime problem and how to pay for it.
Though there are officially 16 candidates, not all made themselves available for contact and not all invited showed up. Here’s a quick list of the six candidates that participated on the panel (not including Mayor Quan):
No one emerged as a clear audience favorite. Schaaf and Parker managed to each get applauses and Courtney Ruby was certainly stirring in her rabble rousing. Tuman made the boldest attacks on Quan’s performance, McCullough’s delivery was compelling even if what he was saying seemed to grate against the popular sentiments held by Oaklanders. Siegel’s politics excited this radical reporter the most but his dour presence did not promise political triumph.
Almost all the candidates, including the Mayor, pledged to hire more police. Schaaf emphasized community policing as a way of repairing OPD’s relationship with the public. Parker also proposed sensitivity training for police to undo a history of mistreatment.Many candidates focused on police retention as a means of saving money and sustaining consistency in beats. Tuman advocated for programs that would encourage local students to join the force and stay in Oakland like housing loans. Most candidates seemed to endorse Quan’s Ceasefire program and her efforts to economically support young people as a means of stemming crime.
Ruby and McCullough were the staunchest advocates of empowering OPD with more autonomy and funding. “I don’t believe the department has a problem with acting unethically,” said McCullough, “they have a problem with perception and scapegoating.” Ruby repeatedly emphasized OPD’s need for “leadership, leadership, leadership,” explaining that until we are able to retain a fit Chief of Police, OPD will suffer.
Siegel was the only candidate to argue against growing OPD. He argued instead for decentralizing and reorganizing the department, civilianizing every job without a gun, and instituting a zero-tolerance policy for misconduct. “OPD is costing us millions in settlements over misconduct,” said Siegel. “We need to stop gang injunctions, stop profiling, stop surveilling and hire a police force that looks like Oakland.”
There was much dispute over the crime data itself. Quan trumpeted a decrease in the murder and general violent crime rates over her term in office. Tuman insisted that fluctuations over the span of a year are meaningless in terms of real crime trends. A member of the audience claimed that Quan was lying about the statistics she reported, to many nodding heads.
When asked about a long term crime strategy, Parker, Schaaf and Quan emphasized the importance of youth support and education. Tuman emphasized economic development and prosperity, pledging to make Oakland business friendly. Siegel admonished against a punitive legal system, arguing that funding for law enforcement and imprisonment would be better spent on education and social welfare.
Ruby and McCullough took up the opposition on this chicken and egg debate. “We can’t thrive until our basic security needs are met,” said Ruby, “it’s the first priority, everything else follows.” McCullough stated simply, “It would be nice to solve all the problems of inequality and education in order to solve crime, but what if we can’t? In the meantime we’re just going to let crime happen?”
When the candidates were asked how they planned to unite Oakland, Parker, Ruby and McCullough again returned to public safety. Tuman focused on cultural clashes, pledging to “model civil discussion of our [racial and class] differences.” Others echoed the sentiment of “celebrating diversity.” Siegel focused on economic inequality, advocating for Oakland to raise its minimum wage and stop subsidizing big corporations in order to invest in small local businesses.
Unless Rebecca Kaplan decides to enter into the race, Schaaf’s name recognition and generally uncontroversial record make her the most formidable threat to Quan. However, there is plenty of time for Parker, Tuman and Siegel to develop strong campaigns.