One Saturday earlier this spring, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, I attended, with another 200 or so Oakland activists, a rally for Jean Quan’s mayoral run. The election is still seven months out and Jean has been having house parties for almost as many months, but this was the official kickoff.

I was there as a supporter of Jean’s, and, as such, was prepared to listen to the usual speeches and demands. I knew it would be a good group of people, but I was blown away by size of the crowd and the range of community members in age, race, culture and interests. Besides the wide array of Oaklanders, old buddies of Jean’s and Floyd’s showed up from all over the Bay and beyond to sign up and help out.

Politicians as different as Dick Spees and Sandre Swanson spoke passionately for Jean’s work over the years on issues from reforming schools and saving libraries, to protecting young girls trafficked into the sex trade, to cleaning up drug hot spots.

Neighborhood leaders lined up on the stage to take the microphone and talk about their experience working on issues with Jean while reinforcing the campaign theme, “Taking Oakland back, block by block.” 

This activity went on so long that it ate into the time for the follow-up precinct walk planned for the afternoon. One neighborhood leader who was there, Susan Shawl, expressed what I saw, saying, “I was most impressed with the diversity and quality of the people who gathered…. It felt like ‘community’ with a capital ‘C’.”

The high point for me was the video produced by Jean Quan and Floyd Huen’s daughter, Lailan, documenting Jean’s and their family’s engagement in social change over the decades, starting with the immigrant experience of Jean’s grandparents. The video is titled, “The Family Introduces Jean to the City” and includes Jean as a young, delicate-looking union organizer, the family on the march for various causes, and Jean with her school children constituents.

For any of you who have children old enough to complain about you, you will recognize the significance of this video. It was produced by her dedicated daughter with the help of her brother Will and dad, Floyd. In fact, the whole campaign is a family enterprise. This video can be found on the website. It’s very touching.

I was impressed when Oakland’s Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, after leading a rousing chant for “Street Heat” to win the campaign, handed the microphone back to Floyd, as MC, and asked the audience to acknowledge the somewhat exhausted-looking man and thank him for being such a supportive husband. The crowd jumped to its feet in applause.

Jean finally took to the stage, reporting to us that Floyd reminded her this would be the most important speech of her life, and gave what for Jean was a short speech. Those of us who are familiar with Jean know she has difficulty reducing the level of detail she has at her fingertips (on all of our city’s issues) to pithy sound bites. As a policy wonk and inveterate activist, she wants us to understand what went into the solutions that she and her constituents have devised together to solve the myriad problems we face as a city. But it can get daunting. She will follow the conclusion of one problem into the resolution of the next until your eyes glaze over.

Jean doesn’t express herself in fiery rhetoric or gimmicky responses. She respects her constituents enough to want to give them the whole story when sometimes they just want the Readers’ Digest version. But this speech was different.
Jean recounted her experiences as an activist for tenants, workers and students. She told us that her grandfather worked in a restaurant in Oakland slicing sandwich meat and joked that they ate so much they “thought roast beef was a traditional Chinese American food.”

She told us how hard she had to work to win her first race on the school board and then again on the City Council. The city establishment opposed Jean’s run for the District 4 council seat and outspent her campaign by a large margin, using smear tactics and robocalls. Undeterred, she knocked on the door of every voting household and won.

Jean documented what she saw as Perata’s transgressions against Oakland including the twelve million dollars a year that goes to pay for the Raider deal he orchestrated.

“This money could be going to help our kids,” she explained. Referring possibly to Rebecca Kaplan, who is as yet undeclared, and already-declared candidate Perata, she said, “I’m not a politician on the way up or on the way down,” and reiterated her family’s roots in and activism for, Oakland.

It is common wisdom that she is the underdog (although Jean’s campaign says she has come out on top on recent polls). It is also common wisdom that Jean is the hardest working candidate you’ll ever meet and that you underestimate her and her many dedicated supporters at your peril.

See Oakland Local's coverage of the next mayoral race here.