By Jon Brooks, Cy Musiker and Bay City News
Oakland’s mayoral race is underway after a crowded debate Thursday night. About 400 people packed Temple Sinai to watch incumbent Mayor Jean Quan and eight challengers discuss an issue much on the mind of many residents: public safety.
Quan is running for re-election despite an administration marked by high crime rates, multiple staff defections and what is considered to be a botched response to the 2011 Occupy Oakland protests. A recent poll found Quan’s approval rating is just 24 percent, with 66 percent disapproving. Despite the mayor’s recent trumpeting of a decrease in crime and her other accomplishments, her poll numbers haven’t budged much since a survey conducted last year.
The candidates running against Quan include:
- Patrick McCullough, hailed as a hero by some after shooting a teen he claimed had been part of a group harassing him at his home after he campaigned against drug dealers in the neighborhood.
- Bryan Parker, a Port of Oakland commissioner and technology executive, who made headlines earlier this year when he led the announced candidates in fundraising at the end of 2013.
- Courtney Ruby is the Oakland city auditor. Ruby has been the auditor since 2007 and won a second four-year term in 2010. Last year, Ruby issued a highly critical report on council members Larry Reid and Desley Brooks, alleging, among other things, they had interfered with the bidding process for redevelopment plans at the former Oakland Army Base.
- Libby Schaaf is is an Oakland City Councilwoman running for mayor after representing District 4, which includes much of the Oakland hills, since 2011. An outspoken public safety advocate, Schaaf recently introduced legislation in the City Council to crack down on aggressive driving in order to better protect bicyclists and pedestrians.
- Nancy Sidebotham was appointed by former Mayor Ron Dellums to the Community Policing Advisory Board between 2009 and 2012.
- Dan Siegel, a civil rights attorney and former legal advisor to Quan, is running on a platform of increasing the minimum wage and improving education and city infrastructure. Siegel quit his job with the administration in 2011 after disagreeing with the mayor’s response to Occupy Oakland.
- Joe Tuman, who came in fourth in the mayor’s race in 2010, is a longtime professor at San Francisco State University, where he currently chairs the communications department.
Last night, Tuman seemed to capture the mood in the city when he said, “You’ll know it’s safe when you don’t have to have public forums on public safety.”
Said Libby Schaaf: “I reject that crime is a tax you have to pay to live in Oakland.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “every candidate had a different plan to make Oakland residents feel safer.”
Joe Tuman, a political science professor, said the city should have 300 more police officers than the 611 it has now, while Dan Siegel, a civil rights attorney and activist, said the city should have 40 fewer.
Courtney Ruby, the city’s auditor, said that as mayor she would hire a top-tier police chief to improve morale and strategically fight crime.
Others, like Jason Anderson, a Green Party candidate, said that as mayor he wouldn’t be afraid to confront problem police officers. Bryan Parker, a businessman and port commissioner, suggested police need to have less oversight and more discretion.
“We have too many people watching our officers,” Parker said. “We have internal affairs, we have cameras, we have watchers watching the watchers.” Full story
And from KQED news associate Oakland Local:
Tuman estimated the number of cops needed to keep Oakland safe (is) 900, while Dan Siegel … offered a more modest estimate of 650-700 officers. “It’s not a question of how many, but how smartly we use them,” he said. Siegel’s plan would assign nine officers and two detective to 60 beats across the city. He says the arrangement will help foster better understanding and knowledge of each specific neighborhood.
Others were deeply critical of Quan’s leadership over the last three years.
City Auditor Courtney Ruby said Oakland has a “leadership deficit” and added, “As auditor, I look at the hard numbers, not excuses.”
Jason “Shake” Anderson, a Green Party candidate and member of the Occupy Oakland movement, called Quan’s administration “dysfunctional” following the the departure of yet another top city official this week. “Right now, we’re failing at government.”
In fact, three of the first four candidates to open the nearly three-hour forum took direct shots at Quan, who often appeared to be staring blankly with arms crossed.
Oakland activist Nancy Sidebotham said Oakland’s political machine has run the mayor’s office for the past three decades. “I’m running for mayor because I’m angry. I want change,” she said.
Quan reacted to the comments by saying she takes every homicide personally. “Crime is trending down. It might not be enough, but it’s a beginning.” Quan later deflected suggestions her administration should hold off hiring a permanent police chief until after the election. She says reforms required in the police department’s negotiated settlement agreement will be fulfilled much sooner with a new chief.
Councilmember Libby Schaaf said compliance with the consent decree will only improve the OPD and potentially help reduce crime. Other cities like Los Angeles, said Schaaf, were able to greatly lower crime in the midst of federal oversight. Crime, she noted, is not an “urban tax for living in Oakland.” Full story
Reaction from the audience was typically mixed.
“For me, it’s all about increasing officers, and increasing transparency in the city, so that way we can see what’s going on in the city,” said Steve Berly. “It’s less of an opaque box.”
Earl Hamlin confirmed policing is the biggest issue for most Oaklanders. “It starts with a new police chief, and everyone wants a good one and a great one.”
“I think a lot of the candidates had wonderful ideas,” said Vanessa Winegan. “(Like) the police chief being able to do his job without being micro-managed.”
Said Doug Broom: “I was kind of surprised to find that so many of our police team does not live here in the city. It would be nice if they did, and they would be more in touch with the residents and not be kind of detached.”
Emma Laz-Hirsch said she wasn’t “completely impressed. I didn’t hear many compelling arguments, many clear plans.”
At least three more mayoral debates are scheduled in the next six weeks.
To date, Parker has led the field in fundraising with $175,082 as of Dec. 31, followed by Tuman with $145,350, Quan with $129,494 and Schaaf with $123,157.