Update, 5:30 p.m. What could the crash mean for Mayor Jean Quan’s re-election campaign?
“On the one hand it seems like a relatively minor issue,” Corey Cook, associate professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, told KQED’s Mina Kim today. “But it came up (last) week that she was caught on camera driving, on her cell phone, and had sort of admitted to it and said she wouldn’t do it again. And then another picture emerged of her having done it.
“And so what’s at stake here is very much her credibility. There’s a lot of different words used in Oakland — “Quanfusion” is the one that you here bandied about a bit. People say there’s a lot of turnover, there’s inconsistency out of the mayor. Her detractors have said she says one thing and does something else…. So I think while this is a sort of minor flap that otherwise wouldn’t get attention, I think … if it fits the broader narrative about the candidate, it becomes a bigger issue. Her opponents see this as part and parcel of how she’s governed the city.”
Last week, City Council member Rebecca Kaplan joined 15 other candidates vying to unseat Quan. A November poll found that Kaplan would be formidable, in a field that includes Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, political science professor Joe Tuman and attorney Dan Siegal.
Quan said last week, after Kaplan entered the race, that she’s eager to run on her record. Since she came into office, the city’s crime rate has declined, the economy has turned around by many indicators and the employment rate has improved, Cook says.
“There are a lot of good things to point to in Oakland, and at the same time she’s faced challenges,” Cook said. “There’s been a lot of turnover in the administration among city managers and among the police. She does certainly not have much support among public safety officers.”
At a press conference this morning, Quan’s aides said that in the future they will shuffle around staff to drive her to events.
Update, 1:10 p.m. The plot thickens. The Oakland Tribune has talked to a witness who says it was the other driver who ran the red light, not Quan. OPD also fingered the other driver as the culprit, contrary to the accounts of two other witnesses and the driver herself, all of whom said it was Quan who ran the red. The latest from the Trib:
Shawn Vasquez, a 26-year-old Downtown Oakland security guard, watched the mayor’s Monday news conference about the previous day’s collision and then gave a very different account from other witnesses interviewed at the scene.
Vasquez said he was sitting in his car waiting for his cousin outside a corner store at 26th and Market streets in West Oakland when the accident unfolded in front of him.
“[The mayor] was going through a yellow light, and the other girl was going through a red light,” he said. Vasquez, however, said that Quan did not slow down as she approached the yellow light.
Vasquez also refuted witness accounts that Quan was talking on her cell phone at the time of the crash, just like she had been caught doing recently in footage aired last week by KRON-4, “She didn’t have her phone in her hand at all,” he said.
Not only was Quan not to blame for the collision, Vasquez said, but she (was) the victim of taunts from nearby residents, some of whom yelled at her about the Oakland Raiders and other issues unrelated to the crash.
“The neighbors came out and started cursing at the mayor, calling her a bunch of names and stuff,” Vasquez said. “I took her under my wing. People were getting aggressive. I escorted her back to her car.”
Update, 10:45 a.m.:
Quan spoke for a few minutes to the press this morning. Contrary to several witnesses’ accounts, she said she did “not believe” she ran a red light, but said she will wait for police to determine officially who was at fault in the accident. She was also adamant that she was not using her cell phone at the time of the accident.
“I want to say very clearly, I was not on my phone. My phone records will show that.”
She said she did not know why several witnesses said she appeared to be distracted and not paying attention when the accident occurred, saying there’s been a lot of “media hype” around the incident.
Here’s the full press conference:
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was involved in a minor traffic collision Sunday. But this is Mayor Quan we’re talking about, a public official for whom every event appears to have the potential to snowball into a political liability. And so it was last evening. The Oakland Police Department, according to the Oakland Tribune, says a 36-year-old Oakland woman ran a red light, hitting the left rear of the city-leased Lexus SUV that Quan was driving at 26th and Market streets at 5:39 p.m.. Quan was uninjured, but the woman told the Trib she and a 14-year-old boy also in the car were headed to the hospital to be examined. (Another report says they never went.)
However, the Chronicle identifies the woman as Lakisha Renee Lovely, who said it was Quan who ran the red light while using her cell phone.
“I think she’s being very irresponsible,” she told the paper.
In the Tribune story, a bystander also says the accident was Quan’s fault:
Margarett Randel … said she was walking to a store near her home at 26th and Market Street and saw Quan looking down as she ran the red light.
“I was outside when it happened. I seen the whole thing,” said Randel. “Mayor Quan passed right through the red light. She wasn’t looking where she was going. She was looking down.”
Randel did not say if she believed Quan was using a cellphone at the time.
And yet another witness, talking to NBC Bay Area, said it was Quan who ran the red light:
“I don’t know if she had been distracted or not, but she blatantly hit the car,” Thalis Ealy said. “She ran through the light … she ran a red light.”
OPD’s traffic division will investigate the collision, and police say there is a surveillance video from a grocery store that captured the accident. KRON 4 and the Oakland Tribune are reporting that Quan was cited in 2013 for running a red light in Fremont. Quan said at a news conference today that the violation was due to a rolling right turn at an intersection, caught by a red-light camera.
This morning, Quan spokesman Sean Maher sent us a statement from the mayor, who says it was the other vehicle that struck her car, but does not mention whether she ran a red light or not:
“Thanks to all who have sent messages of concern. This evening I was driving between two community events in West Oakland when another vehicle struck my left-rear tire. I immediately pulled over and checked to make sure no one was hurt: it appeared everyone was all right and their wellbeing was my first priority. Police are investigating what led to the collision and I’m going to let them do their job and report out the details. I was not using my phone at the time of the collision; I will be submitting my phone records to the investigators, which will support that. I’m grateful that no one has been reported injured. Please stay safe out there and look out for one another.”
(This is the exact same statement tweeted out in segments from Quan’s Twitter account last night, by the way.)
KRON 4 spoke to Quan after the accident. “If you look at my car you can see she hit me,” Quan told reporter Scott Rates. She also showed Rates her cell phone log, which indicated she hadn’t been on a call at the time of the accident.
Reading your phone does not show up on phone logs. Time to look deeper!
— Stanley Roberts (@SRobertsKRON4) June 9, 2014
Roberts last week featured Quan in his People Behaving Badly segment for being caught twice using her cell phone while driving.
Here are photos of Quan in her car on the phone, sent in to Roberts by two different people:
Here’s the segment, in which Quan spoke to Roberts.
“Both of my cars have that automatic call, handless call feature,” she said. “So who knows. All I know is I try not to hold my phone in the hand because both my Prius and the city car have this feature where I get in the car it rings in the car.
“I work like 24-7,” she said. “I go to a lot of meetings and go to a lot of different events, so … I start to think about maybe I really need a driver. Because I’m working so long, it’s very easy unconsciously to do things like that. But you’ve caught me twice, are you following me around?”
She later said that being caught was a “good reminder that we all need to be safe,” and that she was “chastened and apologetic and will do my best to try to meet both of my commitments.”
Roberts asked her if she would refrain from using her cell phone while driving from now on.
“I’m going to try not to,” Quan said.
Quan, of course, is caught in a humdinger of a re-election battle. One month ago a poll showed the mayor coming in first by 6 points under Oakland’s ranked-choice voting system. However, the poll did not include Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who entered the race last week. Kaplan finished first in a November poll by the same group.