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COMMENTARY: Will Progressive Victories Mean a More Democratic, Inclusive Oakland?

The results were a significant defeat for the moderate, pro-big-business regime of outgoing Mayor Libby Schaaf, her corporate backers and the candidates she groomed and promoted as her legacy. The failure of Schaaf-backed candidates may have had a lot to do with the starkness of that legacy.

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Newly elected local leaders, pictured from left: Sheng Thao, Mayor of Oakland; Nikki Fortunato Bas, District 2 Oakland City Councilmember; Janani Ramachandran, District 4, Oakland City Councilmember; Kevin Jenkins, District 6, Oakland City Councilmember; Valarie Bachelor, District 6 Oakland Board of Education; Pamela Price, Alameda County District Attorney.
Newly elected local leaders, pictured from left: Sheng Thao, Mayor of Oakland; Nikki Fortunato Bas, District 2 Oakland City Councilmember; Janani Ramachandran, District 4, Oakland City Councilmember; Kevin Jenkins, District 6, Oakland City Councilmember; Valarie Bachelor, District 6 Oakland Board of Education; Pamela Price, Alameda County District Attorney.

By Ken Epstein

The sweep of progressive-leaning local candidates in November’s elections potentially means a seismic shift toward democratic and egalitarian policies in Oakland as the city seeks to grapple with ballooning homelessness, garbage-filled streets, violent crime, a police department still unable to emerge from federal court oversight, and lack of commitment to building housing that most Oaklanders can afford.

At the same time, the results were a significant defeat for the moderate, pro-big-business regime of outgoing Mayor Libby Schaaf, her corporate backers and the candidates she groomed and promoted as her legacy.

In part, the failure of Schaaf-backed candidates may have had a lot to do with the starkness of that legacy.

While failing to address city needs, Schaaf served as a prominent cheerleader for Oakland A’s owner John Fisher’s exclusive residential development at Howard Terminal alongside a new baseball stadium.

In opposition to many residents, she also backed the closing of many more neighborhood schools, the growth of charter schools, and blocked efforts for greater racial equity in construction in the awarding of city contracts.

Schaaf did not intervene to help stop the closure of Mills College, the historic Oakland-based women’s institution, which would have benefitted from some of the energy she spent leading the charge for the A’s real estate project.

The national political showdown between Republicans and Democrats may also have impacted the results, as progressives and mainstream Democrats across the country joined forces to slow down the so-called Red Wave to a trickle.

While this national energy likely helped fuel Oakland’s progressive tide, the results for city races and the closely watched Alameda County District Attorney’s race may count as among the most important local progressive victories in the country.

According to civil rights attorney Walter Riley, who worked with other local leaders and activists during the election to mobilize progressive voters, that work of mobilizing the community will continue.

“This election was about a vision for Oakland, affordable housing, housing the unhoused, stopping closure of predominately Black and Brown schools, cleaning up the city, crime, and criminal justice,” he said. “The entrenched opposition will be divisive, (and) we will build unity.”

The final results of the election were apparently posted on Monday by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. However, before the election is official, the results must still be audited by the registrar and certified by the Oakland City Council.

Election results:

Sheng Thao, Mayor of Oakland

Sheng Thao, Mayor of Oakland

Sheng Thao Is Oakland’s Next Mayor

City Councilmember Sheng Thao on Nov. 8 squeaked out a victory in her race with Councilmember Loren Taylor, who was backed by Mayor Schaaf. The race was widely seen as a referendum on Schaaf’s eight years as mayor.

Thao won 50.30% of the final vote, compared with Taylor’s 49.70%, beating him by 682 votes out of a total of 113,636 ballots cast.

In a statement released Monday, Mayor-elect Thao said, “I’m also very humbled to be here. Fifteen years ago, I was living in my car with my baby. I’ve been through a lot to get to this moment.”

One of her top priorities is public safety. “That involves doubling down on the violence prevention programs that we know reduce violent crime, addressing root causes of crime by working to create more jobs and educational opportunities, filling vacancies in our police department with experienced and diverse officers, providing real support for victims, and redoubling our efforts to get guns off our streets,” she said.

Thao also pledged to “make Oakland the most proactive city in California on housing and homelessness. We’re going to have an aggressive housing policy that protects renters, fights displacement, and treats our unhoused with the dignity they deserve.”

Pamela Price, Alameda County District Attorney

Pamela Price, Alameda County District Attorney

Pamela Price Will Be Alameda County District Attorney

The election of civil rights attorney Pamela Price as the first Black District Attorney broke the chain of succession of hand-picked white district attorneys who maintained the inequitable criminal justice system that has become increasingly out of touch with county residents in the last decade.

Price’s victory, which will have an impact on the push for criminal justice reform nationwide, will be closely watched by both reform advocates and well-funded supporters of the status quo.

In an email to supporters after the election, Price wrote, “We knew this election was going to be an exclamation point in history for Alameda County. The DA’s office has been an untouched tower of legacy appointed and unchallenged District Attorneys.”

“For the last 10 years, the DA’s office has stood in the way of the progressive reforms ushered in by our California Legislature and endorsed by Alameda County voters,” wrote Price, who was described by the S.F. Chronicle as a “staunch reform advocate.”

Price was behind early in the race but ultimately won 53.14% of the vote, to Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Wiley’s 46.86%.

Valarie Bachelor, District 6 Oakland Board of Education

Valarie Bachelor, District 6 Oakland Board of Education

Progressive Majority Flips School Board

For the first time in almost two decades Oakland will have a school board that is opposed to charter school expansion and willing to stand up to state pressure to close neighborhood schools.

The two progressive winners of the Oakland Board of Education elections, educator Jennifer Brouhard and union organizer Valarie Bachelor, will join Boardmembers Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams to form a majority on the seven-member board against closings schools.

Brouhard, District 2 board member, won 63.89% of the vote. She is joined by Bachelor, District 6 board member, who received 54.23% of the vote.

In the District 4 school board, two progressive candidates split the vote, losing to Nick Resnick, who received 51.25% of the vote.

Progressive-Leaning Candidates Win City Council Races

With victories in three races, the City Council’s progressive alliance is likely to absorb fresh energy and new ideas and may be even stronger than it was in the past four years, according to several observers.

Nikki Fortunato Bas, Oakland City Councilmember for District 2, won reelection with 67.79% of the vote. Attorney Janani Ramachandran won in District 4 with 68.47% of the vote, and Kevin Jenkins won in District 6 with 84.22% of the vote.

Lena Tam, Elected New Supervisor of District 3

Lena Tam, Elected New Supervisor of District 3

Lena Tam Elected New Supervisor of District 3

Lena Tam, former vice mayor for the City of Alameda, was elected to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to serve District 3. She garnered 52.10% of the vote to Kaplan’s 47.90%. Tam had the backing of all three mayors of the cities in the district — San Leandro’s Pauline Cutter, City of Alameda’s Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf — as well as the sitting members of the board.

She is replacing Wilma Chan who died last year after she was hit by a car while walking her dog in Alameda.

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Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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