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Why Rebecca Kaplan Would Help the Oakland Mayor's Race

If she chooses to enter the race, she would likely improve the dynamics of the election. Plus, the city council backs away from the DAC.

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Two polls in the last few months showed that a large number of Oakland voters remain undecided about the 2014 mayor's race. But the surveys also revealed that a plurality of residents prefer a candidate who has not yet announced her candidacy for mayor: Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. A poll in December had Kaplan leading Mayor Jean Quan 26 to 20 percent. And another one that came out over the weekend showed Kaplan in the lead with 18 percent, followed by Councilmember Libby Schaaf with 16 percent, and Quan in third place with 10 percent.

Last year, Kaplan told numerous people that she had no plans to run for mayor this year. According to sources, she believed Quan was on her way to reelection, and that she'd have a better chance of winning if she waited to run in 2018. But in recent months, as the polls have shown how vulnerable Quan is, prompting more candidates to jump in the race, Kaplan has changed her stance, and now appears to be undecided.

Kaplan did not return a request for an interview for this report by press time, and the last time I talked to her about her potential candidacy, in January, she declined to comment. But with the November election about eight months away, and with two polls showing Kaplan with a lead, there's a good argument to be made that she should not wait another four years to run for mayor.

But it's not because she would surely win. In fact, it's still much too early to know whether she would. Rather, Kaplan's entrance in the race likely would improve the dynamics of the contest. Currently, the election is shaping up to be a referendum on Quan, which is unfortunate because, while the mayor has made some missteps during the past three years, she is not entirely responsible for all the problems facing the city, many of which are extremely challenging and predate her tenure. Indeed, they may take many years to overcome. Moreover, some people's personal dislike of the mayor appears to be affecting their evaluation of her.

But with Kaplan in the race, there's a good chance that the election will focus more on the many issues facing the city and on which candidate has the best ideas, instead of Quan's perceived missteps. Among the most important issue will be whether Oakland should further cut city services, like parks and libraries, in order to beef up the size of its police department.

Kaplan also would give voters a fuller spectrum of candidates from whom to choose. Right now, civil rights and labor attorney Dan Siegel is the only real progressive in the race, and it's still unclear whether he has the citywide popularity to win. In the latest poll, which was commissioned by Schaaf's campaign, Siegel was in fifth place, with 6 percent, sandwiched between San Francisco State University professor Joe Tuman, who had 8 percent, and Oakland Planning Commissioner Bryan Parker, who had 4 percent.

Moreover, since taking office in 2011, Quan has gradually moved from the left toward the political center in apparent response to criticism leveled at her by moderates and pundits concerning her record on crime. In addition, many liberal activists still have not forgiven her for the police department's harsh crackdown on Occupy Oakland under her watch. As for Schaaf, Tuman, and Parker, they're generally a bit more moderate than the mayor, although Schaaf has moved left over the past year.

Kaplan would provide progressives with another voice in the race. She also has a history of positive campaigning, and thus would likely focus her candidacy on proposals for improving the city, rather than on attacking the mayor, as some of the other candidates have already done. In fact, in 2012, when Kaplan bested Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente by 20 points, she steadfastly refused to engage in negative campaigning despite the fact that he and the Oakland police officers' union attacked her relentlessly.

Schaaf, too, has vowed to run a positive campaign, and if Kaplan gets in the race as well, 2014 could become one of the best issues-oriented election years in city history.

Council Backs Away from the DAC

After the ACLU, privacy activists, and Oakland residents raised numerous concerns about the city's surveillance center, a majority of Oakland councilmembers made clear last week they have no intention of expanding the center and intend to limit it to the Port of Oakland — a reversal from their plan last year and a strong rebuke to the desires of city and port staffers. Councilmembers were clearly uneasy about the potential abuses of the Domain Awareness Center, or the DAC, in light of revelations over the past several months about the NSA spying on US citizens. The council asked city and port staffers to come up with a plan for limiting the DAC's surveillance to the port — as originally proposed in 2009 — and postponed a vote on the issue until at least next week. City officials also acknowledged that the surveillance center was never intended to help fight crime in Oakland.

Massive Oil-By-Rail Plan Put on Hold

The Pittsburg City Council last week agreed to delay a plan to build a giant crude-oil rail terminal in the East Bay. Several environmental groups and city residents had raised numerous concerns as to whether the project would expand the use of dirty tar sands oil from Canada or bring in highly explosive fracked oil from North Dakota. Fracked oil was blamed for several train explosions last fall.

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