Oakland's District Four includes some of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, including Montclair, Oakmore, and Piedmont Pines. The district's elite reputation has posed something of a challenge for its current representative, City Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who is running for mayor, with The New York Times branding her as the candidate representing the "city's wealthy old guard, in leafy Oakland Hills."
In reality, the district is quite diverse, extending from the upper-income enclaves of the hills to more middle-income areas of Maxwell Park, Allendale, and the Dimond district (where Schaaf lives). And in the race to replace Schaaf, voters have two very different options — a moderate candidate whose politics may in fact resonate with the city's so-called "wealthy old guard" or a more progressive candidate whose ideologies generally align with the liberal politics of the majority of the city.
Leading the polls is the more conservative choice, Jill Broadhurst, who ran for the seat and lost to Schaaf in 2010 and is currently the executive director of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, a nonprofit group that represents landlords. Her competitor is Annie Campbell Washington, who is the current school board member for District Four and who has a long history in Oakland city government. Both candidates live in Montclair and have young children in Oakland public schools.
In two polls released last month, Broadhurst had a sizable lead — earning 60 percent of the votes compared to Campbell Washington's 36 percent in one poll (and 52 percent compared to 37 percent, in another poll) — in ranked-choice voting scenarios. However, a large number of voters are undecided. Schaaf has not endorsed either candidate officially, but has contributed at least $250 to Campbell Washington's campaign and the two are longtime friends.
According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Broadhurst had a slight lead in fundraising, attracting a total of $64,301 in contributions between January and June, while Campbell Washington raised $62,987 during that timeframe. A third District Four candidate, Paul Lim, is unlikely to make a dent in the race (he doesn't have a website and hasn't filed any finance reports).
Campbell Washington attributed her opponent's lead in the polls to name recognition stemming from Broadhurst's 2010 bid for the same council seat in which Broadhurst finished second to Schaaf. And polls aside, if voters familiarize themselves with the two candidates, making a choice should not be difficult, given the fairly substantial differences in their backgrounds and politics (something of a rare phenomenon in Oakland where competing candidates in local races often share a lot of common ground on policy matters).
The two candidates are at odds on a range of topics, including raising the minimum wage, taxes for public safety, affordable housing, and private security patrols.
"I'm definitely more progressive than Jill," said Campbell Washington. "I am the candidate that is going to be thinking about equity in every conversation. The bottom line is I've been serving the public for the past fourteen years, and she's been serving landlords."
Campbell Washington began her career in Oakland government in 2000 as a budget policy analyst and soon transitioned to the office of then-City Manager Robert Bobb. She subsequently served as Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's chief of staff and later as a chief of staff to the city's fire department. In 2011, after Occupy Oakland erupted, Mayor Jean Quan — whose deputy mayor resigned amid the controversy surrounding the city's handling of protesters — recruited Campbell Washington to be her chief of staff.
Then, in 2013, Campbell Washington was appointed to the Oakland school board to finish out the term of Gary Yee, who took the position of acting superintendent of the district. Campbell Washington currently works as an assistant city manager in Emeryville.
Since moving to Oakland twelve years ago, Broadhurst has held board and leadership positions with a number of community organizations, including the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council in District Four, the Oakland Public Library Commission, Keep Oakland Beautiful, Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, and a parent-teacher association. In the private sector, she has held business development and marketing positions in finance and software companies. And she has been advocating for property owners through the rental housing association since 2011.
"I am a community candidate," said Broadhurst. "Residents are clear that they want somebody who comes from the community, who truly will represent them and is willing to have an honest dialogue about the status of the city."
As Broadhurst paints her opponent as a City Hall insider and product of dysfunctional Oakland politics and the troubled Quan administration, Campbell Washington has pushed to cast Broadhurst as an inexperienced candidate whose policy plans lack substance and are out of line with the priorities of residents. Notably, Campbell Washington supports the Lift Up Oakland ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $12.25 while Broadhurst does not. "It's a huge difference between the two of us," said Campbell Washington. "I want to represent the people that I'm serving, and I have not heard a single person who does not support it."
Broadhurst, meanwhile, argues that the proposal will hurt small businesses and force them to lay off workers. She said she would favor a more gradual increase of the minimum wage.
Campbell Washington also supports Measure Z, a parcel tax and parking surcharge ballot measure that would effectively extend the existing Measure Y tax for police, fire, and violence prevention services. The funding is targeted toward improving 911 response times, as well as paying for police personnel, programs for at-risk youths, crime reduction efforts, and more.
Asked about the measure at a recent forum, Broadhurst said she does not support Measure Z, saying that voters — some who have hired private guards in the wake of inadequate policing — are frustrated with the lack of accountability in city spending. The measure, she said, "is not the magic bullet that we're looking for in terms of services and protections for residents. Many residents have gone around and formed their own neighborhood watches or hired patrol services. They're paying out of pocket, and they really have a low viewpoint of city government and the managing of finances."
In an interview, Campbell Washington said, "I am absolutely shocked that she does not support Measure Z. ... If we do not pass Measure Z, we have a $22 million hole in our budget that currently pays for police officers, firefighters, and vital violence prevention programs." She also argued that it's hypocritical for Broadhurst to publicly advocate for an increase in the police force and improved public safety if she opposes Measure Z.
"I don't understand the logic," Campbell Washington said. "I don't think it's fair to promise all of those things to voters if you can't come up with a realistic plan." She also scoffed at Broadhurst's reference to private patrols in her Measure Z response, noting that "there are lots of neighborhoods that can't afford that private security."
Broadhurst later told me that she brought up patrols simply to illustrate how desperate residents are, and said that she would support a tax measure to fund police if it had stricter accountability language.
On the broader topic of private patrols — a hot-button issue in District Four, where an armed guard shot an eighteen-year-old burglary suspect in February — Broadhurst said she is not opposed to armed patrol officers if residents want that protection. Campbell Washington, however, said, "I'm not supportive of armed guards. ... It sets us up for really terrible, terrible consequences."
On housing and development matters, Campbell Washington said she is dedicated to finding continued funding streams for the development of affordable housing — a commitment that Broadhurst has not made. "It's a critical difference in this race this year, because we are faced with lots of people who want to move here to Oakland and [there's a] danger of losing the diversity that we have here in Oakland," Campbell Washington said.
Broadhurst, however, said Oakland has already done a good job in recent years of providing affordable housing and needs to prioritize the development of market-rate units, adding that in District Four, affordable housing is a "non-issue." Broadhurst also defended her position at the rental housing association, saying that she is providing an important service to small property owners — many of whom are immigrants — by helping them navigate Oakland's rent control law and working with landlords "who are struggling with a sometimes fairly punitive process."
The two candidates further diverge on a package of government oversight and transparency reforms put forward by City Councilmember Dan Kalb — one ballot measure that would strengthen Oakland's Public Ethics Commission and another that would establish an independent redistricting commission to draw school board and council district boundaries. Campbell Washington supports both measures.
In a candidate questionnaire published this summer, Broadhurst responded that she supports the concept behind the good-government measures, but wrote that the timing is not good because there are "too many competing dollars." When I asked her for clarification, she said she is in favor of the proposed enhancements of the ethics commission as well as the concept of an independent redistricting process, but she declined to tell me how she would vote on the ballot, saying that decision was "private."
Ultimately, the outcome of the race could reflect the extent to which voters in District Four share the liberal views that tend to dominate the East Bay.
When I asked Campbell Washington if she thought District Four voters would favor a more progressive candidate, she said, "If there are conservative people, they're mostly in District Four, but the bottom line is they're still Oaklanders. They still want to see everyone succeed."
And when I asked Broadhurst if she agreed that her opponent was more progressive than her, she said she wouldn't dispute that characterization, but added, "I'm a liberal, but I understand that we have financial duties as elected officials to the public in managing taxpayer dollars." Plus, Broadhurst said, "I am not out of touch with the district. The polls support that."