The Oakland mayor's race in 2014 could be the most competitive in recent memory now that Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan has decided to enter the contest. Kaplan's announcement late last week means there are now seven candidates who have a shot at winning in November: Kaplan, Mayor Jean Quan, Councilmember Libby Schaaf, university professor Joe Tuman, civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, City Auditor Courtney Ruby, and Port Commissioner Bryan Parker.
Kaplan's entrance into the race also gives both progressives and moderates plenty of choices to be excited about. Kaplan, along with Siegel, should help draw progressives to the polls, while Quan still enjoys the support of organized labor. As for Schaaf, she has crossover appeal among progressives and moderates, while Tuman, Ruby, and Parker promise to generate excitement among centrist voters, as well as among some liberals.
Kaplan's candidacy also could short-circuit attempts by other candidates to launch an Anyone-But-Quan campaign — as Kaplan and Quan (and, to a lesser extent, Tuman) did four years ago with their successful Anyone-But-Don (Perata, that is) effort. With ranked choice voting, no mayoral candidate this year is going to receive enough first-place votes to win, and so Kaplan and Siegel, especially, are going to need Quan's liberal supporters to list them second or third on their ballots to have a shot at coming out on top. As such, they can't afford to anger Quan voters by launching overly negative attacks on her. (Schaaf and Tuman may face much the same issue with hills voters who still support Quan based on her record as a city council and school board member representing that area.)
Kaplan, who has run two citywide campaigns under ranked choice voting, seems to understand this dynamic. In 2010, she saw first-hand how forming an alliance with another candidate — as she did with Quan — can lead to success on Election Day. During that campaign, both Kaplan and Quan urged their supporters to list each other second on their ballots. And it was Kaplan voters who ultimately rocketed Quan to victory over Perata.
Not surprisingly, during her official announcement last week, Kaplan attempted to walk a fine line between differentiating herself from the mayor and being too critical. At one point, she alluded to Quan's record by saying that she believes the city has been "ungoverned," but then indicated that she may not go much further than that in her critique. "Frankly, if anybody out there is a supporter of any of the other candidates, my message to them is not that they're wrong," Kaplan said, as journalist Steven Tavares reported on our website. "I respectfully ask that they vote for me as their second choice."
Kaplan, Quan, and Schaaf also appear to realize that they likely will need some combination of support from progressive and moderate voters to win in a city that appears to be nearly evenly divided politically. Kaplan, Quan, and Schaaf, for example, are all advocating to add at least 150 officers to the Oakland Police Department, bringing the total number of officers on the force to at least 800 — and staking out a position that is sure to please moderate, pro-law-and-order centrists. (Siegel is the only top-tier candidate in the race who maintains that OPD can function effectively with about 700 officers; it has about 650 right now.) Kaplan also apparently has mended fences with the Oakland police union, which had strongly opposed her in the past, while Schaaf is pushing for a rainy-day fund that promises to be popular among fiscal conservatives.
At the same time, Quan and Kaplan are also advocating for more affordable housing, while Schaaf and Kaplan want ethics reform — two issues that have traditionally been popular among liberal Oakland voters. When I asked Kaplan last week why progressive voters should support her candidacy, she noted that she adamantly opposes youth curfews, supports community policing, and wants to improve OPD's relationship with city residents. "When Oakland had over eight hundred police officers [in 2009 and 2010], not only did crime go down, we also were able to deploy community policing ... which improved community-police relations," she said, adding that an understaffed police force can lead to other problems as well. "Having overworked, exhausted, stressed-out officers is bad for everyone involved."
Another key issue that could cross political lines in this year's mayor's race is the fate of Oakland's sports teams. Earlier this year, Quan appeared to have a leg up on this issue thanks to both the Coliseum City project, which would include a new home for the Oakland Raiders, and a proposal by city business leaders to build a new waterfront ballpark for the A's. But the departure of City Administrator Fred Blackwell, who was leading the Coliseum City effort, represented a significant setback for the mayor, and she continues to have a poor relationship with the A's ownership.
Kaplan, by contrast, helped broker a pending deal to extend the A's' lease at the Coliseum for another ten years, and team co-owner Lew Wolff is now openly praising her, while indicating that he hasn't completely dismissed the idea of building a new ballpark in Oakland, either. "We are very appreciative of her intelligence and her desire to get things done," Wolff told the San Francisco Chronicle, referring to Kaplan. "It's really wonderful dealing with someone who understands what both sides are trying to accomplish."
Over the past several months, several polls have shown that Kaplan would be a frontrunner in the mayor's race. It's also clear that she will be a formidable candidate. But it's still early, and with so many top-tier candidates in the race, 2014 may produce one of the best mayoral contests we've ever seen.