When Councilwoman Jean Quan swept into the lead in the Oakland mayor's race last Friday evening, it shocked nearly everyone. But her main rival, ex-state Senator Don Perata has known for a long time that ranked-choice voting posed problems for him. One year ago, he tried to block it from going into effect in this election.
Perata had worked behind the scenes to convince Alameda County officials to put off implementing the voting system. And then his close ally, Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, wrote a letter to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, asking her to block it, too.
It's no wonder. Friday night's results showed that Quan takes full advantage of Perata's inability to attract second- and third-place votes and slingshots by the ex-senator if Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan is eliminated from the race. According to the preliminary results, Quan picks up more than 15,426 second- and third-place votes once Kaplan is out, compared to Perata's measly 5,133 votes.
The surprising numbers revealed for the first time the strength of the "Anybody But Don" movement that emerged this fall. And it showed what a polarizing figure Perata is.
If Perata had had his way last year, Quan and Kaplan might not have run. It was clear that either would have had trouble beating Perata if there were two elections — a traditional primary and then a general election. His legendary fund-raising powers would have allowed him to greatly outspend his rivals, not once, but twice.
But the preliminary results showed that under the new voting system Quan and Kaplan were a formidable tandem. They were backed by differing factions, but it's clear now that big majority of Kaplan supporters preferred Quan to Perata and there's reason to believe that Quan supporters felt the same way about Kaplan.
Earlier this year, Perata's other close ally on the city council, Jane Brunner, also attempted to block ranked-choice voting. But in the end, city and county officials held firm thanks in part to an unequivocal legal opinion from Oakland City Attorney John Russo. Russo reminded the council that Oakland voters had overwhelmingly approved ranked-choice voting in 2006, and so the city was legally obligated to use the system once the Alameda County Registrar of Voters had implemented it.
So even though Perata put out a terse statement expressing disbelief at the "mystery" of ranked-choice voting, it seems clear that the new voting system was hardly a mystery for him. He knew more than a year ago that it might cause him problems this election.