Jean Quan has won the Oakland mayor’s race!
What does that mean? Well, first things first. Oakland is the bluest among blue cities. So it makes sense that the mayoral race on Nov. 2 was between three Democrats. But it does get really fascinating beyond that, promise.
Why? Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).
Here are the three candidates:
Don Perata – former Alameda Mayor, Alameda County Supervisor, State Assemblyman, State Senator and, most recently (’04-’08), powerful and entrenched State Senate President Pro Tem (in essence, majority leader). Perata has been hounded for years by allegations of corruption, complete with FBI investigations. He has a long record of bringing pork home to Alameda County, but his overall record is considered… er, slimy by many.
Jean Quan – former Oakland Unified School District board member and current member of the Oakland City Council, a very progressive voice.
Rebecca Kaplan – former AC Transit Director and current member of the Oakland City Council, a very progressive voice.
At the start of the election season, most people thought that Don Perata was an easy lock in this race. He had strong name recognition and a record of bringing money to Oakland. Of course, that record cut both ways, and he was in no way seen as the candidate of choice among the progressive community.
That community, it’s fair to say, was split. And here’s the strange part of Oakland politics if you’re from almost anywhere else in the US. There were two progressive candidates with barely any air between them on the issues. Their only significant differences were a matter of narrative. Jean Quan, a 61-year-old Asian woman with a conservative page-boy haircut vs. Rebecca Kaplan, a 40-year-old Caucasian lesbian.
Now, in the old days (last year, maybe) that would have been a recipe for an easy election night for Don Perata. But something happened in Oakland. This year Oakland rolled out Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).
Here’s a description courtesy of CaliforniaCityNews.org:
CA Watch reports the following on its [IRV] implementation:
“Here’s how it works: In choosing, say, a mayor for Oakland, voters vote for three candidates, ranking them in the order of preference. A candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes wins outright. If that doesn’t happen, the election department’s computers then count up the second-place and third-place votes until a winner emerges. […]
Technically, there are still a few bugs in the system, Alameda County Registrar Dave Macdonald told the Oakland Trib recently. More than 40 years after computers were first used to count votes, ranked-choice voting will slow the tallying to a pace Oakland hasn't seen since horse-and-buggy days. Macdonald told the Trib that meaningful results in the local elections in Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro won’t be available for three days – and perhaps not for a week.”
So tonight, right on sort-of schedule, the results were announced (courtesy of East Bay Express):
Oakland City Councilwoman Jean Quan has won the Oakland mayor's race, defeating ex-state Senator Don Perata, 50.98% to 49.02%.
Update 6:08 p.m.: The results aren't up yet on the registrar's office website. But our reporter Ellen Cushing is at the registrar's office with the results. Quan 53,778 votes to Perata 51,720.
Update 6:19 p.m.: Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan also fell just short of catching Quan. Kaplan had 32,645 votes compared to Quan's 34,958 votes before Kaplan is eliminated in the next-to-last round of ranked choice tabulations. But then when Kaplan is out, Quan slingshots past Perata, picking up 18,820 second- and third-place votes from Kaplan supporters, while Perata only gets 6,390.
The same article goes on to quote Jean Quan as follows:
”My family has lived in Oakland for over 100 years. My parents were poor immigrants. My mother was illiterate and my dad died when I was five. My parents worked in Oakland hotels, restaurants and garment factories. I attended public schools and went to UC Berkeley on a scholarship. As a college student I was founder of Asian American studies and helped organize tutoring programs for students West Oakland and Chinatown, and helped fight redevelopment removal of local residents there, too.” […]
“Come January when I take the oath as Oakland’s first woman mayor, I’ll take office in City Hall 8 blocks from where my great-grandfather took refuge in Oakland after the 1906 Earthquake, 6 blocks from where my mother-in-law and sister worked as garment workers, and 4 blocks from where my father was a hotel cook. I am grateful and humbled by the trust the voters have placed on me as their new Mayor.”
Kaplan had nothing but gracious comments to make about Quan – “I congratulate Mayor-elect Jean Quan on her victory. She ran a tremendous grass roots campaign and reached thousands of voters block-by-block. I look forward to working with Jean to create jobs and make our streets safer by working to restore community policing."
Perata, OTOH, is feeling the sting of a brand new kind of rejection from the voters.
Update 7:10 p.m.: Perata campaign consultant John Whitehurst told the Chronicle that ranked choice voting "is an injustice, and Oakland will pay the price. It's a travesty that a candidate that wins 78 percent of the precincts and leads by more than 11,000 votes (after first-choice votes are counted), with a margin of nearly 10 percent, loses the election. In any other contest it would be a landslide win, not an election loss."
But when you only get 51,720 votes, and the two far more progressive (and less scandal-plagued) candidates between them receive 67,606 votes, there’s something wrong with a system that would send you to the mayor’s office. Progressives in the East Bay have fought long and hard for IRV, and tonight they got to witness its results in all their splendor.