Oakland Mayor-Elect Quan Vows to Take City Back, Block-by-Block

BY Joanne Elgart Jennings  November 19, 2010 at 7:03 PM EDT

In an interview with the NewsHour’s Spencer Michels in Oakland’s Diamond neighborhood, Oakland Mayor-elect Jean Quan outlines how she wants to revitalize the city.

OAKLAND, Calif. | During the mayoral campaign in Oakland, cynics wondered why anyone would want to be the next mayor. It’s often known as the city across the bay from San Francisco, with severe problems like crime, poverty, racial tensions, troubled schools and unemployment above 17 percent.

Yet 10 candidates vied to replace the current mayor, Ron Dellums, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He has been roundly criticized for being asleep at the switch. The leading candidates vowed to be much more hands-on and visible in this troubled city.

But the new system used for the election garnered as much attention as the candidates and the issues. This was the first year the county used “ranked-choice voting,” which asks voters to name the second- and third-choice candidates in addition to their top one. In the first round of voting, State Sen. Don Perata won the most votes but he didn’t have enough to secure the required majority. After an eight-day vote count, city council member Jean Quan got more than enough second- and third-place votes to overtake Perata and win.

As the dust settles over this upset victory, it’s worth taking a look at the mayor-elect herself. When she is inaugurated in January, she will become the city’s first woman and Asian-American to hold the office. Quan says her family roots in Oakland go back 100 years. Her father died when she was five and her mother, who was illiterate, raised her by working in the city’s hotels, restaurants and garment factories. A product of public schools, Quan was active in the peace movement at University of California, Berkeley, in the 1960s. She got involved in politics as a parent, when she fought to save music programs in the Oakland schools.

Many are looking to her to help heal racial tensions inflicted over the past year between Asian- and African-Americans after a series of high-profile racially motivated assaults and robberies. Quan has a history of including representatives from Oakland’s multi-ethnic community at the table in City Hall. According to the U.S. Census, Oakland is one of America’s most-diverse cities. African-Americans and whites each make up about a third of the city’s population. The final third is made up mostly by Latinos and Asian-Americans.

Quan boasted that she knocked on more doors in more neighborhoods in the city than any other candidate. In campaign videos distributed on YouTube, Quan appears at the wheel of her Toyota Prius, accompanied by three young men rapping about her campaign:

Spencer Michels’ report on Oakland’s use of ranked-choice voting in its unique mayoral race airs Friday on the NewsHour broadcast.