A New Face in the Mayor’s Race?

Oakland Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan is seriously considering a run, and although she's a relative newcomer, she has a shot at winning.

For months, there has been widespread speculation that several candidates would jump into the Oakland mayor’s race to challenge ex-state Senator Don Perata and city Councilwoman Jean Quan. But so far, the only other candidates to announce have been relative unknowns. But then, late last week, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan told the Oakland Tribune that she’s “seriously” considering a run. And if she does, she could shake up the race.

The reason has to do with Oakland’s new voting format — ranked choice voting. It might help Kaplan turn what many consider to be a liability — her relative inexperience — into an advantage. That’s because the popular, energetic newcomer is so new that she has not had a chance to create political enemies. Instead, people seem to genuinely like her. And that should help her garner plenty of second-place votes in the November election, possibly giving her the upper hand.

In fact, this year’s election may not be like any other in Oakland’s history. In 2010, it might not come down to who gets the most first-place votes. Instead, the advantage may go to the candidate who picks up the most second-place choices. And that promises to be good news for Kaplan, because she could be the de facto second choice for both Perata and Quan supporters. The reason is that Perata backers don’t appear to like Quan, and Quan supporters definitely don’t like Perata. And so when those voters rank their choices, both groups may end up selecting Kaplan as their second pick for mayor.

For Kaplan to win, she will still have to receive more first-place votes than Perata or Quan, but she only will need to beat one of them. And if she does, all bets are off. The reason is that in a three- or four-person race, the candidate who gets the fewest votes in a ranked-choice election is eliminated. Then the second choices of the people who voted for that candidate become first-place votes for the remaining candidates.

Clearly, Kaplan’s biggest hurdle will be getting more first-places in the initial rounds of balloting than either Perata or Quan. But that may not be such a long shot. The former Green Party member likely will do well among environmentalists, progressives, and younger voters, and she could even pick up a lot of votes from black residents. Geoffrey Pete, vice chair of the Oakland Black Caucus, told the Tribune that if Mayor Ron Dellums decides not to run for reelection, Kaplan might win over a lot of the mayor’s supporters.

Kaplan also has a history of attracting voters from across the city. In fact, that’s how she won the at-large council seat in 2008. In the November election of that year, she garnered a total of 84,531 votes. That turned out to be more than double the votes — 42,108 — that Dellums received when he won the mayor’s office two years earlier. Although Kaplan’s vote totals came from a November election when more voters go to the polls, while Dellums’ were in a June primary, Kaplan can still say that more Oakland voters have voted for her than they did for the current mayor.

More Money in Politics Rejected

Kaplan also may benefit from an Oakland Public Ethics Commission vote late last week against a proposal to double the contribution and expenditure limits in city election campaigns. The proposal came from City Attorney John Russo, who recommended raising the individual donation limit from $700 to $1,400, and the total money a candidate can spend on the mayor’s race this year from $379,000 to $758,000.

Russo’s plan was generally viewed as being favorable to Perata because the former state senator is a legendary fund-raiser with a stable of deep-pocketed donors. Perata also has burned through a lot of money on expensive consultants, and so if the expenditure ceiling isn’t raised, he’ll have to depend on so-called “independent” committees to help him. Quan, by contrast, is running a grassroots campaign, and so doubling the donation and expenditure limits likely won’t benefit her.

As for Kaplan, she attracted a large number of small donations from throughout the region in the last election, and only a small fraction of her contributors — just 11 percent in the June 2008 primary — donated the then-maximum of $600. She also didn’t come anywhere close to reaching the city’s campaign expenditure limit. In other words, doubling the caps likely won’t help her either.

Three-Dot Roundup

Russo also is recommending that the city refund some parking tickets after operating a double-standard for parking violations last year. However, his plan appears to fall short because it only calls for refunds for tickets issued during a two-week period, while the city appears to have ticketed people unfairly for more than three months. … The widespread demonstrations last week in favor of higher education spending turned out to be mostly peaceful. The only tense moment came when protesters shut down Interstate 880 in Oakland. … The Oakland teachers’ union is threatening a one-day strike on March 24 because the school board, which is facing a huge budget deficit next year, has proposed no raises. … UC Berkeley has decided to move the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive to a former campus printing facility in downtown Berkeley. … State Attorney General Jerry Brown finally announced his candidacy for governor. … And Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill by Berkeley Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner that will provide an incentive for more homeowners and businesses to install solar panels.


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