Quan’s performance at center of Oakland mayor race

Among the many issues in the 15-candidate Oakland mayoral election on Nov. 4 is the performance of incumbent Mayor Jean Quan during her four years in office and whether she deserves another term.

Quan acknowledged in an interview that, “I’ve made mistakes” but said she thinks she is “a stronger mayor” now than she was when she took office in January 2011

. Quan said she began her term at “a very tough time” because Oakland faced a large budget deficit and other problems but she thinks she has turned the city around and things are going in the right direction now.

Quan said that among her accomplishments are balancing the city’s budget, reducing the city’s homicide rate to its lowest level in 15 years and helping the Oakland Police Department comply with most of the reforms that were mandated in the 2003 settlement of a police misconduct lawsuit.

Quan, who faced two recall petitions early in her term, said:

“I want to be judged by my results. … I’d like a chance to finish what I started.”

City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan didn’t mention Quan’s name but said she’s running for mayor because she thinks Oakland needs strong leadership and the ability to get things done.

Kaplan, who finished third in the 2010 election with 21 percent of the vote in the first round of voting in the city’s ranked-choice system and is the frontrunner in most pre-election polls, said Oakland has been budgeting for more public services, such as hiring more police officers and dispatchers and improving animal services, than the city has been receiving.

Kaplan said:

“I would fix that immediately.”

City Councilwoman Libby Schaaf criticized Quan for being slow to fill vacant positions in the Police Department, which had its staffing decline from 831 officers six years ago to the low 600s earlier this year:

“My frustration is that the city wouldn’t fill positions that were in the budget. … You have to stay on top of it every day.”

Quan said the number of officers will be increased to 715 on Friday when about 35 cadets graduate from the most recent of a series of police academies the city has held in recent years to boost the staffing level. It will be the first time since 2010 that Oakland has had more than 700 officers, Quan said.

But Schaaf said she doesn’t think the city would have that level of officers without an ordinance she sponsored earlier this year that requires it to fully staff the Police Department and alert the City Council and the public when staffing numbers are falling behind projections in the budget:

“The policy I wrote is pushing the administration to hire more police officers that are in the budget.”

Joe Tuman, a college professor and political commentator who finished fourth in the 2010 election with 12 percent of the vote, said Oakland police Chief Sean Whent has said the city should have at least 900 officers but the city “is nowhere near that.”

Tuman said that although the number of homicides has dropped in the past year, the average number of homicides annually during Quan’s term is still high and “public safety is still the top issue” when he talks to the city’s voters.

Tuman said Oakland’s public safety problem has less to do with homicides and more to do with other types of crimes, such as economic and property crimes, including assaults, robberies and burglaries.

Tuman said home burglaries may be down this year compared to last year but “they are still terrible numbers” and he attributes part of the decline to some neighborhoods hiring private security firms to patrol areas that the Police Department doesn’t have the budget to patrol:

 “There’s a failure of the city to deliver public services.”

Tuman said he would get the funding to increase the staffing in the Police Department by “changing the culture at City Hall to make Oakland a more business-friendly place” because profitable businesses generate tax revenues for the city. He said Oakland is home to many public agencies and non-profit agencies but it needs to attract more businesses that pay taxes.

Schaaf also criticized Quan’s leadership style, saying the city has had five different city administrators and four different police chiefs during her tenure:

“There are a lot of people who have had the word ‘interim’ in front of their title. … The city needs effective leadership.”

Quan responded by saying that Deanna Santana was city administrator during most of her term and that this hasn’t been an easy period to hire people.

Henry Gardner is Oakland’s interim city administrator. Quan said it wouldn’t be practical to hire a new permanent city administrator until after the election and Gardner is the “perfect” interim city administrator because he served in the position in the past for many years under previous mayors.

Kaplan said if she’s elected mayor, she would work to have “a stronger future for everyone in the city” by emphasizing affordable housing and a Police Department “that bonds with all.”

Kaplan said she would also like to require that the Police Department hire more Oakland residents and require businesses who get contracts with the city to hire more Oakland residents:

“I want economic opportunity for everyone in the city, including housing for everyone.”

Tuman said that in addition to hiring more police officers, he would like to address poverty in Oakland, improve housing and partner with the Oakland Unified School District to create more jobs for youths in the city.

Schaaf said she would also like to partner with the school district “to improve outcomes for kids.” Schaaf said:

“I know Oakland can do better and can be safer, cleaner and take better care of its children.”

Bryan Parker, a former health care and tech executive and former Port of Oakland commissioner, said he would focus on education and economic opportunities because there are “pockets of hopelessness in communities of color and among the poor.

Parker said the city must address the fact that only 40 percent of black and Hispanic males in Oakland graduate from high school and the unemployment rate in East Oakland and West Oakland is 30 percent. Parker said voters should consider an “outside” candidate such as him “so Oakland can reach its full potential.”

City Auditor Courtney Ruby said the city is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and she has “the financial expertise to drive results” to make the city better.

One of the other top candidates for mayor is longtime civil rights lawyer and community activist Dan Siegel, who briefly served as a legal adviser to Quan before resigning in the fall of 2011 to protest the city’s crackdown on Occupy Oakland protesters.

Siegel previously served as president of the Oakland school board and the Oakland Housing Authority commission. The eight other candidates in the race are Jason “Shake” Anderson, Ken Houston, Saied Karamooz, Peter Liu, Patrick McCullough, Nancy Sidebotham, Charles Ray Williams and Eric Wilson.