In an enormous upset, Jean Quan won the race to be Oakland’s next mayor.
The hard-working but less-than-exciting City Council member defeated former state Sen. Don Perata and his costly campaign to win over Oakland’s voters. In the final tally released Wednesday at 6 p.m., Quan captured 50.98 percent of the vote, while Perata received 49.02 percent — a difference of 2,058 votes — in the city’s first experience with ranked-choice voting.
Quan becomes the first woman and first Asian-American to serve as mayor of Oakland, succeeding Ron Dellums, who opted not to run for re-election.
Quan discusses the historical significance of her victory in this video:
Perata held a commanding lead — 35 percent to 24 percent — over Quan on election night, but he didn’t capture the majority of first-place votes needed to win outright in the ranked-choice system. Voters can select a first, second and third choice in descending order, and if the top vote getter doesn’t win 50 percent or more of votes, the second-place winners' votes can become significant. Quan’s power turned out to be in the second-place choices of voters, who overwhelmingly broke for the city councilwoman and not Perata.
Political observers said the “anybody but Don” movement — voters who were suspicious of Perata’s ethics after a five-year corruption probe by the FBI — helped carry Quan to victory and keep Perata off ballots as a second choice.
“She ran a very focused campaign to be the second-place candidate” for a lot of voters, said Jim Ross, who ran third-place finisher Rebecca Kaplan’s campaign. “She never spoke ill of anyone except Don Perata, and she really became the leader of the “not Don Perata” sentiment in Oakland. And that’s how she became everybody’s second choice.”
In this video, Quan talks about Oakland's use of ranked-choice voting:
Perata outspent Quan and every other candidate after finding a loophole in the campaign finance code that lifted spending caps in the race. All told, Perata’s campaign and independent expenditure committees spent more than a million dollars to get him elected. Quan had spent less than $300,000 as of mid-October.
Quan called it an “an amazing victory for grass-roots organizing over big money.”
A former School Board member and current member of the City Council, Quan had been dogged by the fact that both the school district and the city fell into deep financial holes on her watch. Gary Yee, a School Board member who succeeded Quan, said that her long service in the community outweighed those concerns with voters.
“Even though with Jean’s track record there were some bumps in the road, there was a track record there,” said Yee, who also won his school board reelection. “In the end, I’m not sure that people blame a single board member for that kind of thing.”
Perata supporters were still stunned by the sudden turn of events. On election night, the Perata campaign was confident that the former state senator would cruise to victory, and the San Francisco Chronicle predicted last week that Perata would win. The Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, which endorsed Perata, sent out a press release Friday crowing, “Don Perata will be Oakland’s next Mayor!”
Nate Miley, an Alameda County Supervisor who supported Perata, said that Quan will do a better job than Oakland’s absentee Mayor Dellums, but not better than Perata would have done.
“I don't think she has the same leadership skills, charisma and drive as Don Perata,” said Miley. “I think she’ll do an OK job as mayor.”
Ultimately, ranked-choice voting made the difference in this election, in part because there was a crowded field of nine candidates. If no candidate gets a majority, then second- and third-place votes of the low vote getters in the race are counted until there is a winner.
In this election, voters who put Kaplan first listed Quan instead of Perata as a second preference by a three-to-one margin. That carried Quan, who was still trailing behind Perata before those votes were counted, to victory.
The final results come just over a week after Election Day as anticipation grew in the close race. The Alameda County Registrar of Voters finished counting all mail-in and provisional ballots before releasing the final ranked-choice tabulation.
“We believe we have completed our ballot count for Oakland and San Leandro, though it is possible that a very small number of ballots in those races remain to be counted, said Dave Macdonald, Alameda County Registrar of Voters in a prepared statement. “If there are any remaining ballots, I don’t believe there are enough to alter the outcome of the races in Oakland and San Leandro.’’
Watch Quan's victory announcement here: