On Monday evening, while Occupy protesters were celebrating shutting down the Port of Oakland, Mayor Jean Quan and her press secretary, Sue Piper, were reviewing the statement Quan would give to reporters about the demonstration.
In her prepared remarks, Quan intended to “thank everybody” for keeping the protest peaceful, Piper said.
But 10 minutes before the press conference was set to begin, Quan received word that the protesters had voted to attempt another shutdown early on Tuesday.
Her mood darkened instantly.
“She said, ‘I can’t say this, not when I see what they just decided to do,’” Piper said.
Quan tossed out the prepared statement, then stepped before the cameras and improvised her remarks.
The protesters are holding "this community hostage," a visibly angry Quan told reporters. “People have to think about who they are hurting."
Piper said the mayor stands by what she said.
“What she said came from her heart,” Piper said. “It’s a growing concern about the Occupy Oakland movement.”
Quan’s comments marked a dramatic shift: From the moment Occupy Oakland set up tents in the plaza, Quan tried to show her support for the group, even as she failed to convince the protesters to leave their City Hall encampment peacefully.
In public statements about the protest, she would often say of her city, “We are the 99 percent.”
But after authorizing a police raid on the Occupy encampment and then allowing protesters to set up tents again, Quan came under fire from business owners, police and residents. Officers complained that her indecisiveness put them at risk; businesses complained that she was not an effective leader; and residents were angry that the cash-strapped city spent more than $3 million on policing and other costs related to the protest.
Now Quan’s stance against Occupy appears to be hardening, as she confronts a multi-pronged effort to drive her from office. Last week, the city clerk certified one of three recall campaigns against the mayor, allowing Quan’s opponents to gather signatures to put a measure to oust her on the ballot.
Gene Hazzard, the politically active, left-leaning photographer for the Oakland Post newspaper, began one of the recall movements before the Occupy protests began. His campaign has focused on a controversial political appointment that Quan made to the Port of Oakland commission.
Earlier this year, the mayor decided not to reappoint Port Commissioner Margaret Gordon, a respected, veteran environmental activist from West Oakland, and instead tapped Jakada Imani for the job. Imani runs the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland-based civil rights nonprofit.
It was a move that riled some old-guard black activists including Hazzard, who accused Quan of pitting the African-American community against itself. (Both Gordon and Imani are black.) Imani eventually withdrew himself from consideration for the post, saying he was disillusioned by the political skirmishing that erupted over his nomination.
His withdrawal has failed to pacify Hazzard, who said the mayor is a respectable legislator but lacks leadership ability.
“Is she a good cheerleader? Yes,” Hazzard said. “But you can’t take a cheerleader and put her on the football field calling plays.”
Hazzard said he would enlist business and church leaders — many of whom supported former state Sen. Don Perata against Quan in 2010 — to collect the approximately 20,000 signatures needed by next May to put the recall petition on the November 2012 Oakland ballot.