By Terry Collins
The Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — City Councilwoman Jean Quan edged a heavily favored opponent to become Oakland’s first female mayor and the first Asian American woman to lead a major U.S. city, in a race she says people will be “studying for a long time.”
Alameda County elections officials spent days tallying votes before announcing Wednesday that Quan received 51 percent to former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata’s 49 percent.
“We’ve been waiting 158 years to have a woman mayor,” Quan said to cheers on the steps of City Hall after learning of her win. “We’ve been waiting over 200 years to have an Asian American woman as mayor of a major American city. And, we’ve been waiting about four years to get ranked-choice voting.
“This is a race people are going to be studying for a long time.”
Votes were counted under Oakland’s new ranked-choice system, which allows voters to list their first-, second-, and third-place candidates.
Quan, 61, replaces outgoing Mayor Ronald Dellums, who chose not to seek a second term.
Perata held a double-digit lead over Quan when first-choice returns were counted last week.
“Having won over 11,000 more first-choice votes than his nearest rival, these numbers need to be scrutinized carefully, and spoken to carefully,” Perata spokesman Rhys Williams said Wednesday. “No decision has been taken on next steps.”
Quan captured the lead late last week when the third-place finisher, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, was eliminated and votes cast for her were reapportioned to Quan and Perata.
Quan, an Oakland native and former school board member, also won despite losing out on key endorsements from the Bay Area’s two largest newspapers, the Oakland Tribune (Kaplan) and the San Francisco Chronicle (Perata).
She credited her win to being visible and to using relentless voter outreach, including attending more than 200 house parties, to combat being heavily outspent by Perata.
“This is really a proud moment for Oakland’s grassroots organizing,” Quan said.
Joe Tuman, a San Francisco State University communications professor who was one of 10 candidates vying to be mayor, agreed that Quan’s tireless work ethic played a roll in her victory and would serve her well during the next four years.
“Every day, I was in house meetings, booked solid from morning until 10 o’clock at night, and wherever I was, Jean was there, too,” Tuman said. “She hustles. If you contrast that with Don, it’s not a criticism of him, it’s a reality. He consciously avoided participating in lots of events.”
Quan will inherit a shrinking city budget that includes a $50 million deficit next fiscal year, a violent crime rate that’s showing some signs of decline, yet overlooked due to 80 police officers being laid off in July.
As she did as councilwoman, Quan will also face increased demands to attract new businesses to town and boost civic morale.
“She won a bitterly contested election. It’s important for everybody to fall in behind her and support her,” Tuman said. “We have huge problems, and I hope she will not only try to solve them by herself, but know there are a lot of people who want to help.”
That will be important in a city that according to Census figures is 36 percent black, 31 percent white, 21 percent Hispanic, and 15 percent Asian.
“This is a victory for all of Oakland,” Quan said. “This was a very close race.” ♦
Associated Press writer Lisa Leff in San Francisco contributed to this report.