Sheng Thao Unites Oakland Progressives for Mayoral Run

by on November 16, 2021

Thao Assembles Broad Support

One week ago, Oakland’s November 2022 mayor’s race seemed wide open. Moderate Councilmember Loren Taylor had announced his candidacy. Many assumed that either Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan or Nikki Fortunato Bas would be the progressive choice.

But on November 10 councilmember Sheng Thao announced broad progressive support. Thao’s mayoral run is backed by Kaplan and Bas along with Attorney General Rob Bonta and Assemblymember Mia Bonta. Two of the Bay Area’s most progressive assembly members, Alex Lee and Ash Kalra, have also endorsed Thao. They are joined by key unions, including the Alameda Labor Council, SEIU 1021, the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, and Teamsters Joint Council 7.

Thao’s early support goes beyond progressives. She is also backed by former Councilmember Dick Spees and the Oakland Firefighters Association.

Here’s the full list of Thao’s endorsers.

Not every Oakland progressive is yet backing Thao (for example, Councilmembers Carroll Fife and Dan Kalb have not endorsed). But Thao’s broad support a year from the election has likely forestalled other progressives from entering the race.

Thao’s Agenda

We’ve all seen too many examples of candidates promising one thing and doing otherwise when they get into office. So I’m not focusing on specific plans and policies that Thao, if elected, would implement. But I must confess appreciation when a candidate announces a commitment on homelessness, affordable housing and tenants rights. Thao addressed all three, and has a track record of support in each area.

The question ultimately, and what will decide the campaign, is what Oakland voters most want from their next mayor.

What Does Oakland Want?

Oakland is a rapidly changing city. Previously underrepresented groups now expect a seat at the table. This should translate into support for a mayor committed to collaboration, rather than the top-down leadership Jerry Brown brought to the city after he was elected Oakland mayor in November 1998.

Brown came to an Oakland feeling an inferiority complex. He supposedly made Oakland a “world class” city. Brown’s terrible record on affordable housing and tenants’ rights—two critical problems for Oakland residents— was ignored by a media entranced by Brown’s stature.

The idea that Oakland needed a strong mayor who knew how to get things done propelled Libby Schaaf’s election in 2014 after the confusion of the Jean Quan mayoralty. The media has never treated Schaaf with the reverence it covered Brown and she has a complex legacy.

Schaaf is criticized for attributes—-such as a controlling, top-down personality—that are extolled as virtues in male politicians like Jerry Brown. Schaaf’s tenure coincided with Oakland becoming a lot more progressive. In fact, Oakland’s City Council is its most progressive ever (the 2020 election victories of Fife, Kalb and Kaplan highlighted this).

I don’t find people crediting Schaaf for any role in the city’s progressive shift. Nor for Oakland’s stronger economy. I think she will get high grades on her way out but I think Oakland voters are looking for a more collaborative mayor in 2022.

It’s a real tough job.  The Oakland mayor lack the power of San Francisco mayors. Key funding and policymaking decisions are controlled by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, but Oakland’s mayor is blamed for anything in the city that goes wrong.

Homelessness, Crime and Affordability

I see homelessness, crime and a growing lack of affordability as defining Oakland’s 2022 mayor’s race.

Oakland has a horrific homelessness problem. It gets less media coverage because national and international media focuswa on San Francisco’s unhoused. Schaaf has done a great job using the Governor Newsom’s Project Homekey and the council is making strides in reducing the number of unhoused. But Alameda County plays a large role in allocating homeless funding, and that is outside the mayor’s control.

Since the pandemic,  crime and violence have resurfaced as major issues in Oakland. I would expect Loren Taylor to look at the recent Seattle mayoral election for guidance. Seattle’s winner convinced voters that his progressive woman opponent was aligned with a council too critical of the police and too tolerant of encampments. With Bas and Kaplan backing Thao, a Taylor campaign against the progressive council majority could be in the cards.

Minneapolis’ recent mayor’s race saw a similar dynamic. An incumbent more aligned with the police status quo—even after George Floyd!—-easily won re-election over more progressive rivals.

Oakland is more politically progressive than both those cities.  And Oakland’s November 2022 mayor’s race will be a high turnout state and national election, unlike what we saw in Seattle and Minneapolis. So concern over housing affordability could play a much bigger role than crime and violence among Oakland voters next year. Nevertheless, Sheng Thao’s biggest challenge.will be assuring voters that she is tough enough to ensure public safety in Oakland.

Candidates of color are increasingly winning big city mayor’s races. This just happened in Boston, New York City and Seattle. Karen Bass is the favorite in the Los Angeles mayor’s race. Chicago and San Francisco already have Black woman mayors. If Oakland comes down to choosing between Taylor and Thao, it will join this growing list.

Like London Breed, Thao grew up in public housing. Here’s her remarkable personal story.

Oakland faces an exciting mayoral race. And those interested can follow the campaigns through the outstanding local reportage of The Oaklandside.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

More Posts

Filed under: Bay Area / California

Translate »