2010 is of course an election year, and it’s looking like an exciting one in Oakland, with a likely open mayoral seat, perhaps an open Council seat, and two open County Supervisor seats. Two x-factors complicate the elections: the adoption of Ranked Choice Voting and November City elections; and the effect of campaign finance rules on what could be very long and expensive campaigns. Even though the filing period for city elections isn’t until August, politically-active locals are already focusing on November’s elections. Campaign finance rules, the Council elections, and the mayor’s decisions are the subject of a lot of speculation.
The US Supreme Court ruling that corporate bodies are entitled to free speech rights jeopardizes state and local regulations since the First Amendment applies to states. In Oakland, a judge ruled in 2006 that Political Action Committees could directly advocate for and against candidates, a ruling that was exploited by supporters of both Aimee Allison and Pat Kernighan during that year’s Council runoff. Between the likelihood of high independent expenditures and the consolidated elections in November, the Council may consider lifting donation and expenditure limits for local elections. There’s also talk of eliminating matching funds, for several reasons including the expense, that they’re not available for at-large elections, and a feeling that these funds mostly help incumbents who are more adept at exploiting campaign rules they wrote themselves. Lifting donation and expenditure limits would certainly be a boon for challengers, who compared to incumbents tend to have fewer but more passionate supporters, and who need to spend more to overcome an incumbent’s name recognition. One City Council seat up for election this November will have no incumbent, and so may be a test of a new campaign atmosphere in Oakland.
Having established herself as a serious mayoral contender, Councilmember Jean Quan cannot run for reelection, creating this rare open seat. The Montclair-Laurel District 4 seat has the highest voter turnout in the city, making it likely the most expensive of the three Council elections this November. Now that candidates are beginning to talk to potential supporters, many wonder who Ms. Quan will choose as her successor. According to several sources, Ms. Quan has introduced her husband, Alameda County Medical Center Trustree Dr. Floyd Huen, to some influential players as a Council candidate for District 4. With her husband perhaps running, Ms. Quan has motive to make things difficult for those seeking her seat. Other possible candidates include: Jill Broadhurst, an active volunteer in Montclair; Melanie Shelby, a former at-large Council candidate who recently returned to Oakland from Washington DC; Libby Schaaf, a personal friend of mine who is a life-long civic leader native to D4; and Clinton Killian, the former at-large Council candidate and Paramount Boardmember. Though the filing period isn’t until August, Ms. Broadhurst has already announced she’s running and it’s likely others will announce by mid-Spring. Oakland may be in for a long, hot election.
Jean Quan is now Vice Mayor Quan, after the City Council voted Jane Brunner another one-year term as City Council President. Last year, when Ms. Brunner upset Ignacio de la Fuente’s plans to remain Council President, Mr. de la Fuente was given the Vice Mayor position as a consolation prize. This wasn’t merely a title, though – at the time there was much speculation that Dellums would resign as Mayor to take a position in DC or even as an ambassador, elevating Mr. de la Fuente to Mayor. Since Ms. Quan’s mayoral ambitions do not enjoy the support of Ms. Brunner or Mr. de la Fuente, her ascension to Vice Mayor is a clear signal that they do not expect Mayor Dellums to go anywhere. Recently joined by Green Party member and free-parking advocate Don Macleay, Vice Mayor Quan and former State Senator Don Perata are running active if low-key campaigns ten months in advance of election day. The campaign won’t get going in full force until Mayor Dellums formally announces he’s not running for reelection, freeing his loyalists and others who hold him in esteem to escape the sidelines. If the Mayor has any sympathy for overextended politicos, he will wait until the summer.