Voter Recall: Oakland’s mayor is in deep trouble of her own making

January 12, 2012

City Journal:

Jean Quan, the ideologically leftist Democratic mayor of Oakland, California, has presided over her city in a manner both inept and irresolute. She let herself be badgered and manipulated by the neo-Trotskyists and would-be anarchists who march under the Occupy Oakland banner, vacillating between appeasing the demonstrators and arresting them. Quan’s wildly shifting posture has angered almost everyone and satisfied virtually no one. Now, the community-activist-turned-mayor faces at least two campaigns to recall her from office.

The recall, of course, is a firmly established institution in the Golden State. But while recall petitions may be commonplace, successful recall elections are rare. California’s recall of Governor Gray Davis in 2003 was national news not just because Arnold Schwarzenegger assumed Davis’s place, but also because it was the first time since the Progressive Era reform went into effect in 1913 that the state’s voters actually kicked out a sitting governor.

Public animus against Quan doesn’t bode well for her political survival. Gene Hazzard, a photographer for the Oakland Post, a black community newspaper, launched the first recall campaign on December 7. Hazzard’s effort focuses on Quan’s failure to improve public safety and attract new business investment to the city. His supporters are aggressively canvassing neighborhoods with petitions. Hazzard’s recall drive has support from the Committee to Recall Jean Quan and Restore Oakland, which originally intended to launch its own campaign. “Right now, there is one petition out there,” commented Charlie Pine, a retired economic analyst and “Recall and Restore” spokesperson.

A second recall campaign is seeking certification, however. Its chief backer is entrepreneur Greg Harland, who lost decisively to Quan in the 2010 mayoral election. (He finished eighth in a field of ten candidates, earning just 0.9 percent of the vote.) Oakland uses a “ranked-choice” voting system, in which voters select their first, second, and third choices for office. The idea is to minimize runoffs, but the system has other strange effects—such as propelling laggards like Quan into office. Quan won only 24.7 percent of the first-choice ballots, but because of the quirks of ranked-choice voting, she beat former state senator Don Perata, who had 34.39 percent of first-choice votes. Quan won because a much larger percentage of voters for liberal activist and city council member-at-large Rebecca Kaplan picked Quan second over Perata.

Though only in their infancy, the recall campaigns have already drawn opposition. Representatives of the Alameda County Labor Council last month condemned the petition drive. Labor Council executive secretary-treasurer Josie Camacho said: “This lady has been in office less than a year; we need to give her some slack.” But the recall campaign against Quan doesn’t have much to do with her lack of on-the-job experience or the long-standing, ongoing social pathologies that bedevil Oakland. It will almost exclusively be a referendum on the mayor’s abysmal response to the Occupy Oakland tumult.

Quan has been worse than useless in dealing with Occupy Oakland, arguably the most radical and disruptive among the dozens of demonstrations and tent cities that have sprung up around the U.S. since September. Sure, Occupy Wall Street shut down the Brooklyn Bridge for a few hours one day and caused endless traffic snarls around Lower Manhattan. But in addition to trashing swaths of downtown in October and November, Occupy Oakland blockaded the fifth-largest port in the United States not once, but twice. Quan’s personal and political confusion was never more evident than in her posturing on the port disruption…

Read it all.

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