by Allyssa Victory, Esq.
As the dust settles from a heated November election season, we begin to see new leadership take form in Oakland. Oakland elected its youngest and first Hmong mayor, Sheng Thao, who was inaugurated in a City ceremony on Jan. 9. The ceremony included inauguration of new City Councilmembers Janani Ramachandran and Kevin Jenkins as well as new School Board Directors Valarie Bachelor, Jennifer Brouhard and Nick Resnik.
Before these elected officials can get comfortable, election results are still being disputed. First, the county registrar confirmed that it made calculation errors that ultimately changed the result in the District 4 School Board election with Mike Hutchinson as the true winner. Hutchinson’s campaign is seeking resolution through Alameda County courts to ensure he can serve in the seat that he was elected to. Note that Hutchinson already serves as director for District 5 but was redistricted into District 4. Hutchinson was also elected president of the School Board at its first meeting held on Jan. 9.
Second, some organizations and other former Oakland mayor candidates have called for a recount in the Oakland Mayor’s race. NAACP Oakland made an official recount request at the final hour but failed to pay the required fee, so the registrar canceled the recount. Organizations have turned to the county supervisors hoping that they will order a review of the election that can accomplish that same thing. I have publicly stated that I support removal of the county registrar due to the many issues this election suffered and an audit of the 2022 elections with no reason to single out just the Oakland mayor’s race.
The work of our elected officials will quickly deepen as our new year is marked by violence and staffing shakeups. Oakland now has one of the most diverse sets of elected leaders in its history. Oakland’s historic Chinatown hosted a two-day bazaar for Lunar New Year and will host a Lunar New Year parade Jan. 29 for the first time in years. A joint Black and Asian solidarity event will be held in early February at the close of Lunar New Year and opening of Black History Month.
While public safety crises continue, I have hope for the new criminal justice leadership.
However, the packed weekend of kickoff celebrations was underscored by violence across the state. On the heels of the mass shooting in Monterey Park, Calif., two mass shootings occurred in our region. In Half Moon Bay, seven people were killed by a gunman who has since been arrested. In Oakland, one was killed and others injured at a mass shooting in an East Oakland plaza. Gun violence continues to affect our collective public safety and public health. Oakland declared gun violence a public health emergency but has yet to assign corresponding staffing and funds.
These issues are continuing as we look to Mayor Sheng Thao for action and await information about her administration’s staffing. Mayor Thao released Homeless Administrator Daniel Cooper from his job on Jan. 17 after he’d served less than a year. Cooper was the second to hold the job after the first homeless administrator left also less than a year into the job. The position is currently open at a time when our homelessness crisis continues to expand.
Furthermore, on Jan. 19, Mayor Sheng Thao placed Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong on administrative leave after release of the latest report in our 20-year-old federal oversight pursuant to our City’s negotiated settlement agreement. Thao’s official statement indicates that she is waiting for more information before making further decisions on the chief’s employment status. The chief held a press conference on Jan. 23 with his legal representative asking for immediate reinstatement. NAACP Oakland hosted a press conference on Jan. 24 asking Mayor Thao to immediately reinstate Chief Armstrong and asking City Attorney Barbara Parker to investigate the federal monitor assigned to our case.
While public safety crises continue, I have hope for the new criminal justice leadership. Yesenia Sanchez was elected as the first Latina sheriff of Alameda County and Pamela Price was elected as the first Black woman district attorney of Alameda County. Both were inaugurated on Jan. 3. Both ran on reform platforms to serve with greater transparency and partnership with the people they serve as well as to address racial disparities in our county’s criminal justice system. DA Price will be speaking along with Oakland’s police oversight experts at a panel on the “Future of the Oakland Police Department” hosted online Friday, Jan. 27, at 6:30 p.m. More info at bit.ly/FutureOfOPD.
All of our elected officials, whether re-elected or serving for the first time, must be accountable to the people that they serve. Our democracy is in crisis and many leaders are running to change the status quo. That is why I personally serve in our democratic institutions to open them up to everyday residents and workers. I am running for re-election as an ADEM delegate to the California Democratic Party with the People’s slate of unbought, unbossed candidates.
The ADEM elections happen statewide in all assembly districts every two years. However, these internal elections are so poorly run by the party with so little engagement to voters that few people can even participate. This year has been one of the worst, including: failure to follow its own published election rules; voter registration being online only; high voter rejection rates; requiring voters to pay for postage to vote by mail; and requiring voters to travel long distances to vote in-person when the Party failed to mail ballots to every person who made a timely request for them.
The California Democratic Party has been questioned about ongoing suppression and election issues including a shell organization created to endorse ADEM candidates that has emailed voters throughout the state using the party’s branding and the chair’s identifiers. I call on true defenders of democracy to condemn this behavior and demand accountability and fair election practices and an investigation into how the ADEM elections suffer so many problems every cycle.
Election results will be final in February. Delegates will determine the party’s leadership, platform and who the Party endorses. I have used my first term as a delegate to also defend local democracy, increase Black leadership, expand voter engagement, and partner with our local Democratic clubs. Also expect a showdown over the California Democratic Party’s endorsement for seats like the U.S. Senate, which is already heating up with candidate announcements including congressional leaders Barbara Lee and Katie Porter.
Allyssa Victory is a civil rights attorney, former Oakland mayoral candidate and community leader. Contact her on Twitter at @Victory4Oakland.