Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan is in deep trouble of her own making

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.

During the first port shutdown, advertised as a “general strike” on November 2, Quan promised to protect Oakland’s business community. But businesses—even those with signs expressing solidarity with the “99 percent”—suffered widespread vandalism and theft. (Incidentally, Quan’s husband, Floyd Huen, and her daughter, Lailan Huen, bothparticipated in the demonstration that shut down the port.) A smaller group carried out the second port shutdown on December 12 and 13. Oakland police said that the November blockade drew 7,000 protesters, while Occupy supporters claimed 100,000 people turned out. Though it was part of a much larger effort to stop port operations along the West Coast—from Anchorage to San Diego—the December disruption, by contrast, drew no more than 3,000 participants, according to a mediaestimate. Aside from the costly cancellation of a night shift at two marine terminals in Oakland, the second port “strike” succeeded only in closing down cargo operations briefly in Portland, Oregon, and at the small port of Longview, Washington, where the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is mired in a jurisdictional fight with another union. Police skirmished with protestors in Seattle, Long Beach, and San Diego, but otherwise it was business as usual.

After Occupy’s second port incursion, however, Quan seemed to flail in all directions. She condemned the interlopers as “a small group of people” determined to “hold hostage this port, this city, this economy.” True as far as it goes, but Quan then told the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board late last month that the city could not guarantee against future disruptions. The mayor said that she would deploy 500 police to stop another Occupy intrusion—but then said she’d charge the Port Authority $1.5 million for the service. Port representatives said they were unaware of such a proposal and opposed paying for city police. “Keeping the port open and operational is how we’re going to sustain jobs for the region,” said Isaac Kos-Read, a port spokesman.

Quan betrayed her incompetence and weakness further when she admitted to the Chronicle’s editors that city officials were overwhelmed by the second blockade. She said that they had expected only 300 Occupy participants to appear and were surprised when—in her estimate—1,200 showed up. Quan also claimed that the ILWU supported Occupy Oakland’s attempt to disrupt port operations—and that it would halt work and call a mediator if even a single protestor on a bicycle appeared at the port gate. This was a complete fabrication. Robert McEllrath, ILWU’s international president, warned in a December 6 letter to union locals: “None of this [port disruption] is sanctioned by the membership of the ILWU or informed by the local and international leadership. . . . Simply put, there has been no communication with the leadership and no vote within the ILWU ranks on . . . Occupy actions.”

Further undermining Quan’s shaky claims of authority, the Chroniclereported that Oakland police said they were ordered not to prevent the December Occupy obstruction, which cost the port facility between $4 million and $8 million. And the newspaper added that “major retailers, including Target, Walgreens, J.C. Penney and Crate & Barrel, are threatening to pull out of the Oakland port and move business to the Port of Los Angeles.” Asked if she was concerned that major businesses would desert Oakland in the face of Occupy’s campaign of chaos, Quan replied nonchalantly: “Are businesses threatening to leave? Maybe.”

Regardless how the competing recall efforts sort themselves out, proponents must submit 19,811 valid signatures—that’s 10 percent of Oakland’s registered voters—by May 14. Jean Quan’s fecklessness, in a period of economic distress, appears to have made her removal from the mayor’s office more likely than not. This time she won’t be able to depend on ranked-choice voting to skew the outcome. If the recall makes the ballot, it will be strictly “Yes” or “No” for Jean Quan—no waffling allowed.

(Stephen Schwartz is a widely published journalist and author who worked from 1989 to 1999 as a staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. This article was first published in City Journal.)


  1. This is what happens when you get someone with nothing but community organizing experience.
    They know nothing about management, costs of running a large city and a mindset of glowing
    liberality and utopia. She was unqualified to run and those who voted for her can watch their taxes
    go up to replace the income from businesses that want nothing to do with her.

    • Ukrainian American says

      Great comment!!!! Maybe the Oaklanders will finally realize that capitalism is their only means of survival.
      Leftist know nothing – they believe in socialism.

    • I have come to believe that there is no one in CA who is really qualified for their elected position. That’s why they are elected. They couldn’t get a real job anywhere. No one would hire them because of their incompentency.

  2. Take the brain dead idiot out of office and make sure there are no more brain dead Democrats voted into off where it involves the peoples welfare as that is different then the democrats favorite WELFARE program OF GIVING AWAY THE FARM to those that don’t know how to farm in the first place and SECONDLY are to darn lazy to do it

  3. In the end reality sets in when it comes to those who try function on the left as the indecisive and incoherent Mayor Jean Quan did . They still, and hopefully represent a small minority of what drives America. The Occupy movement literally reflected everything that is wrong with America It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion almost from the get go. The Occupy movements still stirs up negative images across the nation. The falsely perceived myth that somehow these people represented the 99 Percent of America could not be more wrong. Most Americans are embarrassed by this counter culture that tried to hitch its incoherent message to the average American.

    Please just go away,you have had your 15 minutes of fame and it was a disgrace. People like Quan constantly fail to recognize what drives the economic engine of their cities.


    Yet ANOTHER reason to split California into 2 separate states: North and South California! Give the upper half to the “socialist hippie occupy idiots” and save the best part for those of us that want to live a happy, normal life here in SoCal!! We will reclaim our beautiful state from the COMMUNISTS IN SACRAMENTO!! This means Brown, Boxer, Feinstein and Newsome!! GONE – POOF!!

    • Plainly and simply we are seeing Democracy being converted to Thugocracy dominated by communist loving Democrats and progressives! Toss em all out in November, or welcome to a northern version of Venezuela!

    • Just make the San Francisco bay area a different state, as I live in northern CA, we’re not all crazy in CA. Take Sacramento also. With that being said, that would be a very small state like Rhoad Island without much representation.

  5. I agree with you all; 100%

  6. Recall useless Jean Quan, and then recall useless Jerry Brown. We succeeded with Gray Davis, we can do it again. Where is the petition, I’m ready to sign….

  7. Jconnection says

    Quan is a clearly an economic sociopath, joining a long list of questionable Oakland leadership, and should be recalled without recourse.

    One small question thought Stephen, how do you betray incompetence and weakness? Did you mean portray?

  8. AD-RtR/OS! says

    Quan, or Perata?
    Hack, or Crook?
    Nice little town you got there Oakland, too bad if something would happen to it!

  9. – I think the best way to devide CA into two states. Conservative Republicans CA & Liberal democrap communist Mexifornia CA. It will make every one happy but I’m sure libtards will try to move to the Republican CA to find jobs, less taxes & safer, happy place to live.
    – CA was occupied by communist liberal democRAT long time ago. Conservative Republican citizens in CA never had their voice to be hear because communist controled Sacramento included Union thugs.
    – It’s so sad to see the beautiful CA Golden State dead to replace by communist marxist Mexifornia state.
    – I’m 100% sure Conservative Republicans CA will make Golden State come back if they get the chance to do it.

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