But in the case of the District 2 and District 6 seats, challengers defeated incumbents.
"We've seen history, so to speak," said John Jones III, a prominent local activist, touching on how rare this was. "This is the first time I’ve known, in a long time, that two incumbents actually were defeated."
Fortunato Bas, the new District 2 council member, and Jones go way back. Jones called her to the front of the room and wrapped her in a giant hug. Fortunato Bas is tiny, Jones broad-shouldered and tall. He engulfed his old friend in his arms and giggled with glee.
"I just had a moment," he said. "My friend is now in office, so I just had this moment."
"I remember the day we met," Bas said.
Frustration With the Status Quo
The friendship between the two activists reveals a lot about Fortunato Bas and her politics. She comes from the organizing, progressive side of the aisle and campaigned with progressive mayoral candidate Cat Brooks.
District 2 runs from East Oakland to Lake Merritt, including much of the lake and Chinatown, where Fortunato Bas started organizing in the 1990s, bringing together Asian women in the neighborhood to fight against wage theft.
"I have been committing my life to social justice," she said. "I just have not seen the leadership from my district, or across the city, that matches the progressive values of our residents."
Fortunato Bas said a lot of people had asked her to take on District 2 incumbent Abel Guillen. Those doing the asking were many of the same folks who had backed Guillen four years ago, but who told Fortunato Bas they were disappointed with his time in office.
Guillen started his term by walking into a controversy not of his making. He arrived at City Hall just as the council was finalizing a deal to sell city-owned land to a for-profit developer. Activists complained that the price tag was scandalously low, calling it a corporate giveaway at a time when land had finally become valuable, and the whole transaction received harsh scrutiny.
Guillen was known as a deal-maker and compromise broker on the council, but Fortunato Bas said voters told her they wanted a more progressive advocate.
"We see some real challenges in progressive policies not coming out of City Hall," she said.
But none of those were approved by the City Council. Rather they were given the green light by voters at the ballot box.
"Meanwhile all of those could have been more efficiently passed by our city council as policy," said Fortunato Bas. "That has not been the case."
Fortunato Bas said constituents also told her what people care about has dramatically shifted, from crime to housing.
"It’s the first election cycle where safety was not the number one issue. Housing affordability was the number one issue," she said.
'We Need to Maintain the Culture, the Blackness of This City'
The struggle over who can afford to live in Oakland and who cannot is something Loren Taylor has also heard a lot about in his East Oakland neighborhood, District 6.
"We need to maintain the culture, the blackness of this city," Taylor said. "East Oakland is the last part of the city where we can actually hold on to it."
Other parts of the city have been quicker to gentrify. East Oakland was once perceived as too far, too dangerous, too remote to be desirable to newcomers, but that's not necessarily the case anymore.
Taylor is young and fresh-faced, with wire-rimmed glasses and a wide smile. He grew up in Oakland in a middle-class black family. He said he feels a responsibility to uplift, not uproot, the neighborhood he now represents.
"It’s a responsibility to the legacy that my grandparents created when they moved here from the segregated South in the 1940s," he said.
Taylor is a biomedical engineer turned managerial consultant and a new face to Oakland's political scene. To get to City Hall, he had to defeat a prominent figure in Oakland politics, Desley Brooks.
Brooks, a longtime councilwoman, was a favorite of progressives, who felt she was their champion on the council. But a scuffle between Brooks and former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown cost the city $2.2 million in a lawsuit, leading to bad press.
Several groups spent a lot of money to defeat Brooks, but some speculate that what really cost her the seat was that she was rarely visible leading up to the election, even missing council meetings.
So Taylor, who was also supported by Mayor Libby Schaaf, did the once unthinkable and pulled off an upset.
He said one of his major priorities will be strengthening local businesses. District 6 has long suffered from the kind of economic disinvestment common to traditionally black areas in cities like Oakland. Now that money is flooding into Oakland, his constituents should get a piece of it, Taylor said.
"We have to create a strong, solid economic foundation so that District 6 and East Oakland in general becomes a thriving economic hub," he said.
Part of that involves incubating local black and brown businesses, he said, something Taylor said he is already working on.
The new members of the City Council will be sworn in on Jan. 7, and their first official meeting is scheduled for the same day.
It is hard to know exactly what role either Fortunato Bas or Taylor will take up on the new council, but the two unequivocally have one thing in common: they rode a wave of frustration with the status quo to defeat incumbents.