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'We Can Make Some Real Change': Oakland Voters Weigh In on the Issues, Candidates

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A collage of the five portraits included in this story
Oakland residents pose for photos in the weeks before Election Day. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

It’s the home stretch in the race for Oakland’s next mayor.

Ten candidates have been making their final pitches to voters, addressing some of the city’s ongoing issues — which are detailed in a recent poll by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. The findings show that 97% of 604 likely voters surveyed think homelessness and gun violence are among the top problems the city faces.

The same poll also shows the likely front-runners: City Councilmembers Sheng Thao and Loren Taylor, and Ignacio de la Fuente, a former councilmember. (Find more information about all the candidates here.)

Oakland voters are using ranked choice voting to choose their next mayor. When the system first rolled out during the 2010 mayoral race, it helped Oakland City Councilmember Jean Quan beat former state Sen. Don Perata. Two candidates, Taylor and Treva Reid, also a current councilmember, have teamed up, urging voters to choose them as their top two picks.

So as Election Day approaches, KQED’s Brian Watt talked with some voters to find out more about the candidates and issues that are motivating them. Here’s a snapshot of their conversations.

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Linda Handy, 72, Maxwell Park

A woman wearing a teal button down shift stands right of frame looking into the camera. A sunny day illuminates an out of focus house and yard behind her.
Linda Handy poses for a portrait in Oakland on Oct. 26, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Retiring soon from a long tenure as an elected member of the Board of Trustees of the Peralta Community College District, Handy said she isn’t drawn to the name recognition that some mayoral candidates appear to have cultivated.

Instead, she is focused on the candidates who have several years of experience in public service. For her, the choice for mayor is between Greg Hodge, who served on the Oakland Unified school board in the early 2000s, and Ignacio de la Fuente, whose service on the City Council goes back to 1992.

'You've got three City Council members sitting there, saying, If I move from this seat as a councilmember to the end seat as the mayor, things are going to be different. Sometimes you need to find out the direction to the bathrooms in the office that you're in before you want to move on to the next top office. They haven't cut their teeth in their roles [on the] City Council. We need someone who is knowledgeable.'

Listen here for the full radio interview.

Miya Saika Chen, 41, Lake Merritt

A woman sits right of frame looking left, smiling. She appears to be at a window sill looking out, while wearing a wool cardigan.
Miya Chen poses for a photo at Alkali Rye — Oakland's Beverage Shop, a business co-owned by her brother Kori Saika Chen, in Oakland on Nov. 1, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Chen, a lifelong Oakland resident, worked for three years for Nikki Fortunato Bas, who represents District 2 and is the current City Council president (and who is running for reelection in her district). Seeing closely how city government works, Chen said public safety and homelessness are among the top issues for her this election.

'I'm inspired by leaders who are really thoughtful and thinking about not just Band-Aid solutions for the problems we have right here. I'm thinking about my parents being able to walk around at night. I want a safe city. But I don't want political leaders to just tell me what I want to hear. I want thoughtful safety solutions that think through and address the root causes of the problems that we have here and prevent a lot of this stuff from happening in the first place on our streets.'

Listen here for the full radio interview.

Romero Wesson, 21, downtown Oakland

A man in a suit stands center frame looking left. Behind him, a white building and small courtyard.
Romero Messon stands outside Oakland City Hall on Nov. 2, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Wesson, who grew up near the Eastmont Town Center, said he’s committed to Black leadership and is supporting Councilmembers Loren Taylor and Treva Reid. A member of the city’s Youth Commission, he added he’s invested in making sure young people are prioritized in policymaking.

'If we look at a lot of the movements in Oakland, a lot of them are youth-led charges and movements. It's really indescribable what I can see Oakland doing when it partners with the young people — instead of being on opposing sides of the young people. So once adults get out of 'adult-ism,' which is oppression of youth, once they really step out of themselves and see youth are capable, we can make some real change.'

Listen here for the full radio interview.

Eurydice Manning, 41, Lake Merritt

A woman sits left of frame looking right. She sits at a small pink table and wears a black button down top with bright red cherries on it. Behind her is a bakery display.
Eurydice Manning, owner of James and the Giant Cupcake, at her shop in Jack London Square in Oakland on Nov. 1, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

A few months before the pandemic hit, Manning, owner of James and the Giant Cupcake, opened a second shop in the Jack London Square area. She said she had to furlough many of her employees while balancing demands at home: raising her daughter, who was navigating kindergarten over Zoom. Still, she said she continued fighting to keep her businesses running — and that spirit persists as she reflects on the politics of reproductive rights and Proposition 1, which would enshrine abortion access in California’s constitution.

'At this point, a lot of other personal things are on the line. This is an all-female staff — not by choice, but by gravitation of how people feel comfortable in the spaces they want to be in, and it's just one of those human rights that you just don't question. When something gets taken away from you, you have to think about what that would look like without something that's necessary to the lives of the people that I'm working with.'

Listen here for the full radio interview.

Kaliyah Tillman, 18, East Oakland

A woman sits center frame wearing a green tshirt. She sits with sunlight on her face but the room behind her is covered in shadow. Out of focus shelves can be seen behind her but not much else can be made out.
Kaliyah Tillman at the East Oakland Youth Development Center on Oct. 25, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Tillman, an intern at the East Oakland Youth Development Center, has a few tattoos on her left arm: the Gemini sign; “2004” for the year she was born; and angel wings honoring her older brother, Corey Clay, and her cousin, Aaron Pryor. Both were shot and killed in recent years. So as she gets ready to vote for the first time, she’s thinking about the issue of gun violence; the city saw one of the biggest spikes in homicides in the Bay Area over the past couple years.

'I'm not sure what they can do, because I'm not going to say that they need to take more accountability. But I just feel like they put this picture on it as, well, "This is Oakland and this is how Oakland is." I don't feel like that's how Oakland is. It has a lot more good things about it. I know that there's a lot of bad things going on. But instead of just saying Oakland is a tragic place right now, say, Oakland is going through a hard time.'

Listen here for the full radio interview.

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