Then-Oakland mayoral candidate Sheng Thao poses for a portrait at the Rockridge BART station in Oakland on Nov. 7, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
Updated 1 p.m. Wednesday
Nearly two weeks after Election Day, Sheng Thao declared victory Monday night in Oakland's hard-fought mayor's race, narrowly defeating fellow Councilmember Loren Taylor by fewer than 700 votes in the final ranked choice tally.
"It's been a long journey, and I'm incredibly honored by the trust the voters have placed in me," Thao said in a statement on Monday evening, following the latest count, which showed her winning by just 682 votes — or 50.3% to Taylor's 49.7%.
"I've never felt more hopeful about Oakland's future or more determined to lead the fight for it," she said.
The 37-year-old UC Berkeley graduate and one-term Council member representing Oakland's District 4 — who also serves as president pro tem — will become Oakland's first Hmong American mayor, and only its second Asian American mayor, following Jean Quan.
Taylor, who represents District 6, had been the front-runner in the race until just days ago. He conceded on Tuesday morning.
"While it hurts to admit it, I don't see a viable path to making up the 682 votes needed to alter the outcome of this election," he said, holding back tears, during a news conference in East Oakland's Liberation Park.
"I reached out and talked to Councilmember Thao earlier today, extended my congratulations," Taylor added. "And I offered her my assistance in the service of Oakland, because we cannot allow our city to fail."
Taylor said he did not plan to push for a recount effort, but noted that he wouldn't stand in the way if any of his supporters sought to do so and were able to pay for it. Alameda County has until Dec. 8 to certify the results.
Taylor will also step down from the City Council at the end of this year, with Kevin Jenkins taking his seat.
On Wednesday morning in front of City Hall, during her first public address as mayor-elect, Thao congratulated Taylor on the "strong" campaign he ran against her, and said she hoped to work "hand in glove together for this beautiful city that we both love so much."
"I just want to say that his family has given generations to this city, to this community, and we all owe them a thank you. So thank you so much," she said.
Thao, who replaces outgoing Mayor Libby Schaaf, will no doubt have her hands full. Many residents think the city isn’t adequately serving their needs. Critical issues, including housing affordability, violence and public education, are top of mind for residents, but homelessness is arguably the most visible issue in Oakland.
The mayor-elect, a progressive Democrat, received major support from outside groups, led by a labor coalition called Working Families for a Better Oakland.
During her brief remarks on Wednesday, in which she took no questions from reporters, Thao broadly outlined her main goals, including, foremost, "a comprehensive public safety plan" to address Oakland's sharp rise in violent crime.
"That involves doubling down on violence prevention programs that we now know reduces violent crime," she said, and by "redoubling efforts" to get guns off the streets. "It [also] means addressing the root causes of crime by focusing on creating more jobs and more opportunities for Oaklanders."
Thao also promised to support crime victims and reiterated her imperative to quickly fill vacancies in the city's long-understaffed police department by hiring a new class of experienced, diverse and "home-grown" officers.
She also pledged to support small business, build a more responsive city government — "one that will return your phone calls" — and make Oakland "the most proactive city in California for housing and homelessness."
"We're going to have an aggressive housing policy that protects renters, fights displacement and treats our unhoused with the dignity that they deserve," she said.
The daughter of Laotian refugees, Thao is the seventh of 10 children. Born and raised in Stockton, where her family lived in public housing, she left home at 17, and endured a series of hardships.
"I'm so very excited to get to work to be your next mayor come January. But I'm also very humbled with this experience as well," she told supporters on Wednesday. "Just 15 years ago, I was living in my car with my baby, my infant son. We escaped domestic violence. We had nowhere to live. I couldn't pay for first month, last month and deposit."
After trailing in every vote tally update since Election Day, Thao took a marginal lead in the race late last week.
Because no candidate received a majority of first-place votes on Election Day, voters’ second- and third-place votes were redistributed, as part of the city’s ranked choice voting process.
Taylor, a moderate Democrat who was endorsed by Schaaf, got an early head start on election night, leading Thao by roughly 1,600 first-place votes. His margin widened considerably after candidates' Greg Hodge and Treva Reid were eliminated and their ballots redistributed.
But Thao then got a major boost from supporters of candidate Allyssa Victory, giving her a narrow edge. And despite Taylor making up some ground from the redistributed votes of third-place finisher Ignacio De La Fuente, he was never able to reclaim the lead.
During his concession speech on Tuesday, Taylor took aim at the city's ranked choice voting system, which he blamed for eroding trust in the election process. He underscored that he had won the popular vote. And he argued that the votes of thousands of people who hadn't chosen either of the front-runners had essentially been ignored and were "not factored into the final decision of who would be Oakland's next mayor."
"That is a form of voter suppression," Taylor said. "And we have to recognize that and address it."
In a nod to the deep political divisions in the city — one evidenced, in part, by the sheer number of candidates who ran for mayor this year — Thao on Wednesday echoed her call for "a more unified Oakland."
"We have to come and work together to solve our problems together. This is not a one man effort, a one woman effort. This is all of us," she said, pledging to always prioritize the city first. "We love Oakland. Oakland is who we are. We love our diversity. And that's what we're fighting for. ... Let's get to work."
KQED's Tyche Hendricks and Maria Fernanda Bernal contributed reporting.
A version of this story was originally published Nov. 9, 2022.
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