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After Oakland FBI Raids and Juneteenth Shooting, Where Is Mayor Sheng Thao?

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Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao is seen at a public safety town hall at Genesis Worship Center in Oakland on Sept. 9, 2023. On Thursday, June 20, 2024, federal agents raided Mayor Thao’s home, throwing the embattled leader into further turmoil as she faces an upcoming recall election. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Bishop Bob Jackson, the pastor of Acts Full Gospel Church on 66th Avenue in East Oakland, said he thought he was watching a movie.

On Wednesday night, at least 15 people were shot near Oakland’s Lake Merritt after a Juneteenth celebration. The next morning, federal agents raided Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao’s home, throwing the embattled leader into further turmoil as she faces an upcoming recall election.

The FBI also searched the waterfront offices of California Waste Solutions, Oakland’s curbside recycling provider, as well as two Oakland Hills homes linked to the politically connected family that owns and operates the company, which political watchdogs have accused of funneling illegal campaign contributions to Thao and other elected officials.

“A lot of terrible things [are] happening in Oakland right about now,” Jackson told KQED on Friday morning. “It’s so sad because Oakland, to me, is just a great place to live. It’s a wonderful place and just didn’t deserve all this negative press.”


Since the raids, Thao has remained silent — even on the Juneteenth shootings — causing political strategists, city residents and political opponents to raise speculation about her future in office.

“Here we are more than 24 hours since residents saw FBI agents moving boxes out of the mayor’s house, and she still hasn’t spoken,” said Justin Berton, a media strategist and the former director of communications for Mayor Libby Schaaf. “That suggests to me she’s not going to release a statement. Rather, she’s considering how to resign.”

When contacted for comment on Friday afternoon, Anthony Brass, a San Francisco-based attorney representing Thao, said the mayor is willing to cooperate fully with federal investigators — and that she will continue to do her job. He said Thao will address the public next week.

“She has nothing to hide,” he said in a text message to KQED. “It’s unfortunate that she has had to endure the bad optics of having this search warrant executed on her home. She would have cooperated with this investigation without the need for this search.

“She will continue to do the work Oakland expects from their mayor and provide the federal government with whatever information they are seeking. We have no information that she is or will be the target of this or any investigation.”

Thao’s problems were mounting before the FBI raid. Donations to her campaign, among others, came under investigation by state and local political watchdog agencies, which alleged Cal Waste was illegally funneling them. She had come under scrutiny in recent months over concerns about crime and the departure of the Oakland A’s baseball team, and the signatures collected by opponents seeking to recall her in a November election were verified on Tuesday.

“The recall was going to be a steep climb politically in the first place,” Berton said. “But if she’s facing a recall and carrying an FBI investigation on her back too, that just became Mt. Everest.”

John Pelissero, the director of government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, told KQED that it would be hard for a public official like Thao to govern after an FBI raid because there would be a lack of public confidence in their ability to serve in the public interest.

“And long before there’s even a trial, there’s the risk that the trust in the mayor and trust and in the city government of Oakland will be impacted,” he said. “From an ethical perspective, the appearance of serious charges pending because of the raid is going to undermine the ability of the mayor to carry out her duties.”

Calls for Thao’s resignation have come from the recall campaign, some community leaders and the Oakland branch of the NAACP, which said Thao “cannot focus on the needs of the residents of Oakland while she addresses the major challenges posed by the FBI raid and investigation.”

Brenda Harbin-Forte, a retired Alameda County Superior Court judge and president of Oakland United to Recall Sheng Thao, agreed.

“She was not going to survive this recall,” Harbin-Forte said. “You can’t govern a city and be distracted by these investigations that are going on. It’s going to be a distraction, and we need someone who can give Oakland [their] full-time attention. We’re hoping that she will consider resigning and not delay the inevitable.

“If she were to do that, she would send the message that she can put Oaklanders first.”

Jackson, who also believes Thao should resign, said the mayor’s absence is concerning.

“Where is the mayor? Is she even around?” Jackson said. “No one seems to have heard from her, and she hasn’t made a sound about anything that’s been going on. … It feels kind of bad that we really don’t have the leadership in the city of Oakland that we really need and desperately need at these trying times.”

Although it’s unclear whether Thao has done any official city business since the raids, a spokesperson for the city of Oakland said in a statement on Friday that City Administrator Jestin Johnson is responsible for day-to-day administrative and fiscal operations to carry out the mayor’s policy goals.

Johnson, who was appointed by Thao in May 2023, noted in an email sent Thursday to city workers that Oakland has had challenging moments since he began working for the city.

“Today, like every day, our community needs, and rightfully expects, the high-quality public services we provide,” Johnson wrote. “Through every challenge we face together, we demonstrate our dedication to that service. All City services are being provided, and the mission continues. I know that our community can continue to expect our best.”

In a statement on Thursday, Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas expressed sympathy for the victims and their families after the shooting following Wednesday’s Juneteenth celebration, which gave way to a raucous sideshow where fights broke out before gunfire sent partygoers running for cover. She said her focus was on ensuring Oakland’s government continues to serve residents without interruption, a point echoed by other officials and advocates.

Loren Taylor, former City Council member and founder of Empower Oakland, an organization focused on neutralizing the impact of wealthy special interest groups in the city’s politics, expressed frustration that Oakland hasn’t been able to solve public safety issues and now faces a potential public corruption case, too.

“And then to compound that with the other news that is crowding out everything, which is the raid on the mayor’s house and other places across the city, that throws even more confusion, doubt and skepticism on Oakland,” said Taylor, who lost the 2022 Oakland mayor’s race to Thao by 677 votes. “I know that the entire city is feeling it. When are we going to get a break?”


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