Oakland uses ranked choice voting, which appears this way on a ballot. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

Oakland’s 2022 campaign season is getting off to an unusually early start this year.

The filing deadline for candidates to enter races for Oakland mayor and City Council is still months away and new district maps affecting council seats won’t be finalized until the end of the year. But multiple candidates have already declared they’re running for mayor and are seeking influential endorsements.

“It’s a real sea change election, a changing of the guard,” said Oakland-based political consultant Jim Ross. “A whole end of an era is coming to Oakland.” 

Now is as good a moment as any for The Oaklandside to kick off our 2022 election coverage. Today, we’ll take a look at who is running for mayor, the domino effect the mayor’s race is having on the City Council, as well as other county races important to Oaklanders. With elected officials termed out or retiring, or facing opposition for the first time, it is sure to be a long, fascinating ride. 

We hope you’ll join us along the campaign trail. 

Longtime political observers cannot recall an earlier start to a mayor’s race. Behind the scenes, key union endorsement meetings began in September, with multiple past and present councilmembers taking part. That may be an indicator of just how high the stakes are this time. 

The early start to campaigns might also be due to the fact that more people are choosing to vote by mail, and the election really begins a month earlier than past elections, starting when ballots are mailed out. 

But there’s one obvious reason for the flurry of activity: the mayor’s seat is wide open for the first time since 2010, the last time a sitting mayor wasn’t running for re-election. 

Mayor Libby Schaaf, who swept into office after unseating Jean Quan in 2014, is termed out. 

And already, council members Loren Taylor and Sheng Thao have decided to forgo running for their council seats for a shot at becoming mayor. 

They are among a growing list of contenders. Derrick Soo, a homeless activist in East Oakland, and Allyssa Victory, an attorney for Communications Workers of America Local 9415, each announced their intent to run in next year’s election. 

Others who have filed initial campaign paperwork are Gregory Hodge, a former school board trustee and member of the Brotherhood of Elders Network; Stephen D. Schear, an attorney; and Derreck Johnson, a restaurant founder, who challenged Rebecca Kaplan for the at-large council seat in 2020. (Kaplan is supporting Thao, indicating she won’t run for mayor).

District 7 Councilmember Treva Reid is signaling she’ll enter the race. Reid, who represents deep East Oakland, took part in union endorsement interviews and has quietly built a “Reid for Oakland” campaign website. She also filed initial paperwork to set up a campaign committee, but has not formally made an announcement. 

Former Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who left council in 2012 after 20 years, is also rumored to run. De La Fuente claimed he would challenge Schaaf in 2018 but never filed paperwork. Reached by phone, De La Fuente said he’s “90% in” this time. 

Ross, the political consultant, said the fact that Thao already secured endorsements from major labor organizations “narrows the pathway for other candidates” because the major sources of money and volunteers comes from labor. 

The Oakland Firefighters Union, Alameda Labor Council, SEIU Local 1021, Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, United Food and Commercial Worker Local 5, and unions representing carpenters, plumbers and steamfitters and electrical, sheet metal and iron workers have all pledge support to Thao. 

“I can’t remember a candidate for mayor for an open seat in a big California city uniting labor. Newsom didn’t do it. Liccardo didn’t do it. Libby didn’t do it. London didn’t do it. None of the current mayors in Northern California did it, and none of their predecessors did it either. Her uniting labor and the labor council is really a significant achievement,” said Ross, whose clients include East Bay labor organizations.   

City Council elections will be shaped by the mayor’s race

The mayor’s race will have an impact on the City Council election. In 2022, Oaklanders will vote to elect representatives of District 2 (Lake Merritt, Chinatown, San Antonio), District 4 (Montclair, Dimond, Laurel), and District 6 (Millsmont, Seminary, Coliseum). 

Nikki Fortunado Bas, the current council president, has announced she is seeking another term as the District 2 councilmember.

The seats for District 4 and District 6 are open, since Thao and Taylor are running for mayor.  

The District 4 council seat has been a stepping stone to the mayoral position. Both Quan and Schaaf represented the district before running successfully for mayor. 

So far, only one candidate to take Thao’s D4 seat has emerged: Janani Ramachandran, a social justice attorney who recently lost a runoff election to Mia Bonta for the 18th Assembly District seat. 

Political observers expect more candidates to jump in the race for the D4 seat, including someone backed by Schaaf. 

Paulina Gonzalez, the executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, has filed to run for District 6. More district residents are expected to join, and the names of potential candidates swirling around town are Peralta Community College District Trustee Kevin Jenkins and Pamela Ferran, an aide to Councilmember Taylor. 

A new district attorney, new county supervisor, and, challengers running for sheriff

At the county level, the seats of District Attorney and Sheriff are up for re-election. 

DA Nancy O’Malley has decided not to run, leaving the position open to, at present, three contenders: county prosecutors Terry Wiley and Jimmie Wilson, and civil rights attorney Pamela Price. Price ran unsuccessfully against O’Malley in 2018, but won the majority of precincts in Berkeley and Oakland. 

Sheriff Greg Ahern is seeking another term and for the first time will face opponents, including Alameda County Sheriff’s Commander Yesenia Sanchez and JoAnn Walker, a veteran of the San Francisco Police Department. 

Oaklanders will also have a say in the District 3 Board of Supervisors race. Tragically, the seat representing Alameda, San Leandro, and parts of Oakland is open, following the sudden passing of Supervisor Wilma Chan. Chan was struck by a motorist on Nov. 3 while walking her dog and later died at a hospital. The Board of Supervisors this month appointed her longtime aide, Dave Brown, as an interim replacement. 

Brown, a new District 3 resident, cannot run for Chan’s seat in the primary election because by law candidates have to have lived in the district for a year in order to qualify. Unlike Oakland elections, the county holds a June primary election. If no candidate receives 50% or more of the vote, the top two candidates face a November runoff. 

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.