Oakland at-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan officially kicked off her bid for a seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in a virtual event on Thursday, calling the election an “important moment” for the county.
Kaplan, the most senior member of the City Council, is one of four candidates running for the District 3 seat left open after Supervisor Wilma Chan was struck and killed by a motorist in November.
Former San Leandro Councilmember Surlene Grant, former Alameda Councilmember Lena Tam, and former Oakland school board director David Kakishiba, now the executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth Center, have also filed paperwork to run in the June 7 primary election. Chan’s seat is currently held by her former aide, Dave Brown, who said he will not enter the race.
District 3 includes all of Alameda, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, and parts of Oakland. Jack London Square, Chinatown, downtown, and East Oakland neighborhoods from Eastlake to Fruitvale and ending at Seminary Avenue are within the supervisorial district, under new boundaries the Board of Supervisors approved as part of the redistricting process.
The district is home to nearly 340,000 residents who are 32% white, 31% Asian, 25% Latino, and 14% Black.
If elected, Kaplan said she would get to work to find solutions on homelessness, building affordable housing and protecting residents from environmental hazards. The Board of Supervisors oversees a large budget controlling funding for the county’s health care system, homelessness services and other social services. It also controls significant public land that could be used to build housing and services for unsheltered people, Kaplan said.
“This would be an opportunity to build that synergy that is so needed between the cities and county to really respond in a healthy and effective way around homelessness,” Kaplan said.
The Zoom event was hosted by former Kaplan staffer Bobbi Lopez and joined by fellow Oakland council members Dan Kalb, Nikki Fortunato Bas, and Sheng Thao, former county Supervisor Scott Haggerty, clergy, and labor representatives.
Her supporters praised Kaplan as an experienced candidate who has worked on both city and county issues. Kaplan was first elected to council in 2008, has run two unsuccessful Oakland mayoral campaigns, and has served on the regional transportation and air quality boards as well as the Coliseum joint powers authority. Prior to council, she was the at-large representative for six years on the AC Transit Board of Directors.
Oakland port commissioner Michael Colbruno, who began his career working in San Francisco politics, said the job of a supervisor takes regional knowledge. “I’ve seen good supervisors and I’ve seen bad supervisors, and when I saw Rebecca was interested, I knew right away she was the only person who was fully qualified to fill the seat of Wilma Chan, who was and always will be a legend and an icon.”
Thao, a former Kaplan aide who is running for mayor, said the region “right now is in a world of hurt.”
“We are seeing small businesses shutting down, the homeless crisis is a moral crisis, affordable housing is not being stood up,” Thao said. “If anybody can come up with solutions, it’s Rebecca Kaplan. She lives and breathes this work.”
A Kaplan victory would mean Oakland would need to hold a special election for the at-large council seat. Losing its senior member would further reshape a council that has had six new members elected since 2018. It stands to gain a new member next year: councilmembers Sheng Thao and Loren Taylor are giving up their seats for a chance to become mayor.
The District 4 and District 6 seats, along with Bas’ District 2, are on the November ballot along with the mayor’s race. Bas is running for reelection and no one has announced a run against her, so far.
If no one wins over 50% of the June vote for the D3 supervisor’s seat, a runoff election between the top two candidates will be held in November. Kaplan would be the first LGBTQ member of the Board of Supervisors.
Andreas Cluver, a Port of Oakland board commissioner and secretary-treasurer for the Building Trades Council of Alameda County, said Kaplan is “going to have overwhelming labor support because she’s been a champion for working people for many years.”
“When she indicated that she was going to run my first thought was, ‘oh no Oakland is going to lose a real champion. Like, wait a minute we are just getting going now with so many things.’ But obviously we did not blink once,” Cluver said. “When you win we are going to fill your [council] seat with someone that shares your vision and moves us forward.”
Correction: the original version of this story failed to mention that former San Leandro Councilmember Surlene Grant is also running for the District 3 seat. We regret the error.