Oakland mayoral candidate Gregory Hodge poses for a photograph at Laney College following a candidate forum held in August, 2022. Credit: Amir Aziz

Feel like you don’t know much about the 10 people running to be Oakland’s next mayor? You’re not alone. In the race to replace outgoing mayor Libby Schaaf, who served the maximum eight years allowed in Oakland, the candidates with the greatest name recognition are relatively new to Oakland politics or haven’t held elected office in years. And in certain corners of the internet, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Howard Terminal is all Oakland’s next mayor will think about over the next four years.

Everything you need to know: A guide to Oakland’s Nov. 8 general election 

At The Oaklandside, we firmly believe that journalism—and especially local journalism—is part of democracy’s bedrock. To uphold that promise, we’re steering clear of the notion that there are only two or three candidates worth your attention or that Oakland’s next mayor can’t or won’t accomplish much.

Instead, we’ve invited nine of the 10 candidates to sit down with us for in-depth interviews, asking them mostly the same questions, such as, how many police officers does the Oakland Police Department need? How would they help the City Council and the city administration work together better? How would they fix Oakland’s potholes? We developed these questions with help from hundreds of Oakland residents who answered our election survey this summer; thank you to everyone who weighed in. (And no, we didn’t ask about Howard Terminal; they’ll get plenty of that elsewhere.)

Settle in for a long read; these conversations are weighty, befitting the office these candidates seek. They’ve been lightly edited for clarity, with added fact-checking from us in some places. (And note that we made the decision not to interview candidate Peter Liu so as not to provide another platform for his dangerous and hateful rhetoric.

We’re kicking this series off with Greg Hodge, who, as we reported previously, is a social entrepreneur and licensed attorney. Hodge operates Khepera Consulting and is involved in several community organizations, including the Brotherhood of Elders Network, which works to advance the health and wellness of Black men and boys. He served two terms on the Oakland Unified School District board from 2001 to 2009 and was board president from 2003 to 2005. —Tasneem Raja, editor-in-chief, The Oaklandside

Over the last few years, we’ve seen several examples of tension between the City Council and the city administration. For instance, the city’s homeless encampment management policy—the council passed it, but many feel the city administration isn’t enacting it. The rocky establishment of the Oakland Police Commission is another example. As mayor, you’d be the city administrator’s boss. How would you help the City Council and the city administration work together better? 

Last year, I was a facilitator for the City Council’s biannual retreat, and the retreat focused on two things: Budget priorities for this next budget cycle, and the working relationships between the City Council, the mayor, the city administrator, the city attorney, as well as the [Alameda County] Board of Education and the Board of Supervisors. I interviewed each person, including the mayor—45-minute interviews—and I had a chance to hear from all of them. And to a person, they all described the working relationships as poor to none. 

Some of them said that they didn’t meet on a regular basis with the current mayor. The city administrator said part of the problem is that there are no agreed-upon priorities and the council tends to give his staff more and more work, and they don’t take anything off of the plate. Councilmembers expressed frustration with the city administrator, saying he does not pay attention to where our priorities are. 

So if there’s a fundamental breakdown in the communication, I think it’s the mayor’s role to work with the City Council to write the budget priorities. And in this cycle it’s going to be safety, it’s going to be homelessness, it’s going to be illegal dumping—there are going to be several things. And there are a lot of other things that city staff will just not be able to do. So part of the challenge is to get to a fundamental agreement about the priorities? And then, what is the staffing capacity to follow through? And when you prioritize something, does that mean you’re saying no to something else? 

What I found in these conversations is that most of them had a long list of priorities. And in the session, I explained to them that a priority is something that, by definition, excludes something else. So you’ve got to take something off your list. 

Lastly, the city administrator had a dashboard idea for tracking and providing metrics for the places where we’ve made advancements, and I don’t think that has happened: having a tool that actually measures success on given priorities and is making sure that there is capacity within city government to actually handle those priorities.

In the current budget that was drafted by the mayor and passed by the council—I’m sure you’re familiar with much of what was in it—was there anything left out that you would have liked to have been included? And anything included that you disagree with?

One thing that I think should have been bolstered was the budget for the Department of Violence Prevention. That department now, I think, is budgeted at around $20 million. In my opinion, it should be double that. I think one of the ways that we could handle it, at least in the previous cycle, is if we had avoided that $3 million of overtime that was overspent for OPD.  That money should have been put into the Department of Violence Prevention. The vision behind the Department of Violence Prevention was that it was going to have equal status with the police department—and there’s no way budgetarily that’s going to happen anytime soon. But I think, year in and year out, you’ve got to put more prevention dollars, behavioral health dollars, and fidelity toward the model done in Richmond. 

Richmond’s office of neighborhood safety was put together back in 2008—I was one of three consultants to help do that. Within five years, Richmond’s homicide rate came down 70%. And it was because one of the central features was, they hired returning citizens, formerly incarcerated folks who are from Richmond, to interact with and work with the young people who were identified shooters. That’s the hard work, that effort. So I think budget-wise, you’ve got to add more to DVP’s budget. 

It’s hard to say what I would take out [of the city budget] because most of the things that I noticed in the budget were actually pretty meaningful. If anything, you have to really take a look at the pet projects each City Council person has in their district—the kinds of things that go into those projects, where people give a grant to a community organization for some work they’re doing. We don’t have the luxury of doing that as much anymore. I get the politics—that people want to feel like they delivered for their districts. But those dollars, I want to say it’s a total of $50 million across all councilmembers—I may be getting the number wrong—that’s a place where you’ve got to have a little bit more discipline to say, “We’re in a crisis, and we have to focus every single resource on how we’re addressing those big crisis issues.” 

Now, if that pork is being used in a way that’s consistent with the priorities of the full City Council, then it makes sense to me. Otherwise, we just don’t have the luxury to do the sort of pet projects, if you will, that lots of councilmembers like to do.

Oakland is thousands of units short of meeting the affordable housing goals set by the region and the state. Would expanding affordable housing in Oakland be a priority of yours as mayor? And if so, what are some concrete steps would you take to achieve that?

It’s absolutely a priority. Housing is a human right and we’ve done a really unconscionable job of allowing 5,000 people to be living on the streets without the proper infrastructure or services. From a racial equity perspective, 70% of all Oakland’s unhoused are African American, and many of them are seniors. It is a situation that we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemies, to be honest with you. [Editor’s note: Seventy percent of Oakland’s unhoused residents in 2019 were African American. The percentage declined to 59% in a 2022 count.]

So I think we have to take the framework that the city has adopted—along with EBHO (East Bay Housing Organization) and others—this notion of production, preservation, and protection. On the protection side, we’ve got to ensure that we protect the 47%, the 209,000 rent-burdened folks here in Oakland. We’ve got to maintain and strengthen the Just Cause eviction framework, we’ve got to reinstate the Oakland Mortgage Assistance Program, and we’ve got to maintain and protect Oakland rent adjustments at the 3% cap. And I think we need to create an emergency assistance network that works with Oakland Housing Authority and with legal assistance programs to provide legal protections for people who are fighting evictions.

On the production side, we need to set big goals that we can attain. This is a regional problem—cities don’t solve this problem alone. You make sure that you’re working with the county, you’re working with ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments), and other regional entities. One specific idea: There is a proposal that was forwarded back in March of last year with BARHII (Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative) and others that was called the Black Hat Fund. It was $500 million for first-time homeowner assistance and included resources for people of color-driven or owned nonprofit developers to get homes. And then you add to that what San Francisco and other cities have tried to do around their Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, where you’re giving right of first refusal to nonprofit organizations to buy those properties, and then sell those properties back at market rate or below market to folks that are looking to buy. 

Lastly, you have to protect the 20,000 folks in low-income homes. You’ve got to do a registry so we know where rental properties are and what prices are being charged. We’ve got to adopt a tenant opportunity to purchase that goes along with that community opportunity to purchase piece. Then, make sure that we can build as many ADUs as possible without some of the bureaucratic barriers. We need to make it easy to do business in Oakland. Our permitting process, everything over there is just antiquated. It takes way too long to get things through, and I think we can do a much better job.

What is your perspective on the role of market-rate housing development, and social housing, in addressing the housing crisis?

I think it needs to be balanced. I think that when we think about equity concerns around how we do market-rate, and how we vet those projects with the public, typically we wait a little bit too long in the process to ask neighbors what they think. So part of what we’ve got to do is [work with] developers who have pursued their development projects, but with an equity lens. 

Obviously, there is a financial connection between tax increment funds that you get from those developments, and the ability to build affordable and very affordable housing. We need to have a more comprehensive approach to this. We need to get all the stakeholders, the nonprofit developers or private developers and others, at the table early on to think through what a community-benefits ordinance will look like, so we’re not negotiating community benefits for every single project. 

Essentially, create a system around this as opposed to a set of transactions. That, for me, is the theme of my campaign. We’ve had too many years of political transactions at City Hall. We talk about systems transformation, but nobody is willing politically to shake up the systems because the only people who run for mayor are running for something else after that. And it’s hard to make hard choices when you are always sort of testing the political winds about your next thing.

You referenced the 5,000 people living on the street. What specific policies and programs would you pursue as mayor to get people off the streets? And particularly, how would you balance some of these pressing safety concerns like fires associated with encampments, with the community pleas to not criminalize people who are trying to survive out there?

As I said at the outset of this, it’s unconscionable that we have this many people living on the streets. So I think the first thing we do is stop homelessness before it starts, with prevention services. It goes back to parts of my answer to your previous question around: How do we make sure that we’re protecting low-income and affordable and very affordable housing for our most vulnerable Oaklanders? I think we’ve got to make sure that we reach the folks with the lowest incomes, providing housing support for families, seniors, and people with disabilities. And then we’ve got to make sure that people have the right set of services. 

When they do the point-in-time count, they ask people, “Why are you out here?” And about 67% of the reason is financial. People say, “I lost my job and I didn’t have my last month of rent,” or “My car broke down, so I couldn’t get to work, and then I lost my job, so now I live in my car.” And then about 37 or 34% of it is mental health issues and substance abuse. [Editor’s note: The 2022 count in Alameda County found that 18.6% surveyed said mental health needs was the primary cause of their homelessness, while 38.7% said services could have helped.] So if we could get to those mental health interventions in partnership with the county, where most of our behavioral and mental health dollars sit, then we can do a much better job.

We need to revisit the Encampment Management Policy and we need to make sure that we’re implementing it in a way that’s humane. I went out to Wood Street last week and spent time out there as they were cleaning that first section between 34th and 28th streets and Wood. And literally, I get there, and they’re destroying a tiny home. The court settlement that the judge directed said that you’re supposed to [clear encampments] in a humane way—you’re supposed to store people’s belongings, you’re supposed to make sure that people have access to their belongings, and they have reasonable notice before you start removing folks. So while I agree with the necessity of it in that case, because the fires that were happening under the maze were dangerous for everybody, on that particular day, I didn’t see any city staff. I saw eight or nine California Highway Patrol officers. I saw folks driving bulldozers. I didn’t see anybody from the city. 

The only people I saw helping folks at that moment were from Community Ready Corps, APTP, and other organizations. They had a little tent set up and a woman named Boots. She was helping people solve problems. One person had a U-haul truck to move their things, and CHP intervened and said a bad credit card was involved. And it was like, how would you even notice? So they had to go through a whole thing around who was going to rent the truck. And then, once you got the truck and those belongings out of there, where are you going to take it? And they were problem-solving around public storage and warehouse facilities where people could store their goods. I didn’t see anybody from the city. I’m not saying they weren’t out there at some point. But as a neighbor—I live in West Oakland—I went over, brought some water, and did the little bit that I could do. And I didn’t see city staff; I didn’t see people really, you know, being able to help folks get to the next place. 

The last thing I’ll say is, some of the people I talked to [at Wood Street] were saying, “We don’t have any place to go.” The city is saying to go to a shelter where you’ve got a cot in a room with a bunch of other people. But you can’t take your belongings. You can’t take your dog if you have one. You can’t take your kids. And every night you’re there for one night, and you’ve got to get up in the morning and leave and go someplace else. That’s not a tenable solution. And I just think that our city government—with $4.7 million from the state and whatever existing resources—could have done a much better job handling that situation.

One of the biggest challenges business owners say they’re dealing with is the rising cost of goods due to global supply chain issues. Have you thought about any local solutions to remedying this national problem?

You know, to be honest, really, I have not. I mean, that’s almost like asking, “Well, how do we deal with unbridled capitalism?” It’s this huge question. I’d be open to local business folks talking about alternative supply chain sources. I think it takes years, if not decades, to rearrange what we’re getting from China and what we’re getting from other supply nations. Even the simple things like, you know, semiconductors and the lack of semiconductors, was two years ago for new cars. So I don’t know that you necessarily have a local solution as much as you have, maybe, partnerships with our congressional delegation, our state delegation, to figure out: Are there some ways we can deal with those supply chain problems at the state and national level? That’s probably about the best answer I can give you on that.

In our reader surveys, residents have noted the lack of large grocery stores with fresh produce in Oakland, particularly in West Oakland and East Oakland. How will you work with the council members in these areas to create more grocery stores with better, healthier options?

It’s a huge issue, and it’s been an issue for a while. As I mentioned before, I live in West Oakland, and I ran for City Council back in 2008. And that was one of the issues I ran on. Our councilperson at that time had been in office for four terms, I think, and we still didn’t have a full-service grocery store in West Oakland. We got Community Foods, which lasted for three years; I think it closed about six months ago. And it was an option, but it wasn’t the most economical option. Because I would try to shop there and, honestly, as a middle-class shopper, I found that paying like $3 for a mango was pretty pricey, you know? And so part of it is, we’ve got to find the right partner on this, whether it’s a Sprouts or, you know, somebody who seems to have good community engagement with folks when they move into a community. I would be very happy to work with folks. Walmart left East Oakland—we lost a grocery in that form. This has been an ongoing issue. 

For years, people would say, “Well, the reason retailers don’t locate in working-class communities is because of shoplifting,” that sort of thing. And there have been plenty of studies that were done—when I was doing my policy work at Urban Strategies Council and other places—that said that’s just simply not true. And transportation issues are associated with it too. If you’ve got limited transportation in my neighborhood, your choice now is Mandela Market, which is great. But if you live in other parts of West Oakland you’ve got to get up to Emeryville to the Pak ‘n Save or up to Broadway and 30th Street to Sprouts. And the same kind of thing exists in East Oakland. This is one of the reasons why I scratch my head a little bit, literally and figuratively, around current City Council members who are running and say they’ve done all this great stuff, but they haven’t addressed some of the real basic issues that people have in their own districts.

We’re going to pivot now to talk about arts and culture.

Yay, one of my favorite areas!

Both the Coliseum and the Oakland Arena are huge entertainment hubs for the city. If the A’s moved to Howard Terminal, or if they ended up leaving, what do you envision for the future of the Coliseum marina site?

I think the Coliseum/arena site should have been the first choice for the A’s. All the infrastructure, the BART line, the freeway, the parking, everything is there. And I think there should have been a lot more effort to make that more attractive. That being said, the African American Sports Entertainment Group, with Rebecca Kaplan and others, has proposed a WNBA franchise. I think all that makes sense and that we need to turn the arena and the Coliseum into a multiplex—sort of like the area in and around Yerba Buena Gardens over in San Francisco, where you’ve got theaters and you’ve got other entertainment venues. I’d love to see a bowling alley, a skating rink—make it a destination. 

I think the A’s still have 50% ownership equity of that facility, and it needs to be part of the deal with Howard Terminal. Those two things need to be talked about in the same breath, as a part of the same negotiation. And I think that same kind of cooperation that the Fishers and others have had at Howard Terminal, AASEG didn’t get that. I had a conversation with Ray [Bobbit, founder of AASEG] about just the ridiculous barriers that got thrown up, as they were negotiating the ENA (Exclusive Negotiating Agreement). And one of the things he said to me was, [the city] wanted [AASEG] to agree to a confidentiality statement to not talk about the project in public. They didn’t agree to it. But just the fact that the city administration—and I’m gonna take it all the way up the chain and say Mayor Libby Schaaf—would even ask for that, [shows that] they basically were trying to impede any real progress on it. 

And so I feel like the same amount of energy, the same amount of public conversation that we put in Howard Terminal, ought to be put into the Coliseum complex—have a vision for what that looks like. I know that folks in D6 and D7 have already started talking about it, and organizing around it. But I think that folks deserve that, and we deserve to have the economic spinoff from that. And the last thing I’ll say, one of my friends, and I have to still confirm this, but he said that from the time the Coliseum and Oracle arena got built until today, it has generated $9 billion of wealth for the various franchises. And most of that wealth has not been felt by the people in D6 and D7. And that’s an understatement.

Oakland spends a few million a year on arts and culture through the city budget, should the city be funding the arts directly? Or are their bigger priorities?

I think the city should be funding an arts director and we should be putting a lot more energy into arts districts like the Black Culture Zone and the Black Arts District. I’ve felt like this for a long time. I’m an artist, a musician, and I’ve spent a lot of time, from the late-80s until recently, at the Malonga Center. I feel that all of these facilities, like Malonga Center, should be world-class spaces. [The Malonga Center] is an Oakland Parks and Recreation-operated building that’s fundamentally falling down around itself. I’ve got friends who are tenants on those upper floors and have studios on the lower floors, and it’s been ignored. I know that Councilmember Carroll Fife has just started to pay attention to what’s going on over there. 

But the artists in that building are a good example of how arts make a big difference in this community. It is, in fact, part of what makes us feel safer. I think that cities like Philadelphia and the mural arts they have as part of their city work—I mean, it changes the environment and how people feel about their physical space. So better investment in the cultural arts division and more investment in arts districts all over the city, so that every neighborhood has some artistic place. 

Lastly, working in partnership with Oakland Unified, there ought to be artists in residence in every single school so that young people can get exposure to the visual arts and spoken word. I’m a parent of two Oakland kids who are now adults who are working artists, and they have done great things. But we’ve got to make sure that artists can afford to live here. My children are doing quite well, but they live in Los Angeles because they say it’s just too expensive. Part of it is fit—my oldest is a Marvel writer, so her work is in L.A.—but the arts and culture connection in Oakland can be much stronger, and I think it could actually benefit the entire city and become part of our economic engine.

Public schools in Oakland are run by OUSD and various charter school organizations. But Mayor Libby Schaaf has made education a big component of her work through efforts like Oakland Undivided, Oakland Promise, and the teacher residency program. What role should the mayor play in Oakland’s public education issues?

Thank you for the question. It is near and dear to my heart. I spent eight years on the Oakland school board and have a pretty decent understanding of the bureaucracy. One of the things that I would do within the first 100 days would be to convene an Oakland education summit. I would bring together teachers, principals, administrators, and community organizations and bring OUSD staff and our charter partners. Because I know that when parents choose schools, they don’t care what the governance format is; they don’t care if it’s a charter or a public school. Generally, they want to know, is this a safe space for my kid? Is it going to be academically enriching? Is this a place that is going to build social and emotional skills that are going to help them launch into the next part of their lives? We haven’t done that in quite a long time. 

Greg Hodge speaks to teachers and other community leaders at a press conference at OUSD’s downtown Oakland headquarters in December 2021, about the district’s budget shortfall and the future of OUSD.

Way back when Elihu Harris was mayor, he did an education summit. It was over the course of a weekend: a Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday over at Mills College. They were good conversations because you can’t have those conversations at a board meeting. You can’t have those conversations at a City Council meeting. So I think the mayor, as the chief convener, ought to be able to pull that conversation together. 

And in preparation for that, we should do a couple of things: One, we should make sure that we have an equity analysis of the current conditions of our schools. Some of that work has been done, but I think the city’s department of equity could be helpful with that. To be able to say, when you get ready to close a school or you’re going to put more resources into a school, here’s why. Some of the groundwork for that has been laid with the reparations for Black students work that’s happening. I think that’s the first thing. 

Second, we need to do an independent financial audit of the school’s finances because it’s an issue of trust at this point. Personally, I think that the data that comes out of the school district staff is pretty good, compared to where it was years ago, but nobody trusts it. So I think you need to have either a city auditor, or maybe somebody from the state level, and I’m not talking about FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team)—but some entity that people trust, to say, here are the resources we have and here’s the number of children we’re serving—right around 35,000. Here’s the number of school buildings—we have 85. Typically, other districts have about half of that. But how do we get to that? Because there’s one thing I know for sure: We fight to keep schools like Parker open, but there are a lot of schools that aren’t serving Black and brown kids well. 

So from an equity perspective, we have so much work to do. I think the mayor’s office can be the bully pulpit for how to make that work go. While I applaud Oakland Promise, Oakland Divided, and all of what Libby’s doing, she has never really jumped into the fray. And nobody wants to because it’s hard. But I think that that is the role of the mayor in the city, and it is a set of issues that people care about a lot.

We know that Oakland’s roads, today and for generations, have been filled with potholes. They’re poorly designed and they lack crosswalks that are safe. There are not enough speed bumps, allowing cars to go super fast. There aren’t enough bike lanes. How will you improve these conditions in Oakland? And how will those changes be funded?

We have resources currently for street repair. There’ll be a ballot measure, Measure U, that will provide some additional resources for streets if it passes. I think that it’s maybe an issue of transparency. If there was a way to let the average Oaklander know about the progress of street redesign and repairs including pothole remediation and crosswalks, you know—do an assessment so the public understands, here’s what we’ve been doing with your money over the last five or six years, and here’s what we’re planning to do. 

The budget, that’s where we need to be really clear. And this is where some of the debates about what we do with Howard Terminal matter. We’re getting up here now to a price tag upwards of $320 million for infrastructure alone, in and around Howard Terminal just to make that development go. A lot of people are still not happy. They’re not happy with their streets. And they’re saying, like, why aren’t we spending that kind of resource on filling potholes, creating more bike lanes, all of the things you described? I think that’s one part of it. In other words, make it more visible in terms of what we are doing and what we plan to do, and where the resources are coming from. 

The other thing I’d say, and it’s a drop in the bucket, but I think it has something to do with our overall civic morale: You have these pothole vigilantes, people who are going out in the middle of the night with bags of asphalt and a shovel and they’re filling up holes in their neighborhood and doing that work without any city participation. On one of the National Night Out events, I was over in the Fruitvale neighborhood and I noticed it looked like there were some potholes that had been filled. And there were some interesting, lateral speed bumps—they weren’t perpendicular across the roadway, they were in parallel. And I asked [a community member], “What’s that?” And he said, “Well, we just get a lot of people in cars doing doughnuts down here, and now we’re trying to keep people from doing that.” But there was some citizen engagement there. 

Years ago, I was in Toronto for a family vacation and saw a man in the morning, who was doing graffiti removal. And I went and asked him because he kind of looked like an official city person, but he was a neighbor who had been empowered by the city to actually do graffiti removal. The city gave him all the materials, the tools, the advice, and training about how to do it. It’s the kind of program that I think Oakland could use because we already see people every week doing street repairs and cleaning up illegal dumping. There is definitely an energy in Oakland to do some of that sort of self-help, self-directed work. But I think the city could be a much better partner with neighbors who are trying to do something on their block.

What would you prioritize as mayor? Building new infrastructure for biking and walking? Or should we improve the roads for safer driving?

I think it should be a balance between the two, to be honest. I’ll give you an example. I use my bike quite a bit and I can walk downtown, but I also drive. So as a driver, when all of those modifications happened to Telegraph Avenue between downtown and 40th Street, it was really confusing. As a bike rider, it felt more dangerous to have the bike lane next to the curb, to have parking, and then have people driving up the street. So part of it is like, where did we test these ideas? I’m sure that the Department of Transportation came up with this idea from something they saw in another city. But for me, as a driver, I was nervous about making a right turn because I could never see the bike riders. So it’s an example of a design flaw that we should be paying attention to. As we do this, I think the basic infrastructure has got to be improved so that your basic roadway is free of potholes. Every time I’m on any street in Oakland and it’s a new street, I just marvel at it. Because I haven’t seen a new street in my neighborhood since I’ve been here, and I’ve been in this house since 1992. 

The second thing I’d say is, I was talking to Creighton Davis, who is our coordinator for the neighborhood crime prevention councils. They’re trying to shift away from just talking about crime prevention, to being more like the organizers in neighborhoods. It would be really interesting to see those neighborhood prevention councils turn into neighborhood empowerment councils so that every neighborhood weighed in with the city government around: How do you see your neighborhood? What is your vision? Or if there is a conflicting vision about it, have some public process to come to some agreement or at least a compromise where you make sure that everybody who wants to be involved has had an opportunity to give their say. But then figure out what people really want in their neighborhood through decentralizing these decisions with the city government, because every neighborhood is a little bit different.

Public safety is something a lot of our readers weighed in on and wanted us to ask the candidates. Oakland has 681 police officers right now. Is that too few or too many? And can you explain your thinking on the issue of police staffing in Oakland?

Public safety is what I’m most interested in. And I think we always start with policing. And as part of the answer to a public safety question, I think what we need is a comprehensive approach to it that starts with prevention—all of the work I think I mentioned earlier in this around the Department of Violence Prevention, the kinds of things that DVP can be doing if we double, triple, quadruple the budget there. 

In terms of police, I think we need around 700 [officers]. I would add a few more because I want us to avoid spending so much on overtime. And as we do that, I want to see police officers with a much more focused approach to what law enforcement is going to do to focus on the most serious, violent incidents. And do what we’ve begun to do with MACRO, where we’re taking the nonviolent, non-emergency calls off of our 911 dispatch system. Start moving them to other non-sworn officers, non-sworn civilians who can respond to those. We have to get our investigatory capacity up—we’ve got to have a much better clearance rate than 40% [for homicides]. Washington DC solves about 80% of their murders. So [people are] out here doing dirt and nobody’s willing to be accountable, in part, because in Oakland you’ve got a six in 10 chance of not getting caught. You could shoot somebody in front of City Hall and maybe get away with it. So I think the investigatory piece is really important. Some of those roles on the forensics and the tech side of this don’t have to be sworn officers, either. 

So I think that the number of officers is vacillating right around 700, in part because Measure Z requires us to. And until we can go back to the voters, we have to have a minimum number of cops. But I think that the more we can do to take—as my friend David Muhammad calls it— the “cat in the tree” problems off of the officers to respond, I think you’re gonna get better response times, you’re going to have a more dedicated police force that really doesn’t feel like they’re doing all these other things. Because when a lot of these folks are hired, they really want to make communities safer. 

So law enforcement is what we do to people, and public safety is what we do with people. And that’s the mantra from me, and how we should be thinking about public safety. 

I think that beautification efforts also—really cracking down on illegal dumping. It’s my understanding that we lost four full-time city staff who were focused on illegal dumping. You know, you’ve got to have some staff that focuses on that. I put all of that in the same basket around public safety. It’s prevention, it’s law enforcement, and it has to do with the environment, and sending a message to our kids and our seniors about their safety.

You mentioned having the police focus more solely on violent crime. Gun violence is probably the most serious issue in Oakland. What is your plan to prevent gun violence?

We’ve got to do more of what we’ve started to do around “ghost guns”—getting unregistered, unmarked guns off the street. I don’t necessarily agree with gun buybacks. People will often talk about gun buyback as one method. One of the folks, several years ago when we were talking about gun buybacks in Oakland, said, “Look, I bring my gun, I get money, I go get a better gun.” So I mean, we’ve got to be more creative about how we think about getting guns off the street. 

Rob Bonta, our attorney general, just had a press conference in San Francisco about some new efforts from the state around gun violence reduction. And I think part of it is working with our state officials to figure out, how do we make gun charges stick? Our new district attorney, whoever that is going to be, whether it’s Pam Price or Terry Wiley, the DA has got a big role to play in terms of how we handle gun charges. 

But I also think there’s got to be a whole lot more work done in the community, by the community, along the lines of what I’ve talked about earlier—with folks who have been through the system, who know about incarceration, know the young people who are out here who are doing most of this dirt and figuring it out. Because really, there are about 200 families that are at the center of a lot of [the violence] that happens here. David Muhammad runs the National Center for Criminal Justice Reform. He and I have been friends for a long time and he’s one of my policy advisors around safety. And he talks about the fact that, at any given moment, there are 150 to 200 families whose kids—and these are young kids, 12, 13, 14 years old—who are out here doing some of the worst acts with the guns. We have to get to those young people. We have to interrupt that whole cycle. Just this last week, two people got killed in front of a mosque. Two people got killed in front of City Hall. A little girl got killed, I think in North Oakland. It’s almost like we’re numb at this point. We have to do something. We have to shake this up in a pretty significant way. Because most people in Oakland just don’t feel safe.

The Ceasefire program that the city operates—do you more or less think that’s on the right path? Or do you think the city needs to do something different?

I think you’ve got to do Ceasefire on steroids. The original Ceasefire program in Boston, 30 years ago, was a combination of, like, we’re going to work with you if you want to get out of his life that you’re in on the streets, but we’re also going to have law enforcement come down really hard if you don’t. It also was coupled with a job-training program so that young people would have an opportunity. Anybody who’s under 30 years old had an opportunity to get a job. And I think that part of what we haven’t done a good job of in Oakland, is we haven’t connected our workforce dollars to our violence prevention dollars in a good enough way. 

So with the Ceasefire model and the Department of Violence Prevention, again, if we were paying attention to what Richmond did, we would have structured the DVP differently. I got asked to give advice about it. Our City Council person, Lynette McElheney at the time, was trying to do the political thing of adding the kitchen sink—like we’re just going to put everything in here, including [homicide investigation] clearance rate—and it just doesn’t work.

We need to really assess what DVP is doing up, down, and sideways. The community partners that have been working with them—like BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency) and Oakland Frontline Healers—we need to make sure that people are playing appropriate roles, but we have to bolster what they can do. Ceasefire has been tried in a lot of places and it works in varying degrees. But I think it works well when you’ve got that work component attached to it—work, and education.

You have a wealth of experience in leadership roles with organizations focused on bettering the lives of people of color, especially men and boys of color. What would you bring from that experience to the role of mayor for a diverse, often polarized city that’s experienced a massive loss of residents of color, especially Black residents, for the past couple of decades?

What I bring is a keen sense of public and community processes. Like, how do we get people to have hard conversations with each other? Years ago, I ran a conversation with 20 cops and 20 kids over an eight-week period, and we got to some understanding about the stereotypes that kids have about cops and vice versa. And it was in partnership with the chief of police at that time. So I think there’s something about my experience, working inside organizations as a facilitator, a meeting designer, and as somebody who gets people to have conversations. 

Number two, I’ve got 40 years of experience in Oakland. I’ve worked with various organizations from faith-based to arts to public policy. As an elected board member, I’ve done racial equity work around the country, from Buffalo to Miami to Little Rock to Chicago to Louisville. So I have a sense of what other people are doing in cities around the country. 

The third thing is kind of intangible: I still believe in us, I still believe in Oakland. I still believe we can be the city we want to become. I haven’t given up. I’ve got friends who have moved to other places, especially as I get closer to the purported retirement age, I’ve got friends who are leaving because they say I just don’t want to deal with it anymore. And I put myself out here as a candidate, because I think that we can still do great things in Oakland if we can work together. 

So the thing that distinguishes me from other candidates is that set of experiences and skill set, not just as somebody who was on a legislative body on a school board, but also as a manager, as somebody who has run nonprofit organizations. I was the first director of what’s now Oakland Thrives. I was the first director of the Freedom Schools program. I’ve worked with philanthropy, and I often don’t talk about that deep connection to philanthropy. And folks are waiting to help. They really want to help with the right civic leadership here in Oakland.

Is there anything you’d like to discuss that we didn’t ask you?

One thing you didn’t ask about is my relationship with the faith community, and how the faith community can be more active and engaged around the issues of healing here in Oakland. Because people are hurting. You know, a lot of people are doing fine, depending on where you live and how you move about in the city. But there are a lot of people who just aren’t feeling it. And I just think that that sense of hope, and how we feel—we’re not talking about it enough. That’s the intangible part that people are really kind of looking for.