We’ve invited nine of the 10 people running to be the next mayor of Oakland 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.
Oakland mayoral candidate interviews
Settle in for a long read; these conversations are weighty, befitting the office these candidates seek. They’ve been edited for length, relevance, and clarity, with some added fact-checking and background reading from us. (And note that we decided not to interview candidate Peter Liu and provide another platform for his dangerous and hateful rhetoric.)
This interview is with Tyron Jordan, a paralegal in the California Attorney General’s office. Jordan sits on the city’s Library Advisory Commission and is a member of the Oakland Rotary Club, where he volunteers with the KinderPrep committee, which distributes books to low-income families to encourage a love of reading from an early age. He also volunteers with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, where he helps veterans obtain housing, healthcare, and mental health assistance.
In recent years there have been several examples of tension between the City Council and city administrator. Oftentimes the City Council doesn’t feel like the city administrator is enacting the policies and laws that they’ve approved. On the other hand, the city administration often feels like the City Council is overstepping or loading up their plate with too much work, things like that. If you were elected mayor, how would you repair this relationship?
There should be more open communication between the city administration and members of the City Council. They might have the best interest of Oakland at heart but they have their different agendas. They may not be on the same page. The city administrator and the members of the City Council need to meet on a regular basis so they can build rapport.
Regarding the last budget that was written by the mayor and approved by the City Council with amendments, was there anything in it that you objected to, that you would have cut as mayor? And anything left out that you feel should have been included?
Offhand I can’t think of anything.
Mayor Libby Schaaf has done an exceptional job of raising private money from philanthropic sources to meet some of her big goals rather than going through the city budget. What do you think of this approach? Is it good for Oakland? Is it something you would also do as mayor?
I would concentrate more of my efforts as a mayor on making our city equitable, representing our people, and doing what’s in the best interest of residents, improving the quality of life of residents, whether they live in the flatlands or the hills. That would be my major point of focus.
Oakland is thousands of units short of meeting the affordable housing goals set by the region and state, the so-called RHNA goals. Would expanding affordable housing in Oakland be a goal of yours? If so, what concrete steps would you take? How would market-rate development and social housing fit into this plan?
It’s a two-tier [solution]. I think we need to help prevent those most vulnerable from becoming homeless from losing their homes and apartments. To do that, we need to institute a rental assistance program which was very prevalent during the peak of the COVID crisis. [Editor’s note: The COVID-19 rental relief program used state funds to help tenants make up missed rental payments, but most of the funding has been committed and the program is no longer taking applications.]
I also believe those who are living in homes—even though the vast majority of Oakland residents are renters there are still some who are living in homes—I think many of them are also at risk of becoming homeless. For them, we should kickstart or expand a mortgage assistance program.
We need to take a look at some of the vacant properties we have, foreclosed and unoccupied properties, and we should purchase these lands and structures and convert them to affordable housing.
You said continuing the rental assistance was available during COVID would be a priority. The funding for that was state and federal. If the federal or state governments don’t provide more money for that, how would you continue that program?
There’s an infrastructure and housing bond initiative. I think we could get funds from that. [Editor’s note: Jordan is referring to Measure U, the $850 million affordable housing and infrastructure bond that’s on the ballot this year. We aren’t sure if rental assistance would be allowable under Measure U, since the measure states that funds should be used only to pay for physical infrastructure.]
As mayor, what policies and programs would you pursue to help get the 5,000 unhoused people into shelters and off our streets? How would you balance pressing safety concerns like fires at camps with pleas from the community not to criminalize people trying to survive?
I would like to see everyone move into permanent housing, but that’s not going to happen immediately. We need to spend more on mini-housing, I believe they’re called ADUs [accessory dwelling units].
But it’s a balancing act. People want to help the homeless but they don’t want it in their backyard. They don’t want encampments near them. It’s going to be hard. We need to house unhoused people somewhere. There will be some backlash, but the encampments need to be secured. They need hygienic facilities. There should be some apparatus for order in those encampments, security, and that sort of thing, to make it more palatable.
One of the biggest challenges business owners say they are 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?
I really don’t know where to start with that, to be honest. I know that every small business owner is feeling the punch of prices rising. That’s something I would need to give more thought to.
Do you feel like the position of Oakland mayor actually isn’t well suited to solving these problems? Are they too national and global in scope?
One of the tangible powers of being mayor is that I would have a platform. If I talk about economic problems, I would be heard. I would use my platform as mayor as a bully pulpit to express my views on how we can help small businesses. But as far as on a practice level, for what I could do day to day, I don’t know how much power I would really have as mayor, even though I would really like to help.
Both the Coliseum and Arena are huge entertainment hubs for the city. Regardless of what the A’s end up doing, going to Howard Terminal or leaving the city altogether, what do you envision for the future of the Coliseum and Arena site?
I was initially opposed to the Howard Terminal project. I thought Oakland voters should have had a vote to determine whether or not the project happens. It looks like it’ll happen no matter what though.
But I want the A’s and the city to provide affordable housing, a substantial percentage of it. I think the A’s should also provide high-paying jobs. And we need to consider the environmental impact of all that construction. I want them to take that into account and use safeguards.
A lot of money is at stake and I want the community to have a slice of the economic pie, not a symbolic slice.
Sorry, let me rewind. I mentioned Howard Terminal but we’re actually not that interested in that project. The question is more about the Coliseum and Arena site. Assuming the A’s leave, what’s your plan for that site?
I would want to reuse that as a venue for various kinds of entertainment and art events. It could be a venue for job training and job fairs. I would utilize that space as much as possible. A lot can be done in that area.
Do you support any of the plans to bring a WNBA team to play at the Arena?
I think that would be good. I support that. It would be good for Oakland and good economically.
Public Schools in Oakland are run by OUSD and charter management organizations. But that hasn’t stopped Mayor Schaaf from including education as one of her platforms with programs like Oakland Undivided, Oakland Promise, and the Teacher Residency Program. What do you think the mayor’s role should be in getting involved in public education issues in Oakland?
The mayor should play a very significant role. I approve of the role that Mayor Libby Schaaf has played.
Of course, the mayor can’t put their hands into the business of OUSD. But as mayor, there is often influence, a platform where you can make proposals. It’s essential for the mayor to express their opinion on our school system. It’s part of the job.
Right now the school district is embroiled in controversy because they’ve closed some schools in recent years and will be closing some more at the end of this year. For years now, the district has had serious financial troubles and that’s the reason they say they’re closing schools. But there’s also this debate in Oakland with some people saying it’s the charter schools that have caused financial insecurity for OUSD, leading to school closures. What’s your view on these issues?
One of the reasons that have been given for closing schools is to save money because the schools are being underutilized. But I haven’t read any study that shows closing schools saves money. I feel most of the schools they’re closing or discussing closure for are ones that have a high percentage of students of color and students with disabilities and special needs.
I don’t think charter schools are going anywhere. They’re here to stay. I prefer that every public school has the right funding and staff for every student to have a quality education. But the butting of heads between public school supporters and charter school supporters—I think the two groups should work together.
You’ve never held elected office before. We’d love to hear you reflect on the gaps and inexperience you will have if you were elected mayor. How would you make up for this lack of experience?
I would certainly come in with many gaps. I’ve held appointed office but never elected office.
If I have shortcomings around certain issues or subjects then I go to the people who know about those things. I find the folks who have a proven track record of making things happen. I would bring in folks who have—not necessarily under Libby Schaaf—but people who have experience in Oakland government, and those in nongovernment roles.
I’m not shy of acknowledging what I don’t know. Being mayor is a major job. It’s not a nine-to-five type of job.
Regarding the conditions of streets in Oakland, there are many potholes and lots of needed paving. There are many poorly designed streets, and crosswalks need to be improved. What do you think the department of transportation’s focus should be?
We have horrible streets. I’m a jogger. I jog around Oakland all the time and see the horrible streets. Some of these roads are just hazardous. They’re dangerous to drive and ride on.
Potholes are the job of public works. We also have a department of transportation. There should be a centralized rapid-response team to fill some of these potholes. If they’re short-staffed on maintenance crews then we need to hire more crews. [Editor’s note: OakDot and public works both have a 20% vacancy rate in budgeted positions. In other words, one in five positions in these departments isn’t filled currently.]
When Measure KK was implemented a few years ago it covered a bit of ground but there’s still a lot to go.
How would you grade OakDOT and public works right now? Are they doing what they should be doing or would you revamp these city departments?
I think they should continue doing what they’ve been doing. But there are not enough workers to do the job. Oakland has 400,000 people but there’s a lack of manpower.
What should be a bigger priority: building new roads for cars, or infrastructure like paths for bikes and pedestrians?
I think it’s a combination of both.
Frankly, if it was up to me, everyone would be riding a bike in order to help save the environment. But that’s not practical. That’s only in my mind. We need to repair roads for drivers and it’s equally necessary to repair the roads for bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s not an either-or.
Readers who took our election survey wanted us to ask about police staffing. Oakland has 681 officers right now. Is that too few or too many? Can you explain your thinking?
That [number] sounds about right to me. We have seen an uptick in crime but I don’t think adding more police will prevent crime. I think the 600-plus [officers we currently have] is adequate. I wouldn’t increase that amount nor would I decrease it.
Can you briefly explain why you think adding police wouldn’t necessarily help reduce crime?
From what I’ve read, every study I’ve ever read, increasing the number of police officers [doesn’t have an impact]. Police officers respond. I don’t see how increasing their numbers to 700, 800, or 900 would actually stop crime. In Chinatown and Little Saigon crime has happened even with a higher police presence there. More police won’t have a big impact in preventing criminals from taking the opportunity to commit crimes.
Gun violence is one of our city’s biggest problems. What’s your plan as mayor to address gun violence?
When people refer to gun violence they automatically are referring to shootings in the streets, or the recent shooting at King Estates, or City Hall. But there’s also gun violence in domestic situations and by people contemplating suicide.
Our first priority should be to get guns off the street. We should closely collaborate with the federal government with background checks and take away guns from domestic abusers: not just assault rifles but handguns as well. I think we need all hands on deck to have a comprehensive program.
I’m ex-Army and I find these recent shootings shocking. The scary part about it is it could happen to anyone in any place. We need to severely limit access to guns. There are too many guns out there. [Editor’s note: The city of Oakland and even the state of California have little power to limit the accessibility of firearms due to the current interpretation of the Second Amendment by the Supreme Court, which posits that individuals have a right to own firearms with few restrictions. The Supreme Court also recently struck down a New York State law that prohibited the concealed carrying of guns in public. California’s similar law is now being challenged. The lax firearms laws in neighboring states like Nevada and Arizona also ensure that there’s a steady flow of illegal guns into California.]
We’re assuming you’re familiar with the Ceasefire program and the Department of Violence Prevention. Those are two of the ways Oakland currently tries to prevent and respond to gun violence. Do you have thoughts about these? Are they working?
I think DVP is doing a good job with what they have, as long as they remain fully funded. It’s such a complex problem though, all hands must be on deck. We need more police officers. We need more programs like DVP. We need everyone involved to put an end to this. This is crazy about what’s going on. [Editor’s note: As of Oct. 9, over 100 people have been murdered in Oakland in 2022, a rate that’s much higher than the average over the past 10 years.]
Do you think police misconduct is still a problem in Oakland? If you do, what’s your plan to ensure OPD continues to make progress in reforming itself?
I don’t think it’s a huge problem. It’s not as bad as it used to be. The police commission has teeth and has been doing a good job keeping track and holding officers accountable for misconduct.
One thing that’s still a problem is when police who do engage in misconduct just move to the next city and keep working as police officers. If an officer has a track record of misconduct they shouldn’t be able to move somewhere else and keep being a police officer. That’s my view.
Do you think the police commission has enough resources?
One thing I’m not certain of is whether or not they have the power to subpoena records [from the police department]. If they don’t have it, that’s something we should look into. [Editor’s note: the police commission does have the power to subpoena records from OPD and compel testimony from officers and witnesses. It was given this power when it was created in 2016 and this authority was clarified in 2020.]