A week's worth of campaign mailers in Oakland's 2022 election. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

Candidates for Oakland mayor, City Council, and their supporters are ramping up efforts to win votes in the final two weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election. This translates into a flurry of ads stuffing mailboxes and popping up on websites, endless emails pleading for money and volunteers, and debates over social media.

We know many voters are feeling inundated with information, so we summarized some of the big, buzzy developments in key races, and traced the money trail to see who’s paying for ads.

Ranked-choice voting alliances in the mayor’s race

  • Loren Taylor and Treva Reid endorsed one another’s campaigns today in a bid to boost their chances of winning.
  • How does this alliance work? Oakland’s ranked-choice system lets voters rank their five favorite candidates. If a voter’s number one choice is eliminated during the instant runoff process when the registrar starts tallying ballots on election day, then their vote goes to their second choice. If their second choice is eliminated, then their third choice gets their vote, and so on. Reid and Taylor are hoping one of them will be propelled over the 50% mark by the other’s supporters.
  • “Two status quo politicians who are endorsed by Mayor Libby Schaaf, who haven’t been able to build broad coalitions behind their campaigns, are now endorsing each other at the last minute,” responded their City Council colleague and opponent in the mayor’s race Sheng Thao. Thao hasn’t endorsed any other candidate, but some of her supporters are urging voters to strategically rank her first on their ballot, followed by Greg Hodge, and Allyssa Victory. Similarly, the advocacy group Bay Rising Action wants voters to rank Thao first followed by Victory and Hodge.
The group Oakland Rising Action is urging a strategic slate of Thao, Victory, and Hodge.

Coal terminal developers have spent $300,000 backing De La Fuente

  • One man is spending an astounding sum of money on the Oakland mayor’s race—possibly a record amount. Los Angeles financier Jonathan Brooks has contributed $550,000 to the Californians for Safer Streets committee, which was set up by local lobbyist Greg McConnell to support Ignacio De La Fuente. Brooks’ hedge fund, JMB Capital, has the rights to operate a coal terminal that developer Phil Tagami hopes to build in West Oakland.
  • Tagami’s company, Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, contributed another $50,000 to the pro-De La Fuente committee. Other contributors include landlords William Rosetti and Normand Groleau, who each gave $25,000, and Vancouver-based developer and landlord Holland Residential and construction company Silverado Contractors, which both gave $10,000.
  • The committee has raised a total of $691,000 and spent $370,000 on ads, polling, and more. Tagami told us he and others set up this committee to boost De La Fuente because he’s upset with the status quo and thinks the former D5 councilmember will be an effective mayor. De La Fuente told us if he’s elected, he won’t stand in the way of development of the coal terminal, which has been bogged down in lawsuits and opposition from Schaaf and the City Council.
  • Environmentalist and West Oakland community groups are alarmed by the coal terminal developers’ spending. Youth vs. Apocalypse, No Coal in Oakland, SF Baykeeper, Sierra Club, and SEIU Local 1021 plan to protest in front of City Hall on Oct. 27.

Unions have spent over $600,000 backing Thao

  • Labor unions have gone all in supporting Thao’s campaign for mayor. A coalition including unions that represent thousands of city workers like the International Association of Firefighters Local 55, SEIU Local 1021, IFPTE Local 21, and the Alameda Labor Council, which represents thousands of other union workers in professions like healthcare, teaching, and the building trades have spent over $600,000 through two political action committees on pro-Thao mailers, ads, polls, and more.
  • The massive amounts independent groups like unions and businesses are spending to support Thao and De La Fuente is unlike anything ever seen in Oakland mayoral politics, according to data compiled by the Public Ethics Commission. In the 2014 mayor’s race, corporations, unions, and other groups spent a total of $66,000 supporting and opposing the 11 candidates. The 2018 mayor’s race only saw $10,000 in independent spending.
  • Why the big change? The ability for groups and individuals to spend unlimited amounts to influence voters (so long as they don’t coordinate with the candidates) was made possible by the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

Spending by other wealthy individuals and powerful interest groups is ramping up

  • Mayoral candidate Greg Hodge denounced his inclusion on a mailer sent out by a committee called East Bay Voter Guide for More Homes. This cryptic ad told voters to list Taylor first on their ballots, followed by De La Fuente, Reid, and Hodge—promising these candidates would fund more police, make it easier to develop housing, and manage homeless camps. “These are not values our campaign aligns with,” tweeted Hodge, who was startled to see the committee supporting him.
  • A PAC called the Unity Victory Fund, has spent $49,000 supporting Thao’s outreach to Oakland’s Asian-American communities. It’s funded by a Sacramento-based committee called the Asian Pacific Islander Leadership PAC and state Assemblymember Evan Low’s campaign committee.
  • Business groups and unions made a big deal about their joint support for Measure T, which would create a progressive business tax that makes large corporations pay higher rates than small companies. But one prominent business leader has broken ranks with the Chamber of Commerce. Developer and landlord Riaz Taplin has spent $20,000 on mailers opposing Measure T.
  • Citizens for Impactful Voting, a PAC set up by several longtime supporters of outgoing mayor Libby Schaaf, has spent $28,000 on mailers urging voters to strategically vote for Taylor, De La Fuente, and Reid.
  • A powerful landlord lobbying group is going big to support De La Fuente. The National Association of Realtors has spent $98,000 on a mailer urging voters to support him.
  • Another PAC giving De La Fuente a boost is Citizens for a Sane and Responsible Oakland, which is run by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley. Miley’s committee has spent $23,000 on mailers positioning De La Fuente as the candidate who can solve Oakland’s crime, illegal dumping, and homelessness issues. Major sources of funding for the committee come from Supervisor David Haubert and the owners of the Garden of Eden cannabis dispensary in Hayward.

Kanye tweet

  • A short-lived tweet by District 4 City Council candidate and business owner Nenna Joiner has stirred up controversy. Weighing in on brands and agencies dropping rapper Kanye West following his recent antisemitic remarks, Joiner tweeted, then quickly deleted, a message to Kanye: “Just when you thought you lest [sic] everything when you divorced now you really did! Still rooting for you. Hope your come back is much greater. #prayforYe.”
  • Joiner’s opponent Janani Ramachandran tweeted in response that she was “stunned to see this statement of solidarity with an anti-Semite.” Joiner’s remarks come in the context of an Oakland election cycle in which another candidate, Peter Liu, made consistent anti-Jewish, racist, and homophobic statements in a series of mass emails.
  • Joiner was quick to tweet in clarification that “no hate or antisemitism is ever okay,” and addressed what they called an “inarticulate tweet that doesn’t represent my views.” The Libby Schaaf-endorsed candidate wrote: “I understand the impact on the Jewish comnty esp n Oakland. The tweet was NOT condoning Anti-Semitism but showing compassion for those w mental health issues.”
  • The D4 race is also seeing independent spending by PACs. The Oakland Police Officers Association sent $14,000 worth of mailers to district residents urging them to support Joiner. And Bay Rising Action has spent $1,000 on ads and a voter guide urging support for Ramachandran.

Support and opposition for Nikki Bas in D2 race

  • A group of 240 Asian American residents and workers in Oakland threw their support behind City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, in the form of a collectively signed letter praising her record on public safety and calling for her reelection to District 2. “Nikki is a strong, progressive, and pragmatic leader, and a constant and reassuring presence,” they wrote. “We reject attempts by political opponents who use fear based mistruths to mislead voters.”
  • The statement came a few weeks after others in Chinatown held a rally demanding Bas resign from her council post. Leading the event, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce’s Carl Chan blamed recent tragedies and crime in the district on a lack of leadership from Bas. Bas’ challenger, financial planner Harold Lowe, has led a relatively quiet campaign but has positioned himself as a supporter of a more traditional police response to safety issues. He also says he’ll be a business-friendly councilmember. 
  • Bas has raised nearly $150,000 since 2020, including support from leaders of local nonprofits, academics, City Councilmember Carroll Fife and Alameda County Supervisor Dave Brown, and a number of labor unions that maxed out the $1,800 contribution limit. Lowe has raised around $16,500.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.