(Left to right) Lateefah Simon, Barbara Lee, and Dan Kalb. Credit: courtesy of the candidates

Barbara Lee, Lateefah Simon, and Dan Kalb are each hoping to elevate Oakland’s profile on a grander political stage. 

On Thursday, Oakland City Council District 1 representative Kalb officially announced he is running for the new District 7 state Senate seat currently occupied by Nancy Skinner. District 7 encompasses Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond, and Skinner has represented the region since 2016 but is termed out. Kalb faces competition from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, labor leader Kathryn Lybarger, and AC Transit Director Jovanka Beckles.

Kalb is just the most recent Oakland official to announce a run for higher office.

In February, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee let it be known that she is running for U.S. Senate to fill retiring Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat. And in early March, BART District 7 Director Lateefah Simon announced her campaign to fill Lee’s seat in the House of Representatives.

Although not quite a household name, Kalb has left an impression on Oakland’s political scene by focusing on environmental issues, affordable housing, and criminal justice reform. During his three-term tenure representing North Oakland, Kalb authored legislation to ban the storage and handling of coal in Oakland. He also authored a measure that created Oakland’s first independent, community-run police commission and was named an “Affordable Housing Champion” by East Bay Housing Organizations in 2020. 

Lee, who has represented Oakland and Berkeley in the House of Representatives since 1998, faces tough competition from fellow congressional representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, both from Southern California. 

Lee was born in El Paso, Texas, went to high school in the Southern Californian city of San Fernando, and later attended Mills College in Oakland. She joined the staff of Congressman Ron Dellums in 1975, who represented Berkeley and other parts of the East Bay. After serving on the state Assembly from 1990 to 1996 and the state Senate from 1996 to 1998, Lee became the first Black woman from Northern California elected to the House of Representatives. Throughout her long and storied career, Lee has been an advocate for criminal justice reform such as working to defeat California’s punitive “three strikes” law, which increased prison sentences for repeat offenders. She also authored and passed California’s first Violence Against Women Act, which provided more funding for services and programs dedicated to protecting female survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence. And she was the sole vote against the authorization of military force in Afghanistan following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Simon is the only candidate so far who has publicly announced a campaign to succeed Lee in congress. Simon, who is legally blind and uses public transit to get around, decided to run for the BART board following the killing of Oscar Grant by a transit officer in 2009. She was elected in 2016 and has championed equity issues. In 2003, she was honored with a MacArthur Fellowship for her leadership of the Young Women’s Freedom Center. She has been the president of the Akonadi Foundation and currently serves on its board, as well as the Board of Trustees for the California State University system.

The elections for the state Senate and other state positions, as well as federal offices, including Congress, will start with a primary on March 5, 2024. The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the general election in November.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.