East Bay Rays: The News From Oakland

Today was a rare day when the front page of the SF Chronicle was dominated by news from Oakland.

First, there was the "community reaction" to the announcement that the transit cop who shot an unarmed perp named Oscar Grant had been sentenced to two years in state prison. (see here for my previous commentary onthe Oscar Grant case) As every major development in this story has been accompanied by major rioting and dozens of arrests, you can imagine the reaction.

Looking out her front window in a usually quiet residential neighborhood in this city, Deanna Goldstein's knees began to shake.

More than 100 protesters were hemmed in by police in riot gear. A trash can was blazing on the street.

"I came home early from downtown to get away from the craziness, but the craziness came to me," she said.

In the past, the violent protests over a white transit officer's slaying of an unarmed black man trashed downtown Oakland businesses. But after Johannes Mehserle on Friday received the minimum two-year sentence for slaying Oscar Grant, angry demonstrators marched into residential areas near Lake Merritt for the first time, putting innocent people in harm's way.

Police arrested 152 protesters, including seven juveniles, on suspicion of crimes including vandalism, unlawful assembly and disturbing the peace.

Oakland police spokesman Jeff Thomason said 56 of those arrested were from outside the city. Investigators will be reviewing video and photographs of protesters damaging property to help prosecutors file charges, he said.

Incredibly, this display did not bring Oscar Grant back to life. Also, the sentencing judge did not come running out of the courthouse waving his arms and yelling that he had made a terrible mistake and sentenced Mehserle to be hanged at dawn. And, I'm guessing that no one reflected on the fact that - despite the bare headline summary "White Cop Shoots Unarmed Black Man" - when he was shot, Grant was part of a drunken New Years Eve scene at the Fruitvale BART station, the sort of place you go when you are looking for trouble, rather than trying to avoid it. Plus, the videotape clearly shows that Grant was aggressively resisting arrest, something that has never been a wise career move, regardless of your race.

Grant died because of a tragic mistake. Lots of guys in Oakland get drunk and run around acting like idiots on BART. Grant is the one guy who has been shot for his troubles. But, anyone rioting on his behalf is simply looking for an excuse to run wild, just like Oscar Grant. Lessons learned in this matter = zero.

The second news was the results in the election to succeed Ron Dellums as mayor of Oakland. There was a crowded field of the usual Greens, Socialists, and left-wing Dems, but the prohibitive favorite was former State Senator Don Perata who figured he would follow fellow semi-retired pols Dellums and Jerry Brown into the mayor's office. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. Perata has fallen out of the lead thanks to Oakland's system of ranked voting, which I will explain forthwith. Instead, the next mayor is likely to be a matronly looking Chinese-American woman named Jean Quan:

In an abrupt and stunning turnaround in the race for Oakland mayor, Councilwoman Jean Quan vaulted into the lead - ahead of former state Sen. Don Perata who, until Friday, held a comfortable advantage and had been expected to win, unofficial election results showed.

The latest tally of votes put Quan on top with 51 percent compared with Perata's 48.9 percent in a race that tested Oakland's first election using ranked-choice voting.

Quan was helped immensely when third-place candidate Rebecca Kaplan was eliminated and her votes distributed to the two remaining candidates. Quan received 75 percent of those votes.

"That ballot transfer from Kaplan to Quan is unprecedented," said David Latterman, who has analyzed ranked-choice voting in San Francisco since it was introduced in supervisors' races there in 2004. "I underestimated that there are so many people who do not like Perata."

We have ranked voting in SF. The idea is to put an end to the endless run-offs that follow the general election where there are multiple leftists running for each office. Instead of voting for one person, you place your vote for your first choice, second choice and third choice. Here is how it worked in the mayor's race.

Ranked-choice voting - also known as instant runoffs - allows voters to cast their first, second and third choices in a race. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, last-place candidates are eliminated and their votes distributed until one candidate reaches the 50-percent-plus threshold.

When first-place votes were initially tallied, Quan was behind Perata by 11 percentage points - she had received only 24 percent of the first-place votes in a field of 10 candidates. After seven candidates had been eliminated - and their second- and third-place votes distributed - three candidates were left: Kaplan, Quan and Perata.

At that point, Quan was trailing Perata 40 to 31 percent. Kaplan's voters pushed Quan to victory. Of Kaplan's 20,000-plus votes that were distributed to Quan and Perata, more than 15,000 went to Quan.

Quan had been actively campaigning for months for people to put "Anybody but Don" on the ballot. She had told supporters and announced at several mayoral forums that she wanted supporters to put Kaplan second.

Kaplan, in turn, had suggested that people read endorsements that listed her first - and included Quan as a lesser choice. Kaplan had largely run a campaign avoiding criticisms of other candidates, but nearing the end of the campaign, Kaplan had also taken a more active role in criticizing Perata.

We've never had a mayor's race decided like this in SF, but a couple Board of Supervisor races have been decided in similar fashion. It's certainly preferable to the former system when the run-off was held in December when it was usually raining, no one realized there was an election (didn't we just vote in November??), and turn-out was infinitesimally small.

(btw, if you are wondering how a wild-eyed conservative manages to rank his three favorite progressive politicians, well, he doesn't. I always vote for the same person on all three choices, since it's hard enough to find an acceptable "right wing" San Francisco politician. The voting machine never fails to be baffled by this.)

They're still counting votes in Oakland, so Quan hasn't quite won out, but she's definitely the best positioned to win. Politically, I don't know how big a difference this would make. Quan is as much a left-wing Democrat as anyone else you could imagine. But, she would obviously be quite a change from the progressive lions who have been sitting in the mayor's office for the last 12 years.

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