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But Quan has been much less wishy-washy about Don Perata. Until recently, she was the only candidate in the race to openly go after him and call attention to his troubled history. A mailer she sent to voters last month showed two doors, one depicting a Perata mayor's office, and one showing a Quan mayor's office. The Perata door stated, "Special Interests Only," while the Quan door read, "Everyone Welcome!" Behind the Quan door was a list of her accomplishments. Inside the Perata door, the mailer read: "Don Perata: A history of conflict of interest," and then it detailed numerous news stories over the years about his questionable financial dealings and the political favors he's delivered to his major donors. In an interview at a Laurel District cafe, Quan summed up her assessment of Perata: "He definitely gets things done — if you pay him for it."
During her eight years on the council representing the Montclair, Dimond, and Laurel districts, Quan has earned a reputation for getting things done for her constituents. For example, she was instrumental in the opening of a new Farmer Joe's supermarket in the Dimond. She also rid the district of a rundown motel on MacArthur Boulevard that had become a haven for drug dealing, violence, and prostitution. If elected mayor, she says she plans to do more to help small businesses and attract retail. She's also a strong supporter of transit-oriented development. And she plans to recruit 2,000 volunteers to work with Oakland youth.
She also has a legitimate shot at winning. A recent poll commissioned by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce showed that she was only four points behind Perata, 26 to 22 percent. The poll also appeared to undercount Asian voters in the city — a voting block expected to heavily favor Quan.
If Quan resembles Hillary Clinton, then Rebecca Kaplan is the Barack Obama of the mayor's race. She, too, is wonky, but she also is a gifted public speaker who possesses what politicos call "the vision thing."
Last month, she shined during the standing-room-only mayoral debate at the Kaiser Center. Most of the candidates, including Perata, easily detailed Oakland's many problems, but Kaplan was the only one to vividly describe not only how she would fix them, but how she would turn Oakland around by capitalizing on its strengths — its great weather, its burgeoning reputation as a foodie mecca, its resourceful residents, and its many small businesses. Audience members repeatedly ignored requests by event moderator Martin Reynolds, editor of the Oakland Tribune, to hold their applause until the end of the debate and instead clapped approvingly when Kaplan finished her answers. "Oakland's greatest days," she said at one point, "are yet to come."
Kaplan's vision for Oakland's future includes the development of dense housing, retail, and businesses along major transit corridors. She has long been a believer in smart growth — both as a way to boost Oakland's economy and to stop suburban sprawl. "It's easily the most effective way to fight climate change," she noted in an interview at a Jack London Square restaurant.
Having spent eight years on the AC Transit board of directors, Kaplan also is a mass transit junkie. She says she will develop a comprehensive transportation plan for the city. And as a councilmember, she was a driving force behind the free Broadway shuttle, which connects Jack London Square with downtown and the city's hip Uptown district. Not surprisingly, she has won the endorsement of many local environmentalists, including the Sierra Club. She's also a bicycling fanatic. She often rides to various city events and plans to transform Oakland into a more bike-friendly city. "We should have the highest rate of bicycling in America," she said, noting the city's hospitable climate and terrain.
But Kaplan's tenure on the AC Transit board also has engendered criticism. She, too, went along with unsustainable employee work rules and compensation and benefit packages that are now forcing the bus agency to decimate service. And she kept voting to buy expensive, Belgian-made Van Hool buses even after it became apparent that they were accident prone and dangerous for the elderly and for people with mobility problems. To her credit, however, Kaplan also was instrumental in redesigning the buses to make them safer.
As much as she loves talking transportation and smart growth, Kaplan's signature issue since being elected to the at-large seat on the council in 2008 has been medical cannabis. She led the effort to tax and regulate medical marijuana, helping turn Oakland into a model city for how to manage the lucrative crop. She also co-authored the city's plans to permit, regulate, and tax four large medical marijuana grows, and to raise taxes on pot through a November ballot measure.
Kaplan also believes that medical marijuana and the growth of green-tech will help rebuild Oakland's once strong industrial base. And she plans to streamline the city's permitting processes and capitalize on Oakland's enterprise zones to attract new businesses and to make it easier for them to open and thrive in the city. She's a strong advocate, for example, for allowing businesses and residents to get what they need from the city online. "It's ridiculous that we make people schlep downtown for no good reason," she said of Oakland's bureaucracy.
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