Jean the Giant-Killer 

How Oakland city councilwoman Jean Quan beat the East Bay's much-feared king of big-money politics. Hint: It wasn't just about ranked-choice voting.

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Most of the mailers also instructed residents to visit the web site, NotDon.org, also known as "Anybody But Perata for Mayor of Oakland." Founded and operated by longtime East Bay journalist J. Douglas Allen-Taylor, the site featured news stories about the campaign along with an exhaustive compilation of investigative reports about Perata by the Express, the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, and the Sacramento Bee. The site obviously struck a popular chord with readers. If you did a Google search on "Don Perata" in the weeks before the election, NotDon.org usually came up as the second or third result.

Although Quan's campaign eventually became synonymous with the Anybody But Perata movement, Allen-Taylor said he decided to launch the site after a suggestion by Geoffrey Pete, a supporter of Mayor Ron Dellums and Rebecca Kaplan. The site purposely did not endorse any of the candidates running against Perata. Allen-Taylor was determined to ensure that readers knew his site was independent and not a partisan political attack on the ex-senator by one of the campaigns. "If the web site had supported any of the alternative candidates, it wouldn't have worked," he said. "I can't overstress that."

After the election, Perata campaign consultant John Whitehurst told the Chronicle that he regretted not attacking Quan and Kaplan more. The Perata campaign had relied on a Sacramento group with close ties to the senator, Coalition for a Safer California, to run negative ads against Quan. But the group laid off Kaplan after slamming her in a mailer in June. And there was a key difference between the group's hit-pieces on Quan and her attacks on Perata. Theirs contained falsehoods, while hers may have resonated more with voters because they were true.

As for Quan, herself, she credits Skelton with consistently pushing her to grab Perata by the throat and hold on. The ranked-choice voting results indicate that it was sound advice. The electorate was polarized around Perata. They either liked him or they didn't. Even though he received 11,076 more first-place votes than she did, she trounced him on second- and third-place choices, 24,631 to 11,530, a difference of 13,101 votes, according to new results released on November 13.

"He was very clear that I had to educate people about Don," Quan said of Skelton. "And it was amazing how many people didn't know anything about him. But then once people found out more about him, they said, 'Oh my, God. I'm not voting for him.'"

Outsmarting Perata

Ranked-choice voting, it turns out, is all about humility. It's about going hat-in-hand to voters and asking them to select you as their second or third choice on their ballots. It's also about endearing yourself to your opponents' supporters. And even though Jean Quan has a sizable ego, she understood those facts better than any of her opponents, particularly Perata.

During the campaign, Quan was the first candidate to plea for second- and third-place votes and she kept doing it until Election Day. She even began some conversations with voters by saying, "I'm Jean Quan, I'm running for mayor, and I like you to consider me for your second choice." Voters inevitably responded by asking, "What do you mean second choice?" Their responses gave Quan an opening to explain ranked-choice voting. And then voters often were so taken with her down-to-earth approach that they agreed to list her first on their ballots.

Quan's army of volunteers also wasn't shy about knocking on doors that had lawn signs advertising Perata, Kaplan, or Joe Tuman's campaigns. "We would never be intimidated by a yard sign; we would always ask for a second-place vote," said Sharon Rose, the Quan campaign's volunteer leader for the Oakland hills. "We would say, 'We see you're supporting Perata, but would you think about supporting Jean?' That way, we could get them to at least think about her."

She also was the first candidate to urge her own supporters to select another candidate second on their ballots — Kaplan. She started doing it in May, and continued until the election. "It's an extremely smart thing to do with ranked-choice voting," said Steven Hill, a ranked-choice voting advocate. It also appears to have endeared her to Kaplan supporters. According to the most recent results, Quan received three times more second- and third-place votes from voters who selected Kaplan than did Perata.

Kaplan also asked for second- and third-place votes, and later in the race urged her supporters to select Quan and Tuman second or third. And there's reason to believe that Kaplan also might have beaten Perata with the help of Quan supporters if she had gotten past Quan in the earlier rounds of ranked-choice tabulations. However, she fell short of Quan by 2,312 votes before being eliminated.

Perata, by contrast, repeatedly said during the campaign and after the election that he didn't "understand" how ranked-choice voting worked. The remark prompted much derision within the Quan and Kaplan campaigns. Although the ex-senator clearly understood that ranked-choice voting meant that he needed second- and third-place votes to win, he and his political consultants didn't seem to understand what he personally had to do — or what the campaign had to do — to get those votes.

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