Jean Quan, the first female mayor of Oakland and the first Asian-American mayor of a major U.S. city, spoke at Mills on Jan 24 in Littlefield Hall.
Her purpose: to give back to those who helped her reach her goal of becoming Mayor.
“There’s a saying in politics that “you dance with the ones who brung ya”, and I’m assuming that most of the girl students who voted here (at Mills) voted for Rebecca or me,” Quan told Campanil reporters in an interview after her speech. “And even if they voted for Rebecca first, I still got their votes as number 2, for the most part.”
Quan expressed that she felt a strong connection to Mills and its community because of the personal similarities she shares with Mills women.
“We bring the same optimism and the same radical bold spirit,” she said.
Quan’s speech focused on education, jobs and community organizing to improve Oakland, specifically how the Mills community could help make Oakland a safer and more tightly-knit community.
A stronger Oakland
“We had quite a few students work with us on this project to make the connection between the Laurel district and the school,” she said. “So that students would feel safer … and be more a part of the community … it was very important to me because I want more Mills students to get involved.”
Before taking office as Mayor of Oakland, Quan resided over the Laurel district as city councilmember.
President Janet Holmgren echoed Quan’s call for collaboration between Mills and the surrounding Oakland community.
“We are making long standing and fresh ties with the city … we have a whole community ready … to step up,” Holmgren said.
Holmgren has recently been named as a member of Quan’s transition advisory board as an expert in K-12 and higher education.
Quan’s plans to strengthen Oakland’s communities also include hiring 2000 volunteers to mentor the city’s youth. She is looking for 2000 volunteers specifically because 500 Oakland high school students are arrested each year, 300 age out of foster care, and 1200 miss 20 days of school or more, totaling an estimated 2000 students who are in need of guidance.
“My goal is 2000 volunteers in 4 years,” she said. “What I’m going to do is talk to fraternities and sororities, particularly in the black and Latino communities, and go to a lot of churches and work particularly with the (baby boomer) generation.”
Fighting crime differently
Since her first day as Mayor on Jan 3, Quan has received criticism from a wide range of sources on her initial plans to not increase spending on the police force.
“If I’m going to bring down crime in this city it’s not going to be just with more cops,” she said regarding her decision to lay off 80 more police officers.
Her alternative plans to an increased police force include education and crime prevention programs.
“You have to have both (police and prevention programs) … it’s that story about throwing the people into the river. You can pull them out, but maybe you should go up stream and figure out who’s throwing them in,” Quan said.
Quan also said that balancing the budget came before increasing the police force, and in order to do so, police officers would had to have put more money into their pension funds than they were willing to.
“We voted to balance the budget,” she said. “What we voted was that we would balance the budget if the cops paid their share of their pension.”
Other cities have created similar pension plans in order to cut back government spending, according to Quan.
“Had they agreed to pay that 9% (of their income for their pension), we would not have laid off any officers, but they refused to do that,” she said. “Arnold Swarzenegger got the highway patrol to pay 9%, San Francisco pays more than 9%, San Jose pays more than 9%, and so we were a little stunned that they wouldn’t even take it out to a vote to their members and just decided to force us to do the layoffs.”
Retail leaving the city
Oakland loses about $5 bil in revenue that would otherwise be spent within the city to other cities, according to a study Quan cited in her interview with The Campanil, equaling millions in tax dollars.
“Oakland’s leakage is much proportionally bigger than other cities,” she said. “So I’m asking every Oaklander to consider spending just 25% more, I’m not asking for 100%, but just 25% more in the city.”
Quan plans on bringing in some “big box” stores to Oakland in order to provide the all communities within the city equal access to healthy food.
“Some communities in this city don’t even have a basic grocery store and so we’ve been negotiating with Kroger and a couple of other major chains to get them to go to East Oakland, near the coliseum and West Oakland,” she said.
Quan noted the importance of having a balance between local and chain stores, such as Target.
“A lot of the things that they (Target) sell are not really readily available yet in the neighborhoods,” she said.
Transparency in government
Transparency was one of Quan’s major campaign issues and she pointed to her public appearance at Mills College as an example of how she plans to create a more transparent local government.
“I don’t turn down invitations,” she said about her relationship with the media. “We are going to do town hall meetings in every council district.”
Along with appealing more openly to the media, Quan has chosen to take a 25% pay cut, which is the same percentage the rest of the state and city governemnt has had to sacrifice in order to balance the budget.
Quan also said she wants to have a booth at the Chinese Lunar New Year’s celebration in China Town on Jan 29 because she feels the Chinese community deserves a “thank you” from her.
“We think they were a big part of our margin of victory,” she said about the Chinese community. “And so we are thinking of doing a sort of Lucy sign. Instead of saying ‘The doctor is in’ it will say ‘the mayor is in.’
Quan has also taken steps to connect with youth culture: she tweets daily and made an attempt to do so while she was attending a dinner with Chinese leader Hu Jintao in Jan.
“I tried to twitter at the White House, but they took away my cell phone,” she said, laughing.
Her main goal is to bring together all the communities with Oakland.
“When we come together,” Quan said.”It will be really hard to stop this city.”
Read The Campanil‘s EXCLUSIVE interview with Oakland mayor, Jean Quan.