Jean Quan – first Asian American woman mayor

Jean Quan - first Asian American woman mayor

Jean Quan (61), the first Asian American woman elected to the Oakland, California City Council eight years ago, was elected the first woman Mayor of this California City of more than 446,000-the 41st largest city in the country. When she takes office on January 3, 2011, she will be the first Asian American woman Mayor of a major US City.

Known for her hard work, encyclopedia knowledge of city policy and ability to inspire hundreds of volunteers, Quan went head-to-head against former State Senate leader Pro-Tem Don Perata and eight other candidates in the November 2 mayoral election. It was a bit of a cliffhanger — one candidate outspent the other nine candidates 10:1, exceeding the voluntary campaign spending limits of $379,000, and election results were not immediately known until 9 days after Election Eve because the City was using a new voting procedure called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). (RCV eliminated the need for a primary by giving voters the opportunity to choose first, second and third choices for their candidates. If their first choice did not make it to the top, then their second choice would be recalculated by computer until one candidate earned 50% of the vote. This integrates the traditional primary and runoff into one election.) When all the ballots were counted and the RCV algorithm was run, Quan beat front-runner Perata.

Jean Quan 50.98% (53,778)
Don Perata 49.02%. (51720)

“David has beaten Goliath: we have shown that old-fashioned grassroots organizing and hard, honest campaigning can overcome big money, machine politics,” said Quan. She noted that more people had voted in this election than in previous Mayoral elections, with a 27% increase according to Fair Vote’s analysis of how Ranked Choice Voting worked in Oakland, because this election was held in the general November election when there is higher turnout compared to lower primary turnouts.

Quan’s personal history resonates with many residents in a city known as one of the most diverse in the country-its history as the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, the growth of the ship building industry during WW II and the growing trade with Pacific Rim Countries has generated a vibrant mix of ethnic culture, arts, music, foods and community.

Jean Quan with family

“My family has lived Oakland for over 100 years. My parents were poor immigrants. My mother was illiterate and my dad died when I was five. My parents worked in Oakland hotels, restaurants and garment factories. I attended public schools and went to UC Berkeley on a scholarship. As a college student I was founder of Asian American studies and helped organize tutoring programs for students West Oakland and Chinatown, and helped fight redevelopment removal of local residents there, too.

“My whole life has been about organizing for social justice, as a student, union organizer, and as a School Board and City Council member. I am proud of my work to improve local schools, to save music, arts, libraries and parks, to revitalize commercial districts and support crime and violence prevention programs,” she explained.

“Come January when I take the oath as Oakland’s first woman mayor, I’ll take office in City Hall 8 blocks from where my great-grandfather took refuge in Oakland after the 1906 Earthquake, 6 blocks from where my mother-in-law and sister worked as garment workers, and 4 blocks from where my father was a hotel cook. I am grateful and humbled by the trust the voters have placed on me as their new Mayor.”

Jean Quan declares victory as Oakland’s first female mayor

More about Jean Quan
Quan jumped into Oakland politics as a parent activist to save music and arts programs in 1989 and has been working together with concerned residents to make the city’s public institutions work for them. She served on the Oakland Unified School District board for 3 terms, leading campaigns that secured $700 million to make the schools earthquake safe, reduce classroom overcrowding, and restore arts and music to the curriculum.

For the past eight years, she has served as Council member for one the most diverse council districts in the City-District 4 which covers the well-healed hills of Montclair and Crestmont as well as the working class neighborhoods of Allendale, Brookdale, Dimond, Laurel, Maxwell Park, and Melrose. She has chaired the City’s Finance Committee for six years, steering the city through one of the worse economic recessions in its history.

As Council Member, she is known for her long-hours, high visibility and accessibility, and strong community organizing skills. More than 10,000 people receive her e-newsletter every week. As a result of the regular communication and her office’s work in the field, District 4 is the most organized of all seven council districts and consistently hosts the most National Night Out, Earth Day and Creek to Bay day events in the city-between ¼ to half of all of the events. Her success in organizing neighbors to eliminate crime, beautify parks and medians, prepare for emergencies and otherwise build community formed the basis for her

Block by Block music video -Jean Quan for Oakland Mayor 2010 campaign

2 thoughts on “Jean Quan – first Asian American woman mayor


    As long time democratic voter and grassroot resident of Oakland, I am deeply honored you will be representing finally the women of color of Oakland, California, as the frist bi lingual community organizer in 1968 representing West Oakland, I congratualte you and look forward to many positive
    acheivements under your leadership. God bless and you go lady

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