Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s challenges have only piled up since being criticized for a clumsy response to the city’s Occupy protests last year.
The city faces rising crime rates, with 26 murders so far in 2012, the highest at this point in the year since 2008. Oakland was dealt a blow when California Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated the local redevelopment agencies tasked with boosting economic development. And a campaign is under way to recall the 62-year-old mayor. One City Council member has already pledged to run against her.
Much of the criticism stems from Ms. Quan’s handling of the Occupy protests last year. She initially asked police not to intervene but later changed her mind. Police subsequently tear-gassed demonstrators who had tried to re-enter an area that had been cleared.
Ms. Quan, the first Chinese-American mayor of Oakland, was elected in 2010 to a four-year term. She has roots in the city that date back to 1906, the year of a massive San Francisco earthquake. After the temblor, her great-grandfather took the ferry across San Francisco Bay and became part of a new Chinatown in Oakland. Ms. Quan recently discussed Oakland’s quandaries, and her own.
WSJ: How are you responding to the campaign to recall you as mayor?
Ms. Quan: I’m really busy being the mayor of Oakland. But I had 1,000 campaign volunteers and [I have] a very loving husband. They’ve been holding meetings. They have signs, buttons. To be honest, I’ve only been to one meeting. I’m not spending much time on it.
WSJ: Crime is up so far this year, compared with last year. What’s going wrong?
Ms. Quan: I’m not sure what the real trend is. Sometimes, more crime doesn’t necessarily mean more crime. Sometimes, the offenses going up means the police are more engaged, and that’s a good thing. For instance, we’ve been looking at car thefts. We’re trying to figure out if maybe [the reason they] are up by a big jump is that we’re picking up more cars in Oakland, because the Highway Patrol this year has really been helping us cut down on car thefts. There’s an unusually high percentage of domestic-violence murders, but street murders are down. We had a kid who killed both of his parents. I’m very concerned about domestic violence. Some of the services that used to be available, like family counseling, have gone away.
WSJ: You’ve touted your 100 Blocks initiative, which zeroes in on the 100 blocks of Oakland where nearly all of the homicides take place. How is it going?
Ms. Quan: It’s tough. You have to give something like this time. We started talking about it in October and then Occupy happened. So we only really got to start implementing it [in January]. We had the Occupy thing, and [crime] went up in January. It was really high in January, and now it’s down again in February and March. You look at that and try to figure out: What are the patterns?
“”I think there were mistakes made. …I wasn’t happy to get off a plane and have a text from my daughter saying: ‘Mom, stop the tear-gassing.’ “” Oakland Mayor Jean Quan
WSJ: You’re saying Occupy played a role in boosting crime rates in January?
Ms. Quan: Yes. We had to bring a lot of officers on overtime to do a lot of monitoring downtown, and even the regular beat officers got pulled off their beats. That’s a problem for us.
WSJ: How else did Occupy impact the city?
Ms. Quan: We think the national Occupy movement needed to happen. In Oakland, you had a very quick takeover by the organized anarchists. There was constant vandalism. The vandalism is going to run around $1 million. The overtime for police was around $2.9 million.
WSJ: You got criticized for your handling of Occupy Oakland. Do you feel you could have handled it differently?
Ms. Quan: I got a lot of criticism. The criticisms were either that I was too liberal or too hard. I think there were mistakes made. Unfortunately, I was in Washington, D.C. I wasn’t happy to get off a plane and have a text from my daughter saying: “Mom, stop the tear-gassing.”
WSJ: What are Oakland’s economic-development plans now that the redevelopment agency, which gave Oakland a way to offer financial incentives to businesses that located in the city, has disappeared?
Ms. Quan: I’ve been talking about sharing sales tax [with businesses]. We are also an area with enterprise-zone funds, so you if you hire a young worker who lives in a low-income area of Oakland, you can get a $7,000 tax credit. We’re centrally located at a time when population is shifting east in the Bay Area. There are a lot of options available.
This interview was originally published in the Wall Street Journal.