By Tammerlin Drummond
All eyes are on Rebecca Kaplan.
With just over two weeks left to go before the Nov. 4 mayoral election, the at-large City Council member is soaring in the polls. The most recent temperature-taking by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce found Councilwoman Libby Schaaf surging in the days right after Gov. Jerry Brown’s endorsement, but Kaplan was still well ahead and the favorite to win after the instant runoff.
There are still plenty of undecided voters. But if one is to put their faith in the polls — which I don’t know why anyone would when there are so many unknowns — Kaplan will roll over the rest of the field on her way to becoming Oakland’s next mayor.
What a difference four years makes. When Kaplan ran in 2010, her candidacy was considered a novelty. She was the “lesbian candidate” who few thought had any real chance of winning.
Now, she’s the anointed front-runner, and her opponents are sharpening the knives. As Jason Overman, her campaign manager, drove to a canvassing stop at the Grand Lake Farmers Market, Kaplan talked about the challenges of being “the one everyone wants to take out.”
She said she’d gotten calls from “multiple people” that someone was raising funds for an independent expenditure committee fund to defeat her. Several days later, an email went out accusing Kaplan of violating local and state campaign laws after her campaign accepted contributions from A’s co-owner Lew Wolff and his family — then returned them. The email also alluded to the state Fair Political Practices Commission’s investigation of allegations Kaplan misused ballot measure funds to pay campaign staffers in her 2010 mayoral run.
“There’s a saying that if they’re shooting you in the back it’s because you’re in front,” Kaplan said. “The way I approach it is, I just have to keep running my campaign.”
She quoted a passage from the Hebrew Bible: “I will fight for you and you will hold your peace.” She said the passage from Exodus 14:14 was an apt one given the ugliness of the campaign.
Kaplan likes to open the Bible and start reading from wherever it opens. When she was studying at Hebrew Bible school as a child, many of her teachers were Holocaust survivors. They taught that Scriptures were a guide during times of hardship. Kaplan would quote various passages while I was with her to punctuate her points.
Will she continue quoting the Bible if she is elected mayor?
She said she would only where it was appropriate and welcomed.
“People tell me I shouldn’t talk about Scripture, others say I shouldn’t talk about my sexual orientation,” Kaplan said. “But I think it’s important to share a whole range of things.”
Kaplan arrived at the Portobello waterfront condos in Jack London Square, looking refreshed in navy pants and a matching vest. She was upbeat as she addressed a group of residents from her old neighborhood.
As mayor, Kaplan said, she would see to it that city staff work with retailers and other businesses that want to operate in Oakland, rather than creating red tape. She talked about creating a program that would hire unemployed people to fix potholes.
“She’s has a lot of good ideas, but getting them done is another thing,” Dan Dunkle said. “She has as good a chance as anyone in getting things through and seems to be a little less bound by business.”
He said he’s having trouble choosing one candidate — much less three.
Marlene Daniels said she likes the fact that Kaplan “takes the high road.”
“She doesn’t wallow in the murk and the mire,” said Daniels, who also was still undecided. At a campaign stop at the Life is Living festival in DeFremery Park, one man coyly remarked that another mayoral candidate listed “cheerleader” among her campaign bio material. “Will I find ‘cheerleader’ in your bio?” he asked in an obvious dig at Schaaf.
Unlike some of her rivals, Kaplan refuses to go for the jugular.
“I can’t speak about that,” Kaplan said, “but I can tell you what’s in my bio.”
She rattled off her education credentials. MIT undergrad. Stanford Law School. A master’s from Tufts. Only later did she venture, “I do though think that what Oakland’s needs is a quarterback.”
At each campaign stop — the Grand Lake Farmers Market, a rally at campaign headquarters and a volunteer appreciation event in North Oakland, Kaplan’s advance team was on the ground when she got there.
Kaplan hugged just about everybody and handed out purple Kaplan stickers. Some people said they had already voted for her but wanted to come over and shake her hand.
“Two guys told me they would vote for me ’cause they liked my suit,” Kaplan said, flashing a wide grin. Whatever works.