OAKLAND -- Oakland Councilmember Libby Schaaf won't declare that she's running for mayor, but several Oakland political insiders say that Schaaf has told them that she will enter the race.
Schaaf started informing people of her mayoral intentions last week, according to multiple politicos and business leaders, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.
Schaaf, however, wouldn't talk about those conversations or confirm that her mayoral bid was a done deal. "A wide variety of people are urging me to run, and I am seriously considering it because Oakland has an urgent need for stronger, competent leadership right now," she said.
Mayor Jean Quan declined to comment Friday about Schaaf's likely challenge.
With Quan foundering in recent polls and no big-name challengers stepping forward, Schaaf is seen as having a strong shot to unseat the mayor.
"She would become one of the front-runners," said Larry Tramutola, an Oakland-based political consultant.
Schaaf, an Oakland native who worked on the staffs of both former Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente and then-Mayor Jerry Brown, was elected to Quan's former council seat in 2010. She would have to give up the seat to challenge Quan next year.
A poll released last month by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce found that Schaaf is much more popular than the mayor in their district which includes much of the affluent Oakland Hills.
Citywide, the poll found that Schaaf was viewed favorably by 26 percent of respondents compared to 24 percent for Quan. The major difference: Nearly two-thirds of respondents viewed Quan unfavorably while more than two-thirds had never heard of Schaaf.
If Schaaf enters the race, she will be Quan's only opponent to have won elected office. The announced candidates so far include Port Commissioner Bryan Parker and San Francisco State University Professor Joe Tuman.
In Oakland elections voters rank their top three candidates. The system has resulted in candidates sometimes forging alliances and makes it difficult to handicap races.
Tuman, who has emphasized public safety on the campaign trail, acknowledged significant overlap between himself and Schaaf on many issues but said her anticipated candidacy shouldn't hurt him. "The fact that we see things the same way can be a good thing," he said. "It gives more voice to the legitimacy of those ideas."
The stalking horse in next year's mayoral race could be Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who finished third in her 2010 bid for mayor.
Kaplan, who last year said she wouldn't challenge Quan in 2014, declined through her spokesman this week to comment on whether she has had a change of heart. But political watchers think that Quan's allies in labor might want Kaplan to jump in to give union-friendly progressives a second option if the mayor's polling numbers don't rebound.
"I would not be surprised to see Kaplan enter the race," Tramutola said. "If anyone is a political animal you take your opportunities where they come and there are real opportunities here."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435