OAKLAND — The most revealing point of Thursday night's mayoral debate might have come when the candidates were asked about Oakland's new ranked-choice voting system.
The system allows voters to pick their first, second and third choices in city elections, precluding the need for runoffs when one candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the first-place votes that are cast.
When asked who she would pick as her second and third choices, Councilmember Jean Quan ripped former state Sen. Don Perata, the only announced candidate who did not participate.
"It makes a real difference who the next mayor of Oakland is," Quan said. "I think there are fundamental differences between some of the people on this stage and the candidate who's not here. We want an Oakland that's not for sale."
Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan took a different tack.
"I would certainly love to have the honor of having your first-choice vote," she said. "I would. But I also want to say, I'm not ashamed of second-choice votes either."
Kaplan, a first-term council member who has not officially announced she is running, is positioned to score a number of second-choice votes from both Quan and Perata supporters if she does join the race.
"There is no voter that I don't intend to seek, that I wouldn't want to reach," she said. "And I, of course, am making the effort to get the first-choice votes of as many people as possible."
Perata's absence Thursday left Quan and Kaplan as the two leading mayoral aspirants at an event that also featured candidates Don Macleay, a Green Party activist and businessman; Orlando Johnson, a member of the Oakland Community Action Network; Greg Harland, a retired businessman; and Terence Candell, director of Candell's College Preparatory Academy.
Perata, viewed by many as the favorite, initially committed but then backed out of Thursday's debate, saying he won't participate in such events until Mayor Ron Dellums decides whether he's running for re-election and the field is completely settled. Perata fought against the implementation of ranked-choice voting this year but told the Tribune last month he did not expect it to hurt him in the Nov. 2 election.
"We don't believe there's a way to game it," he said. "It's not easy, as some people might think it might be."
The debate drew about 200 to the First Unitarian Church at 685 14th St., and was organized by 100 Black Men; 100 Black Women; OaklandSeen; and Black Women Organized for Political Action.
With some exceptions, the debate was cordial and lively. The candidates fielded questions on jobs, the city's fiscal crisis, public safety and education. They focused on Oakland's potential — and the problems standing in the way.
"I think we're all standing here because we give a damn," Macleay said.
Johnson made a pitch for developing a local currency to shore up the city's economic difficulties. Harland said the city has failed to adequately use enterprise zones to attract jobs, and added that police salaries have created an unsustainable budget. Candell's supporters turned up in force, and their candidate answered questions in a booming tone — often rising to his feet while the others remained seated.
He voiced strong opposition to the North Oakland gang injunction.
"Why? Because, ladies and gentlemen, it opens the doors for racial profiling once again," he said, adding, "We don't want this to occur."
City Attorney John Russo has said the injunction is narrowly tailored to prevent abuse of power. And Kaplan said she could support using the tactic again in certain cases.
"We are asking our law enforcement personnel to do things differently from how they've done things historically and to bring new tools to bear," she said. "However, I would not ever support an injunction that allowed any action against unnamed people or without due process."
For more on the debate, go to www.oaklandseen.com.