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Mayoral candidate Don Perata thanks his supporters, fighting through a case of laryngitis, during his election party at Z Cafe & Bar in Oakland, Calif. on Tuesday Nov. 2, 2010. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

OAKLAND -- The election night parties are over, but dawn has not delivered Oakland a new mayor.

Former state Sen. Don Perata logged 35 percent of the first-place votes cast so far, giving him a substantial, 11-point lead over his nearest rival, Councilmember Jean Quan.

But it's not a knockout. No one candidate grabbed the brass ring of 50 percent plus one vote, so the winner won't be decided until tens of thousands of late vote-by-mail and provisional ballots are sorted and counted and the ranked-choice voting program is put through its paces Friday afternoon.

The question is: Will Perata have enough second-place votes to keep his lead?

Ranked-choice voting, used for the first time in Alameda County this election, has added another layer of suspense to an already tightly fought race.

The ranked-choice program tabulates the votes for all 10 candidates. Those with the fewest first-place votes are eliminated and the second-place votes redistributed until someone attains a 50 percent majority.

Quan could overtake Perata. Or, at-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who trails Quan by 3 percentage points, could potentially leap over Quan if she receives enough second-place votes from five candidates who collectively received less than 8 percent of the vote.


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It seems certain that Joe Tuman, a college professor and political analyst, is out of the running, despite receiving a respectable 12 percent of the votes cast. But his supporters still have a voice. Reallocating their second-choice votes could give a major boost to Perata, Quan or Kaplan.

Perata, 65, and Quan, 61, were the front-runners among the 10 candidates trying to replace outgoing Mayor Ron Dellums, who decided not to seek re-election.

Perata, plagued by laryngitis and barely able to speak, thanked his supporters at his election night party at Z Cafe on Tuesday and promised, if the initial returns held up, to fill the leadership vacuum of the Dellums administration and immediately make an impact as mayor by rehiring the 80 police officers laid off in July. That could be hard given that nearly half of them have found new jobs.

He said in a news release Wednesday that he was "very confident" that his lead would hold up throughout the ranked-choice tabulations, especially because recent polls showed he would receive a substantial number of second- and third-place votes.

Quan admitted Wednesday that Perata's 35 percent lead would be difficult to overcome. She said she was counting on the vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at the polls Tuesday to boost her tally a percentage point or two and make it a closer race going into the ranked-choice tabulation. She said it was statistically possible that Kaplan could overtake her, but that such a scenario has never happened in San Francisco, where ranked-choice voting has been used for multiple elections.

She knows her best chance for victory depends on winning Tuman and Kaplan's second-place votes.

"Obviously, (the picture now) is not as good as I had hoped," she said. "A (recent phone poll) showed that I got two-thirds of second-place votes. We're not giving up."

Win or lose, Quan will relinquish her District 4 council seat. Kaplan's at-large seat on the council is not up for two more years.

No matter who is elected, the new mayor will have to hit the ground running. The city has slashed costs in every department, laid off workers -- including the 80 police officers -- reduced hours at libraries and shuttered City Hall several days a year. Still, it faces a $50 million budget deficit next fiscal year, with larger projections in years to come.

The good news is that Measure BB passed and there will be money for violence-prevention programs and for 63 problem-solving officers that are an integral part of community policing. A parcel tax and telephone tax measure failed, but both Kaplan and Quan said that new approved increases in medical marijuana taxes could help the city avoid more police layoffs.

With crime the No. 1 issue for many residents in this city of 400,000, it's likely the honeymoon period accorded a new mayor will end fast if the force continues to dwindle.

Perata said Tuesday that his first priority is to rehire the 80 police officers who were laid off July 13. He also committed to find a way of avoiding future layoffs of police officers.

"The first thing I'll do is bring back the 80 police officers," Perata said. "It's important to make a dramatic statement, to show that things are going to be done differently. I'll also make sure that (police Chief) Tony Batts implements his strategic plan."

Batts' strategic plan cites a need for more than 900 officers to adequately meet Oakland's needs.

Kaplan, 40, was upbeat and catching up on laundry Wednesday. She called the race a "wild ride" and thinks she still has a chance of overtaking Quan, and perhaps Perata. In the meantime, she plans to talk to her colleagues about quickly introducing a resolution to restart negotiations with the police union. She would offer a three-year no-layoff clause in exchange for officers contributing 9 percent to their pension plans. That would also be enough to rehire about half of the officers who were laid off July 13, she said.

Although the same deal was rejected by the council in June, Kaplan said that the attrition rate on the force makes the deal more reasonable. Since mid-July, 25 officers have either retired or left for other jobs, bringing the number of sworn personnel down to about 671.

The new mayor must also fill a leadership vacuum at City Hall. Dellums, a celebrated former congressman who has used his connections in Washington to land millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds to help Oakland, was nonetheless criticized for being absent and out of touch when critical issues needed his attention and leadership.

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley said Tuesday night that he was confident Perata would sustain his lead. He said he respects Quan's experience and her background on the issues, but he thinks that Oakland needs Perata's vision and his no-nonsense approach to getting the job done.

"I've never been in the military but if I had to go charging up a hill into battle, who would I follow? Don," he said.

The other candidates, in order of votes, are Marcie Hodge, Terence Candell, Don Macleay, Greg Harland, Larry Lionel Young Jr., and Arnold Fields.