OAKLAND -- Former state Sen. Don Perata conceded the mayor's race Thursday morning, acknowledging that Jean Quan is Oakland's new mayor-elect.
In a brief news conference held outside the Oakland Police Department substation at Eastmont Town Center, Perata complimented Dave Macdonald, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, on running a fair election, and said he had no plans to challenge the results or ask for a recount.
"I don't have any dispute with the outcome of the election," he said.
Yet his remarks were accompanied by a hit piece on Oakland's first ranked-choice voting results. The one-page summary said the results proved that voters were confused by the new election system, and also that the
Perata, 65, led Quan by 11,000 first-place votes before the ballots were processed through the ranked-choice voting computer program. Step by step the program eliminated eight other candidates and distributed their second- and third-choice votes to those still in the race until someone attained a 50 percent-plus-one majority.
When third-place finisher Rebecca Kaplan fell out, 6,390 of her votes went to Perata and 18,882 votes were allocated to Quan, pushing her over the 50 percent threshold to victory. The final tally was 50.98 percent or 53,778 votes for Quan, and 49.02 percent or 51,720 votes for Perata.
"Normally, if you finish first, you win," Perata said. "But you have to play by the rules."
Perata's remarks were accompanied by a hit piece on Oakland's first ranked-choice voting results. The one-page summary, an analysis by unnamed source, said the results proved that voters were confused by the new election system, and also that the system deprived voters of participating in a runoff where they know who the final candidates are ahead of time.
Rob Ritchie, executive director of FairVote, issued a rebuttal to the statement, saying that 99.7 voters cast valid ballots in the mayor's race, and 71 percent ranked three candidates, far higher than the 59 percent of voters who participated in San Francisco's first ranked-choice election. Of the 119,392 voters who cast a ballot in the mayor's race, only 13,795 failed to choose Quan or Perata in any category, he said.
Perata reiterated again Thursday that he didn't fully understand how ranked-choice voting works, adding that "most of us go in to vote for one person for one office." But even if it had been a traditional primary/runoff election, Perata's lead of 11,000 first-place votes did not achieve the required 50 percent to win outright, and he would have been headed to a runoff.
Perata also had three high-powered political consultants on his payroll.
One such consultant, John Whitehurst, said Thursday that he was still stunned by the loss and blamed it on ranked-choice voting and negative campaigning -- although it was the political-action committee's spending on behalf of Perata that published the first hit pieces.
Whitehurst also failed to register that his candidate didn't get enough votes to avoid a runoff -- regardless of whether it takes the form of instant runoff, a la ranked-choice voting, or the old primary voting schedule.
"It's still hard for me to swallow the fact that we won by 11,000 votes, 10 percent of the vote, and the person that won the election lost in 80 percent of the precincts," he said.
"The purpose of the ranked-choice voting was to make the campaigns shorter, less expensive and less negative, and all three turned out to be completely false," Whitehurst complained, saying that all the new method accomplished was to turn the election into an episode of the reality television show "Survivor" in which candidates had to build alliances to outlast their rivals.
Quan was not shy about asking for votes, whether first, second or third choice. When asked whom she would vote for as her second and third choice, Quan said Rebecca Kaplan and Joe Tuman, in that order. The other front-running candidates were not as vocal with their preferences, and it might have hurt them in the end.
While Quan developed a broad base of supporters who included her as one of their three choices, Perata's support petered out after the first-place votes were tallied because he never actively lobbied for anything other than an outright win.
Steven Hill, the so-called architect of ranked-choice voting, said that Quan's astounding victory in the final round proved that she understood how the instant runoff system worked and cultivated a broad base of support, despite being greatly outspent.
"She was smart to try and make a coalition with other candidates other than Perata, telling people that they should vote for someone else for No. 2," Hill said. "Candidates tend to be 'me, me, me.' It's hard for them to talk about supporting someone else."
Quan called her win a victory for grass-roots organizing. More than 1,000 volunteers helped her knock on doors and spread her campaign message. Quan attended more than 200 house parties and said that either she or a member of her family walked and spoke to residents in neighborhoods all over the city.
Perata seemed to rely more on a tried and true election tactic: money.
Although the campaign finance reports that reveal how much candidates spent the last two-plus weeks of the race are not due until Dec. 31, those figures are sure to be eye-popping.
Based on Oct. 16 reports filed with the Oakland City Clerk, spending on behalf of Perata -- either directly by his campaign or by independent expenditure -- topped $1 million, outspending Quan by nearly 4 to 1.
The last reports show that Perata spent $669,000 and raised $722,000 with two weeks left in the campaign. Perata also benefited from the largesse of two or more political action committees that advertised on his behalf.
Through Oct. 26, the Sacramento-based Coalition for a Safer California, run by Perata's longtime associate Paul Kinney, spent $222,179 on ads, television production costs and consultants to help Perata win the election. Many of the mailers produced by the Coalition were hit pieces against Quan.
The Oakland Jobs PAC, also supported Perata to the tune of $154,975 through Oct. 16.
By contrast, Quan spent $274,918 and raised $335,251 through Oct. 16.
Perata said Thursday that he loves Oakland and is staying put. He hadn't yet called to congratulate Quan, but said he'd be willing to help her, or Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, if asked.
He said had no new political plans on the horizon, saying he "would leave it to the kids" who ran against him in the mayor's race to carry on the torch. "There were a lot of kids in the election, they should be our future."
Staff writer Josh Richman contributed to this story.