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Jean Quan, center, celebrates her apparent victory in the race for mayor of Oakland, Calif. with Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, right, outside City Hall, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010. Quan defeated Don Perata by a little more than 2,000 votes in Oakland's first-ever ranked choice election. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

OAKLAND -- It's official. Jean Quan is Oakland's new mayor.

Quan, 61, represents a lot of firsts for Oakland. She's the first female mayor, the first Asian-American mayor, and the first mayor elected through ranked-choice voting in Oakland.

She's making history in other ways, too. Quan trailed former state Sen. Don Perata by more than 9 percentage points after preliminary results of first-place votes were posted Nov. 5. But those first-place votes didn't tell the whole story of how Quan ran her campaign, and how she lobbied voters to choose her as their second or third pick if they had someone else in mind for No. 1.

The result: Quan picked up enough second- and third-place votes to vault over Perata in the final round, 53,778 to 51,720. The margin was slim -- 50.98 percent versus 49.02 -- but just enough for a victory.

"David has beaten Goliath," Quan said in a news release shortly after the results were announced Wednesday evening. "We have shown that old-fashioned grass-roots organizing and hard, honest campaigning can overcome big money, machine politics."

Perata's campaign issued a news release saying that he would hold a news conference this morning after reviewing the results. The news release also referred people to an article by California Watch that said the confusion over ranked-choice voting affected the outcome of the race.

But the results of Oakland's election showed that most voters were able to figure out the intricacies of ranked-choice voting. More than 70 percent entered three choices for mayor, compared with 59 percent in San Francisco's first ranked-choice election, in 2004, said Steven Hill, a ranked-choice voting advocate who has crunched the numbers.

"The first ranked-choice voting election (in Alameda County) went quite well," Hill said. "People will have their stories, but sometimes even confused people can use those ballots effectively. This race for Oakland mayor had a lot of excitement, a lot of juice to it, and people were paying attention."

Perata and Councilmember Quan were considered the front-runners among the 10 candidates running to replace outgoing Mayor Ron Dellums, who didn't seek re-election. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan drew a strong third, and it was her second- and third-place votes -- 18,820 in all -- that pushed Quan over the top.

"I congratulate Mayor-elect Jean Quan on her victory. She ran a tremendous grass-roots campaign and reached thousands of voters block by -block," Kaplan said in a statement issued shortly after the results were announced. "I look forward to working with Jean to create jobs and make our streets safer by working to restore community policing. I am proud, not only of the campaign we ran, but of the city we're part of."

Quan will be sworn in Jan. 3. Kaplan retains her at-large council seat for two more years.

Quan will have to hit the ground running. The city has slashed costs in every department, laid off workers -- including 80 police officers -- reduced hours at libraries and shuttered City Hall several days a year. The city faces a huge deficit next fiscal year, with larger projections in years to come. Voters rejected new tax measures to pay for police officers and Quan will have to find money to stop dozens more from heading out the door.

With crime the No. 1 issue for many residents in this city of 400,000, residents can be sure that the honeymoon period accorded a new mayor will end fast.

Quan said Wednesday night that she will quickly put together a transition team and hire a "headhunter" to lead a national search for a new city administrator. Current City Administrator Dan Lindheim will serve on the transition team as will former City Manager Henry Gardner. She also vowed to invite "major Perata backers" to serve on her transition team.

She listed "crime, jobs and young people" as her priorities, and said she will be having dinner with the president of the Oakland Police Officer's Association this week.

Relations between Quan and the police union have been strained for the past several months and the union had endorsed Perata. Quan said Wednesday that the passage of Measure BB would allow the city to restore 63 community-policing officers and she hoped that "if the economy holds, (the city) will be able to bring back more officers."

The holdup of results was due to the sheer volume of vote-by-mail ballots -- 122,000 -- and provisional ballots countywide that were turned in on Election Day. Alameda County Registrar Dave Macdonald's staff worked long hours and through the weekend to process the ballots and finished Wednesday afternoon.

Macdonald said a small number of ballots countywide needs to be counted, but not enough to alter the mayor's race outcome.

It took 10 rounds of balloting to determine the winner. The ranked-choice computer program tallies all candidates' first-place votes and one by one eliminates the candidates with the fewest votes and distributes their second and third choices to candidates remaining in the race.

Hill said that Quan's ascent was unusual, given the gap before the final run, and proved that she ran a savvy campaign, despite being far outspent.

"That tells you something pretty clear there, that the front-runner was not running a strong base of support," Hill said. "Perata had a strong core, but he could not build on that to get a strong base of support, whereas Jean Quan was able to do that."

Staff writer Sean Maher contributed to this story.