OAKLAND -- A relaxed and smiling Jean Quan, surrounded by her family and with the opulent Fox Theater serving as a backdrop, was sworn in Monday as Oakland's 49th Mayor, the first woman and first Asian-American to hold that post in the city's 158-year history.
But Quan has been thinking, planning and working since the election, laying out a list of priorities centered on children and schools, creating jobs and training opportunities and refocusing public safety efforts.
She said she plans to attend a town-hall meeting in each of the city's seven council districts within the first 100 days of her administration, beginning with a meeting in West Oakland's Acorn neighborhood.
"Whether you supported me for
Quan's swearing in capped a two-hour ceremony hosted by East Bay Symphony conductor Michael Morgan. In addition to Oakland's new mayor, three members of the Oakland City Council -- incumbents Patricia Kernighan and Desley Brooks and newcomer Libby Schaaf -- took the oath of office, as did City Auditor Courtney Ruby. Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid was elected council president, and Councilmember Brooks was chosen vice mayor. Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente was elected council president-pro tempore.
Oakland School board members David Kakishiba,
Outgoing Mayor Ron Dellums did not attend, owing to "family issues," Quan said in her opening comments.
The national anthem was sung by Oakland firefighter Larry Sampson, and music was provided by the Oakland Tech Jazz Ensemble and the Contare Children's Choirs of Oakland. Charles Mack, of the Coliseum College Prep Academy, read his original, inspirational poem called "Love."
While making history, Quan also honored her own history Monday with a walking tour that retraced her family's 104-year path from Oakland's Chinatown, where they arrived with nothing but the shirts on their backs following the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, to Oakland City Hall.
Quan, 61, rose from poverty to ascend to Oakland's highest position. Her father died when she was 5, and Quan worked at odd jobs from a young age to help her mother, a Chinese immigrant who could not speak, read or write English. She was a top student at Granada High School in Livermore and earned a scholarship to UC Berkeley, where she mentored poor students in West Oakland and participated in the Third World Strike that
She told the audience that she believes in dreams, and asked them to dream too. Her story proves that anything is possible, she said.
"My story is just one of the stories in Oakland," she said. "Together, we'll make an epic story in Oakland."
Quan, her family and close supporters began the history walk early Monday at the Lung Kong Tin Yee Association of Oakland on Ninth Street, where her grandfather sought shelter after San Francisco's Chinatown burned in the 1906 earthquake. A candle lighting and drum ceremony honored her ancestors and their sacrifices, Quan said, as is customary in Chinese celebrations.
One of the stops along the tour was Lincoln School, where Quan's father had gone as a boy and where Asian-American and black students had been relegated during the days of segregation. That school is now a success story -- it won the National Blue Ribbon award for sustained achievement this year, the first in the Oakland district's history to do so and one of just 300 schools across the country to be recognized -- speaks to the resilience of Oakland educators, families and students and underscores the value of volunteer tutors, Quan said.
Outside the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, Quan encouraged the crowd to get out of their own comfort zones and visit other neighborhoods to find new and wonderful things about their town.
"I want everyone to take a fresh look at Oakland," she said. She later added, "My goal is going to be to reintroduce Oakland to itself."
Other stops included Stopwaste.org, where she was hailed by supporters as a leader in progressive environmental policies, and the site of the former Leamington Hotel on Franklin Street, where her father had worked as a union cook. The stop also provided an opportunity for union members to praise Quan's attitude toward organized labor, not surprising given that she worked for several years as a national organizer for the SEIU.
Quan's campaign strategy and election victory over former state Sen. Don Perata was a lesson in community organizing, and in her speech Monday she vowed to continue those efforts as mayor by recruiting 2,000 volunteers to work with and mentor children to help them stay in school, stay out of trouble and transition from foster care to college. She said Oakland schools superintendent Tony Smith and Mills College President Janet Holmgren will co-chair a new mayor's task force on education.
"My No. 1 priority is to put the children at the heart of the politics in Oakland," she said, after asking the audience to show up at an open house Monday night at City Hall and sign up to be a volunteer, if only for an hour a week.
Schaaf, a familiar face in City Hall from her days as chief of staff to De La Fuente and aide to then-Mayor Jerry Brown, also spoke passionately about volunteerism during her speech Monday. She recounted how one day in front of the Paramount Theatre her mother had placed a sandwich (message) board over her "little 5-year-old frame and sent her out to talk to complete strangers" about educational programs. That experience, she said, taught her how to be "shameless in asking people to support a worthy cause."
In brief comments after he was chosen council president, Reid told Quan that the council is committed to working with her administration and told Oaklanders that better days are ahead.
"Please, do not get discouraged, be patient," Reid said. "This is a city of hope."
Re-elected Councilmember Brooks demanded a change in the public conversation about the city, decrying negative media depictions and hailing the "more than 400,000 people in this city who do good things every day and we don't talk about it."
City Auditor Courtney Ruby, who starts her second term, emotionally thanked her family before painting a severe picture of Oakland's financial situation, urging the city to work with citizens to define absolutely essential core services as the city must "learn to go it alone" without state and federal resources in the coming year.
Board of Education President Yee was re-elected to his position and personally apologized for the service and budget cuts that he said were tragic but necessary.