EDITORIAL: Jean Quan, the story of a failed Asian American politician

This week, the contentious friction between Oakland’s mayor Jean Quan and her constituents continues heating up. She started her administration with such promise, too.

But then, every new mayor is full of optimism.

Quan was probably sure she was going to change Oakland for the better at the beginning of her term when she was inaugurated on Jan. 3, 2011. She had served on the Oakland School Board for 12 years, advocating for more funding for students of color and immigrant students. She was hailed as Oakland’s first female mayor, as well as its first Asian American one.

A poll by a local news outlet taken in her first 100 days in office showed that about 66 percent of city residents approved of her work. The same poll, six months later, showed her approval rating plummeting to 28 percent.

A scant year after she came into office, Quan faced an angry police department and resentful citizens pushing for a recall.

So what went wrong?

Quan has problems maintaining relationships. There has been a significant number of resignations under her administration. Former Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts resigned last October. City Attorney John Russo, who reportedly clashed with Quan, resigned in June. Even Quan’s own unpaid legal adviser, and a controversial figure among the city councilmembers, Dan Siegel, and her deputy mayor, Sharon Cornu, both resigned in November.

Quan also sent mixed messages.

After expressing some support for the Occupy Oakland protestors, Quan instructed her police department to raid the encampment on Oct. 25. At that point, the encampment had overtaken the plaza in front of city hall. The violent raid was heavily criticized by many, as police allegedly used tear gas, rubber bullets, and flashbang grenades. Several citizens were injured in the raid and hospitalized.

After a public uproar, Quan released protesters that were in police custody, allowing them to go back to the encampment. This exacerbated the resentment already brewing within her police department and among citizens who had been her supporters.

Quan was once a union organizer. Her husband and daughter are among the Occupy protesters. One of Quan’s problems is that she cannot reconcile her activism with what she needs to do as an executive.

It’s important for elected officials to be consistent in their message. It’s also important to put up a united front when it comes to family. Northwest Asian Weekly is a family-run business, and in our experience, it’s very important for all family members to be on the same page. When you embarrass your family members, not only do your personal relationships suffer, but also your professional relationships.

The fact that Quan seemed to be split between groups — split between employees, and split even when it comes to her husband and daughter — does not instill much confidence, if any, in her ability to lead. (end)

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