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Holier Than Thao: A Look At Oakland’s Surprise New Mayor

Arizona Diamondbacks v Detroit Tigers
Good grief.
Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Given the timing of her election, Sheng Thao is assured of being a TTO mayor. Either she will be the mayor when the Oakland A’s finally get a new stadium, or she will be the mayor who loses the Oakland A’s to another city, or she will be the mayor who presides over yet 4 more years of stadium limbo.

For most of this horse race, Libby Schaaf endorsed candidate Loren Taylor had the lead and was presumed to be Oakland’s next mayor. Then at the 11th hour, Thao took the lead and kept it. So let’s take a non-partisan look at Thao and how Oakland’s voters may — or may not— have impacted the A’s quest for a stadium at Howard Terminal.

Thanks to ranked choice voting, there are some interesting statistical facts about Thao’s victory.

  • First off, when the dust cleared and votes were added from the second choices after votes for failed candidates, Thao won by 682 votes out of a total of 113,636.
  • The losing candidate, Taylor, actually received nearly 1,600 more first place votes than Thao did.
  • Thao received first place votes from 31.79% of voters. So more than 2/3 of Oakland’s voters preferred someone else to Thao and voted accordingly.

This makes Thao the perfect candidate for AN, as only in baseball is a .318 hitter a batting champion. Thao was “first choice” by less than a third of voters, lost the “popular vote” but won the convoluted “electoral college” that is Oakland’s ranked choice voting system.

And here we are.

Thao’s priorities appear to be homelessness and gun violence, not a ritzy $12 billion waterfront project anchored by a new baseball stadium. As you walk down International Blvd. tripping over two homeless people and three guns, it is understandable that the A’s interests are a bit far from the front of Thao’s mind as she prepares to take office in January.

But where does Thao stand on the prospect of building a new stadium at Howard Terminal? Here is her quote from Matt Kawahara’s September analysis of the various candidates’ stances:

“I could get to a yes on this project — but yes only if,” Thao said.

The “ifs,” Thao said, include ensuring the A’s meet the city’s affordable housing demands (15% on-site, 20% off-site) and residents aren’t on the hook for future financing. Thao cited traffic mitigation, local business presence inside the ballpark and local hiring among important community benefits.

“I think if we can get all of the minimal requirements as part of the proposal, it would be great for the city to continue to have the A’s rooted here in Oakland,” Thao said. “I think it would be great for our economy as well. If we do it right, we can ensure people are actually eating and shopping and utilizing our small businesses when they are here.”

Thao added, “I have to see the proposal and everything has to be written down, black and white, so that when there are leadership changes, we can still move forward with the same terms.”

So Thao appears to have some “non-negotiables” that include sufficient affordable housing, no potential taxpayer liability, and firm commitments in clear written form ahead of time. At the risk of taking sides, it’s hard to argue that any of these demands are unreasonable or that Thao would be to blame if the A’s refused to comply with one of these conditions and left town instead.

It is also worth noting that while the mayor is a high profile figure and this race was especially close and interesting to follow, the Howard Terminal project is not at the whim of the mayor so much as it is now in the hands of the city council. The mayor’s strong support or opposition can certainly be impactful, but especially with the train already in motion Thao may serve as the next conductor but she won’t be the engineer.

Be that as it may, fair or not Thao will be known as the mayor who either hit a homerun (new stadium!), struck out (lost the third and final Oakland pro sports team), or — yawn — “kept the line moving” with a walk as the calendar turned to 2027 and the A’s were neither here nor there.

Which will it be, and how do you feel about Thao’s election in the context of the A’s efforts to get a new stadium in Oakland? Maybe we can do “ranked choice answers” in which you put “I feel great, but if not I feel terrible, and if that’s not an option then I’m actually kind of hungry”.

Oh, and happy 100th birthday to Charles Schulz. Maybe today, and only today, Lucy could let Charlie Brown kick the damn football.