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Female candidates prove tough competition in Oakland election

When Oakland City Councilwomen, Jean Quan, attempted to pay her husband’s way through medical school in the early 1970’s, credit card companies told her she would need her husband’s permission to qualify for credit. Today, Quan, along with councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, is vying to become Oakland’s first female mayor.

Voters will decide between nine mayoral candidates, including top contenders Quan, Kaplan, and Don Perata.

According to a poll commissioned last month by an Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Perata currently leads with 26%, followed closely by Quan with 22%, and Kaplan with 12%.

While this could be a woman’s first time as mayor of the city, the Oakland City Council first had a female member in the 1920’s, according to Sue Piper, community liaison for Jean Quan.

The council currently has a female majority with six City Councilwomen out of eight total seats. Nancy Nadel is the only other woman to have run for Oakland mayor in 10 years.  She and Ignacio De La Fuente lost to Ron Dellums in 2006.

“Women have a different political style.  We tend to be a bit more cooperative, even in politics,” Piper said.

For some, this perceived difference translates to weakness.  People often ask Quan if she is “tough enough” as a woman to be mayor of Oakland.

“Yes!” said Quan, who added that her dedication to her mayoral campaign was important enough to give up her council seat.

According to Kaplan’s campaign website, at age 38 she was elected as the youngest and first openly lesbian council member in Oakland history in 2008.  Efforts to reach Kaplan were unsuccessful.

The possibility of a female mayor could set more young women on a path in politics.

“Women are so under-represented in American politics.  We haven’t seen vast numbers of women going into politics,” said Carol

Chetkovich, professor and director of the public policy program at Mills. “Seeing other women run makes other women want to run – role modeling, women supporting women.”

Mills students agree that seeing women running for public office breeds political involvement
and interest.

Isabel Cortes, president of the Mills College Fem Dems, believes that more students will participate in this election due to the strong female presence on the ballot.

In her first year of leading the Fem Dems, Cortes hopes to bring more political awareness to
the campus.

“We’re really excited.  We hope women become more aware of what’s going on,” Cortes said.

The Quan campaign hopes that her potential win will encourage both young women and immigrant families.

As the first-ever Asian-American woman mayor of a major city, Quan’s win would show young women, immigrants, and the children of immigrants “that we’ve broken through the glass ceiling in Oakland,” Piper said.

This lack of women in power, however, does not mean that women are elected less often than men.  It is a symptom of few women running at all.

“Today, research suggests women win as often as men when they run – women not winning is more of women not running,” Chetkovich said.