By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent
Oakland City Councilwoman Sheng Thao announced her candidacy for mayor of Oakland Wednesday afternoon.
The first Hmong American ever to be elected to the city council in Oakland hopes to become the first Hmong woman to lead a large U.S. city.
She would replace Mayor Libby Schaff who is terming out.
“I think that the city of Oakland is in a state of crisis right now, in regards to everything, whether it’s illegal dumping, our housing situation, and our homeless population. And not just that, violent crimes have actually gone up in the city,” Thao said during a recent zoom interview with AsAmNews prior to today’s announcement.
She made her announcement on social media.
The 36 year old believes she is the woman to lead the city out of “crisis.” She cites what she considers her ability to bring people from divergent backgrounds together to move the city forward.
She represents the Oakland Hills, the city’s most affluent area, while advocating for what she considers progressive values.
Thao successfully pushed for the passage of extended sick leave during COVID so that family members can stay home and still get paid to care for the sick so as not to risk spreading the disease to the workplace.
She also supported budgeting $18 million dollars for crime and violence prevention for mental health and other social programs. She’s working to increase the graduation rate in the police academy to get the police department to full staffing.
The Oakland Police Department is budgeted for 737 positions, but currently only has 680 officers.
“I’m actually not pro-defund police,” she said. “I’ve never been on record saying that because I have no clue what that is. Everybody has their own definition of it.”
She says cops are needed to respond to crime
“I believe that we need to invest in our communities, communities that need it the most, and communities with our young people. This is how we also keep ourselves safe. Right? It’s through activation of parks and creative programming.”
She blames the rise in crime partly on the mayor’s decision to cut the Ceasefire program, an anti-crime prevention measure that works directly with gangs.
Her family is the victim of crime. Burglars broke into the home when her son was there alone.
“That was extremely traumatic for my son. To this day. He doesn’t want to be home alone. And it was traumatic for me as a mother and so on. I know how it feels. And I wanted that response, that immediate response. And it’s important to make sure that we hire for our future generation officers here in the city of Oakland,” she said.
There are currently two announced candidates for the mayoral election set for November 8, 2022. Current District 6 Oakland City Council member Loren Taylor has declared as has homeless advocate Derrick Soo.
Thao is the youngest of the declared candidates but says she actually has the most experience on the council actually working for a city councilperson for five years, including time as chief of staff.
The circle of Asian American women in elective office is relatively small when even compared to Asian American men, let alone the general population.
Diana Hwang is founder and executive director of the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative, a non-profit based in Boston with the goal of increasing the number of Asian American women elected officials.
“She’s freaking incredible,” Hwang said about Thao. AAWPI connected the candidate to a number of national AAPI organizations to assist her ascension in politics. “Her even running is historic. Right. And I’m glad she’s doing it.”
Thao's announcement comes just a week after the election of Michelle Wu as mayor of Boston and also a week after the election to mayor of Indian American Aftab Pureval in Cincinnati and Japanese and Black American Bruce Harrell in Seattle.
Thao says she has the support of both labor unions and the Chamber of Commerce. She is the 7th child in a family of 10 children which she said taught her to get along with everyone while at the same time she learned to stand up for herself.
“The Hmong culture is very patriarchal. I just refused to do anything that my brothers weren’t doing. I was somehow required to wake up at 6 am to cook and clean while my brothers slept in. And so I always tell people, that there’s a consequence to that, and the consequence is that I don’t know how to cook as well as my sister’s to this day.”