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Support for a recall grows in Oakland amidst mounting frustration with the mayor


Oakland, Calif., has had a few tough years - high crime rates, a budget deficit and 10 police chiefs in as many years - and residents are frustrated. Oakland's mayor and the county's district attorney are facing a recall election this fall. Now an FBI raid on the mayor's home has given her critics even more reason to want her gone. KQED's Annelise Finney reports.

ANNELISE FINNEY, BYLINE: In late June, more than a dozen FBI agents streamed out of Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao's home. They confirmed they were conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity, but provided no more details. The house was one of at least two locations the FBI said they raided that day. The other was connected to the Duong family, which runs California Waste Solutions, the city's recycling service. In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said the family's homes had also been raided. Members of the Duong family are currently being investigated by state and local officials for campaign finance violations. Mayor Thao didn't make a public comment for four days after the raid.


SHENG THAO: I can tell you with confidence that this investigation is not about me. I have not been charged with a crime, and I am confident that I will not be charged with a crime because I am innocent.

FINNEY: Still no charges have been filed against Thao or the Duongs, and the FBI has declined to provide any more information. A spokesperson for California Waste Solutions says they don't believe they've committed any illegal activities and were cooperating with law enforcement. Critics of Thao say the raid validates their push for her recall, which started long before the FBI raid. Their launch was back in February.



FINNEY: Recall supporters blame Thao for a laundry list of the city's challenges. Oakland has higher per capita rates of homelessness than both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Crime has been declining so far this year after a significant uptick last year, according to the Oakland Police, but some residents say it's still too high. Thao says she's focused on improving public safety. But one frustration among her critics is that last summer, city staffers missed a deadline for a huge state grant to curb retail theft. Recall supporter Tuan Ngo spoke outside of the mayor's house after the FBI raid, and a local reporter uploaded a video to social media.


TUAN NGO: Enough is enough. We demand a change, and we want them to listen to us because nobody should live in Oakland under these horrible circumstances.

FINNEY: Thao's defenders don't dispute Oakland has struggles. But they say it's unfair to hold the mayor accountable only a year and a half into her first four-year term. Here's Thao supporter community organizer Saabir Lockett.

SAABIR LOCKETT: Come on, now. Where's the grace for elected official to rewrite the wrongs of previous administrations?

FINNEY: Others say issues like homelessness and crime are complex and impacted by national, state and county policy, the economy and public health. Dan Lindheim, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former Oakland city manager, says even within Oakland City Hall, Thao's power is limited.

DAN LINDHEIM: It's really using the bully pulpit and bringing people together that is within her realm of authority. To the extent that that's not happening, then that's where she holds some culpability.

FINNEY: Some of Thao's biggest supporters like the city's unions have largely declined to comment on the FBI raid. Bay Area political consultant PJ Johnston says, without more information about why the raid happened, the shadow it's cast over Thao may last for weeks or months.

PJ JOHNSTON: All of which helps the recall advocates, and all of which hurts her ability to lead.

FINNEY: Oakland residents will vote on the recall in November. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Annelise Finney
Annelise was born and raised in the East Bay and has a background in oral history and urban studies. For the last four and half years, she's worked as a criminal defense investigator at a public defenders office in the Bronx, New York and at an appellate defenders office in the Bay Area. As an investigator, she frequently interviews people involved in different parts of the criminal punishment system. Through her work, she has become passionate about the power of personal narratives and compelling stories to increase cross-cultural understanding and initate change change.