Sheng Thao (Oakland Mayor) – Biography Points

Sheng Thao (Oakland Mayor)

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Sheng Thao (Oakland Mayor)

Sheng Thao (born July 18, 1985) is an American politician and the 51st mayor of Oakland, California. She is the first Hmong American mayor of a major city in the United States. Thao was elected as mayor of Oakland in 2022 and began her term in January 2023.

Thao decided to run for office in 2018 when the election for the district 4 City Council seat was open, with no incumbent. Her campaign focused on addressing Oakland’s housing crisis, enhancing public safety with improved response systems and community policing, and developing public infrastructure such as libraries and parks. Thao won against six other candidates, securing 54% of the vote after seven rounds of tabulation, leading in each round.

On November 10, 2021, Thao announced her candidacy for Oakland mayor, garnering endorsements from council president Nikki Fortunato Bas, vice mayor Rebecca Kaplan, and Attorney General Rob Bonta. Her campaign also received support from labor unions, the Alameda County Democratic Party, and U.S. representative Ro Khanna.

Thao took office on January 9, 2023. As mayor-elect, her proposals included developing 30,000 new housing units over eight years, implementing rent control and other tenant protections, improving safety and sanitation for unhoused residents, hiring more police officers, and increasing funding for education and violence prevention programs.

On June 20, 2024, the Oakland chapter of the NAACP called on Sheng Thao to resign following an FBI raid on her home earlier that day due to alleged campaign finance violations.

Stockton, California, U.S.

Sheng Thao
51st Mayor of Oakland
Date of BirthJuly 18, 1985
Birth PlaceStockton, California, U.S.
Political PartyDemocratic
Education
  • Merritt College (AA)
  • University of California, Berkeley (BA)
OfficeMayor of Oakland since 2023
NationalityNationality
51st Mayor of Oakland
DateJanuary 9, 2023
Preceded Libby Schaaf
President pro tempore of the Oakland City Council
DateJanuary 4, 2021 – January 9, 2023
Preceded & Succeeded Dan Kalb
Member of the Oakland City Council from 4th district
DateJanuary 2019 – January 9, 2023
Preceded Annie Campbell Washington
Succeeded Janani Ramachandran

Early life and Education

Thao was born on July 18, 1985, and raised in Stockton, California. Her parents were refugees from Laos who escaped the Hmong genocide and eventually immigrated to the United States. Thao was the seventh of ten children and grew up in poverty, spending part of her childhood in public housing.

At age 17, Thao moved out of her home and began working at a Walgreens store in Richmond. In her 20s, after moving to Oakland, she endured domestic violence in an abusive relationship. Thao left the relationship when she was six months pregnant, and subsequently lived in her car and couch-surfed before and after her son was born. When her son was ten months old, Thao started attending Merritt College in Oakland, where she balanced raising her son as a single mother and working as a research assistant.

After earning an associate’s degree in legal studies at Merritt College, Thao transferred to the University of California, Berkeley. There, she completed a bachelor’s degree in legal studies with a minor in city planning. During her time at UC Berkeley, Thao contributed to the creation of the Bear Pantry, a program designed to provide food for food-insecure students.

Career

After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2012, Thao began her career as a paid intern for At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. She continued to work with Kaplan at the Oakland City Council, eventually becoming her chief of staff in 2017.

Democratic Party (United States)
Democratic Party (United States)

Oakland City Council

Portrait of Thao during her tenure on the Oakland City Council

Sheng Thao decided to run for office in 2018 for the district 4 City Council seat, which was an open race without an incumbent. Her campaign focused on addressing Oakland’s housing crisis, improving public safety through enhanced response systems and community policing, and developing public infrastructure such as libraries and parks. Thao emerged victorious among six other candidates, securing 54% of the vote after seven rounds of tabulation, leading in each round.

Thao officially began her term as a member of the Oakland City Council in January 2019. Representing the 4th district, she served the neighborhoods of Montclair, Laurel, Melrose, Redwood Heights, and the Dimond District. She made history as the first Hmong woman elected to a city council in California and the first Hmong individual elected to the Oakland City Council. During her time on the council, Thao held the position of president pro tempore.

Her tenure was marked by significant efforts, including leading the initiative to increase the number of police academies from four to five. Additionally, she co-authored ordinances that were approved by the council to combat housing insecurity by expanding access for code-compliant RVs and mobile homes within the city.

Mayoral Campaign of Sheng Thao

On November 10, 2021, Sheng Thao announced her candidacy for mayor of Oakland, receiving endorsements from council president Nikki Fortunato Bas, vice mayor Rebecca Kaplan, and Attorney General Rob Bonta. Her campaign also gained support from labor unions, the Alameda County Democratic Party, and U.S. Representative Ro Khanna.

Thao’s campaign highlighted her personal experiences with childhood poverty, surviving domestic violence as a young adult, and her current status as a renter. These experiences shaped her platform, which focused on increasing funding for the Department of Violence Prevention in Oakland, expanding access to affordable housing, and reducing homelessness.

One of Thao’s main opponents, Loren Taylor, was endorsed by incumbent Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, as well as San Francisco mayor London Breed and San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo. By the end of the campaign, Thao and Taylor were regarded as the two leading candidates.

In June 2022, a former staffer filed an informal verbal complaint with the Public Ethics Commission, alleging that Thao had Oakland City Council staff work on her campaign, potentially violating state election laws. The staffer claimed they were fired for refusing to work on the campaign. Thao denied these allegations, and the ethics commission launched an investigation. The issue gained media attention in October 2022 after being reported by a political blogger who supported one of Thao’s competitors.

On November 18, 2022, Thao won the election by 677 votes through a ranked-choice voting system. By November 22, 2022, her margin of victory increased to 682 votes, and her opponent, Councilmember Loren Taylor, conceded. A recount was requested and received support from the city’s NAACP chapter, but the necessary funding for the recount was not raised. Thao expressed her support for the recount.

Mayoralty

Sheng Thao took office as Mayor of Oakland on January 9, 2023. As mayor-elect, her proposals included the development of 30,000 new housing units over eight years, implementing rent control and other protections for tenants, improving safety and sanitation for unhoused residents, hiring more police officers, and increasing spending on education and violence prevention programs.

Shortly after taking office, Thao addressed allegations of misconduct within the Oakland Police Department. On January 18, 2023, a law firm hired by the city published an investigative report detailing these allegations. In response, Thao placed Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong on administrative leave on January 19. During a press conference on January 21, Thao emphasized the importance of corrective actions to end the federal oversight that the police department had been under for two decades. Thao ultimately fired Armstrong on February 15, 2023, citing a loss of confidence in his ability to reform the department.

Thao’s administration also dealt with the Oakland Athletics’ potential relocation. Negotiations with the team’s owners, which had begun under her predecessor Libby Schaaf, continued for several months. Despite the team’s president announcing in April 2023 an agreement to buy land for a stadium in Las Vegas, Thao remained open to negotiations. In July 2023, Thao and other officials met with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem to discuss keeping the team in Oakland.

In May 2023, Thao proposed a two-year, $4.2 billion budget to address a $360 million deficit. The budget included department mergers and hiring freezes. The city council passed this budget in June 2023, incorporating some mergers, hiring freezes to prevent layoffs, and spending cuts.

In September 2023, Thao announced an additional $2.5 million in funding for the 911 response system. In her State of the City address on October 17, 2023, she discussed various public safety initiatives, including improvements to the 911 system and the acquisition of new California Highway Patrol officers. However, her administration missed a grant application deadline for funding to combat retail theft.

A recall effort against Thao, organized by the group Oakland United to Recall Sheng Thao (OUST), gained momentum. The Alameda County Registrar of Voters confirmed on June 18, 2024, that the petition to recall her received 40,595 valid signatures, exceeding the 25,000 required to trigger a recall election, scheduled for November 2024. This marks the first mayoral recall election in Oakland’s history.

On June 20, 2024, the Oakland chapter of the NAACP called for Thao’s resignation following an FBI raid on her home related to alleged campaign finance violations.

Personal Life

Sheng Thao has spent her entire adult life in Oakland, California. She resides there with her partner, Andre, and their two children. During her tenure on the Oakland City Council, Thao was one of three council members who rented their homes. Notably, she made history by becoming the first renter to be elected as Oakland’s mayor.

On June 20, 2024, Thao’s home was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), accompanied by agents from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

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