Actions Toward Protesters Alienate Mayor's Base

The Occupy encampment outside Oakland city hall has become a political quagmire for Mayor Jean Quan. Elected just a year ago, she was at one point a source of hope and inspiration for the city's liberals. Now, after her mishandling of the Occupy campsite — she forcibly evicted the campers, and then let them come back — she's managed to alienate friends and open up an opportunity for her political rivals. The situation may cost her the mayor's office before her term is up.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Over the last couple of weeks, the Occupy Wall Street movement has run the risk of being eclipsed by its West Coast affiliate, Occupy Oakland. Protestors there briefly shut down Oakland's port last week, and there have also been some ugly downtown battles with police.

And as NPR's Martin Kaste reports now, the movement could topple the city's mayor.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is a woman under siege because of two decisions. One: On October 25th, she decided that the Occupy encampment in front of City Hall had become a hazard to public safety.

MAYOR JEAN QUAN: We had sexual assaults reported. We had a woman who fell off of a tree. There was a person who had a heart attack, they wouldn't let our paramedics in.

KASTE: But after she ordered police to clear out the camp, riots broke out and reports that police fractured the skull of a war veteran became a national scandal. So a day later, Quan made decision two.

QUAN: I think there's this sort of illusion to let them back. But the reality is, you couldn't have hundreds of cops surrounding the park every day, and people are back.

KASTE: They are back.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

KASTE: On the plaza, the Occupy tents once again fill every available bit of green space. And now, everybody's mad. Business leaders call the administration naive, the police union issued a statement saying officers are confused, and Mayor Quan hasn't even won herself any friends in the rebuilt camp. Near the drum circle, Darron Cotton holds a sign that reads: Recall Quan.

DARRON COTTON: I think she should resign.

KASTE: Cotton is especially contemptuous of the mayor's attempt to smooth things over.

COTTON: The very next day, right after it was cleared out, then she wanted to come down to the very same place that she wanted cleared out and speak.

KASTE: So what does that tell you about her?

COTTON: That she's indecisive.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

KASTE: Across the streets and well within earshot of the drumming is the office of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Public Policy Director Paul Junge sighs at the prospect of the anti-Wall Street encampment staying here for the foreseeable future.

PAUL JUNGE: Oakland doesn't make sense as the place to express that frustration.

KASTE: This is hardly the home of big finance, he says. On the contrary, Oakland is a city with a fiscal crisis and high unemployment, where the downtown is struggling. But it's also a liberal city, and Junge says that makes the situation harder for city leaders.

JUNGE: In their anxiousness to show some sympathy to the cause and not be the bad guys, it ends up being a magnet for lots of folks who aren't from Oakland in creating problems for lots of regular folks just trying to go about their day to day business who really weren't part of the problem in the first place.

KASTE: The politics of this is a especially-difficult for Quan, the city's first woman mayor. She has roots in liberal activism and organized labor, and she has friends in the Occupy Movement. But political science professor Corey Cook says frustration with Quan now crosses political lines something he sees in his own neighborhood.

PROFESSOR COREY COOK: On Halloween night, they were, you know, they're passing around the recall petitions.

KASTE: The Recall Quan effort preceded the controversy over Occupy. It started out as a protest against the city's failure to control crime. But now, it also has the support of people who think Quan was too tough on protestors. Cook says those on the left who support the recall might want to consider the law of unintended consequences.

COOK: You know, if we were to replace her with a more decisive mayor, that's likely to be somebody who's not favored by the Occupy Oakland Movement.

KASTE: Back at City Hall, the mayor says she's not thinking about the recall yet. Her focus now is on trying to negotiate a solution with the campers.

QUAN: The reality is because of what happened, people are trying to talk. Because I think most of the people in the 99 Percent Movement don't want to hurt a city like Oakland.

KASTE: But she admits it's not simple, communicating with a leaderless movement.

QUAN: I talk to the camp by trying to have some messages tweeted. We put out daily leaflets and bulletins. Some of them have signed up to my Facebook page.

KASTE: At one point yesterday, her office got a message suggesting that Quan might be able to advance the dialogue by coming down to one of the tents, to participate in something called an Empathy Circle. The mayor sent a staffer.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Oakland.

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