By Jordan Rosenfeld
OAKLAND -- Sheng Thao, chief of staff to Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan, is putting in her own bid for District 4, Oakland Hills; she cites a feeling of urgency over Oakland’s many day-to-day issues as her impetus for running.
As a senior staff member to Kaplan on the city council, she’s spent the past five years helping to draft legislation and policy, which she feels makes her the right person for the job.
“I am the only candidate who can effectively start on day one to hit the ground running,” she said. “I bring fresh energy with bold and innovative solutions...and I have the know-how to implement our vision.”
“Oakland is faced with many big and important issues that need to be addressed immediately,” she said by email. “It’s important to have an experienced representative who knows how to effectively get results for both District 4 and Oakland.”
Endorsements have come from such figures as California Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who calls her “capable, smart, committed and hard-working,” and Berkeley Mayor, Jesse Arreguin, who said, “She knows that regional collaboration is essential in addressing Oakland’s critical challenges.”
Other endorsements include Kaplan and Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran, Fremont Mayor Lily Mei and numerous others.
As Thao is an ardent supporter of project labor agreements (PLAs), several employee unions have endorsed her candidacy, including Oakland Firefighters Local 55, Carpenters Local 713, Laborers Local 304, the Alameda Labor Council, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, Teamsters Joint Council 7, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16, East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda.
If she is elected, tackling the homelessness crisis is at the top of Thao’s list of priorities. She hopes to work with neighboring cities to develop a regional plan and to expand housing stock, including affordable and “deeply affordable” housing.
Additionally, she hopes to “pass and implement a strong, working, funded vegetation management plan, and design policy to pave our roads in an equitable way,” she said.
Thao also plans to tackle the “retail leakage” out of Oakland, which she claims is approximately $20 million per year, and “expand our local jobs with good paying wages, including investing in job training programs.”
She is particularly proud of work she has done fighting and winning funding for fire safety, infrastructure, youth programs, and more. She also worked to get illegal guns off Oakland streets, addressed illegal dumping in Oakland, helped win funding for air remediation of some of Oakland’s most polluted areas, and protected the sugar sweetened beverage fund (Measure HH) which supports health programs.
She calls herself a champion for the environment, and the Sierra Club’s endorsement of her is a stamp of approval for her work toward cleaner air and water. She takes courage from one of her political heroes, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg because “her work has paved new paths and energy for women.”
She also calls herself “a lifelong public servant.” In college at UC Berkeley, she co-founded a food access program for students with children, after meeting numerous students struggling to feed their families healthy food. She has experience staffing regional government boards and commissions where she worked on bringing funding to Oakland’s public safety, transit and capital improvement projects. Now, Thao serves on the board of the Redwood Heights Association, the board for the Oakland Asian Cultural Center and is the vice president for the Asian American Democratic Caucus of Alameda County. She is also an active participant in the Alameda Labor Council’s Rapid Response working group, which seeks to protect undocumented immigrants in Oakland and neighboring cities.
Thao, a single mother and self-identified domestic violence survivor is one of four daughters of asylum seekers from the Vietnam War, and part of a tightly knit Hmong American family. She raised her son while working to put herself through college, graduated as valedictorian from Merritt College, and then transferred to UC Berkeley, where she earned a degree in legal studies.
"(Sheng Thao) is dedicated to serving the needs of the community, and has the experience to be an effective representative from day one,” Kaplan said in a statement. “Her combination of work in City Hall and volunteering in community organizations have prepared her well to be an excellent City Council member.”
If elected, Sheng Thao will also be the first Hmong American to be elected to the City Council in Oakland.
Jordan Rosenfeld is a freelance Bay Area reporter